John Michael Yetsko of Bainbridge Island died Feb. 23, 2006 due to complications from Parkinson’s disease.
After a long and notable career in the U.S. military, and 20 more years of university and college administration, he and his wife of 60 years, Bonnie Hopper Yetsko, retired to Bainbridge Island in 2001, to be close to their family.
He was born Jan. 8, 1923, in Revloc, Penn., to Charles Casper and Esther Ellen (Carns) Yetsko. After attending St. Peter’s High School in McKeesport, Pa., he graduated from Holy Hills Carmelite Seminary, in Hubertus, Wis., a monastery of Friars of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.
He began his military career serving sea duty for the U.S. Marines in England and Scotland. He served as a personal aide to President Franklin Roosevelt, while also attached to the USS Wichita commander, acting as consultant to the British Navy.
In 1942, he became a member of the elite U.S. Marine Corps Raiders, Carlson’s Raiders, 2nd, a select and secret group developed by President Roosevelt for purposes similar to the British Commandos and the Chinese guerilla resistance. James Roosevelt became the executive officer of the commando intelligence unit, as well as a lifelong friend.
He earned numerous commendations, citations and medals of valor in the Pacific Theater, including a Silver Star, five Bronze Stars, a Presidential Unit Citation with ribbon bar, and Navy Unit Commendation with ribbon bar for the Treasury-Bismarck Archipelago operation; Bougainville, Northern Solomons, Marianas, and Okinawa operations of the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign; as well as the European-African Campaign.
Commanding General Geiger of the Fleet Marine Forces, Pacific, commended him as having “displayed brilliant tactical and exacting technical skill, and his outstanding qualities of leadership and constant devotion to duty were an inspiration to his men.”
On September 2, 1945, he was one of eight U.S. Marines honored to escort his command at the signing of the Japanese Surrender on board the USS Missouri, in Tokyo Bay.
New Year’s Eve, 1942, in California only days prior to shipping out to the Pacific, he met the love of his life, Yvonne (Bonnie) Ellen Hopper, of Pasadena, CA. On New Year’s Day, their first date, they attended the Rose Bowl Game together.
For the next three years, while he served overseas during World War II, they shared their romance through hundreds of exchanged letters. Upon his return in 1945, their marriage began a life of 60 years together; never again to be separated.
For the next 15 years, with their two children, Debbie and Greg, and their dog, Mike, they traveled and lived abroad, sharing adventures in new cultures with new languages.
After his retirement from the U.S. Marine Corps, he enlisted in the U.S. Army as a career infantry intelligence specialist, where he taught Arctic wilderness survival and mountaineering training.
He completed worldwide service that included Asia, Europe, and the United States as an Intelligence and Operations Specialist including collections, interpretation, analysis of intelligence information and training and supervision of personnel. He worked once again with James Roosevelt through the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., until retirement.
He attended UCLA and the University of Alaska, and began a second career in university administration as a department director. For the next 20 years, he served on the staff of California Institute of Technology, in Pasadena, CA, and the University of California, in Long Beach; University of San Francisco; the University of Alaska; American University, in Washington, D.C.; and spent a number of years at Claremont McKenna University, in Claremont, CA, where he worked closely with CMC president Stark.
His great knowledge of history and love of literature, honed in the monastery, made him a voracious and knowledgeable reader. He was an accomplished amateur painter and sculptor, who enjoyed carving large ice carving creations for special events, both professional and family.
He shared his love of golf with his grandsons and nephews, playing where ever he was, whenever he could. With an eight handicap, he often successfully participated in amateur tournaments with friends at Brentwood and Via Verde Country Clubs in California.
Growing up near the woodlands of Pennsylvania, he had a lifelong love of nature and the outdoors, always professing a sense of wonder and awe. He was an avid mountain skier, as well as fisherman, equally at home in the mountains and on the sea.
He was preceded in death by his parents; by his brother Charles R. Yetsko, a medical corpsman killed in 1952 in the Korean War and sister, Virginia Yetsko.
He is survived by his wife, Bonnie E. Yetsko, Bainbridge Island; his daughter Debbie Y. (Richard P.) Vancil, Bainbridge Island; grandson Ryan P. (Debbi Lester) Vancil; great-grandchildren Corbin Lester Vancil and Maddy Reeves Vancil; grandson Joshua P. (Carolina Y.) Vancil, Bainbridge Island; son Gregory J. Yetsko, grandson Daniel J. Yetsko and granddaughter Emily S. Yetsko, all of Ithaca, NY; nephew Dr. Gary Hopper, Monrovia, CA; niece Marcia A. Hopper Mantana, Idyllwild, CA; nephew Thomas Hopper, Sand Point, ID; nephew Edward Hopper, Hemet, CA; his sister Leah Turnsec, McKeesport, PA; and many nieces, nephews and cousins.
A funeral mass will be held Thursday, March 9, at 11:00 A.M., followed by military honor guard and flag presentation ceremony at St. Cecilia’s Catholic Church, Bainbridge Island. A reception immediately follows at the Vancil family home on Bainbridge Island.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests that a donation in his name be offered to the Booth Gardner Parkinson’s Care Center, Evergreen Healthcare Foundation, Kirkland, WA.
Arrangements are by Kass & Cook Family Funeral Home, Bainbridge Island.