BELDING, Mich. -- After fighting kamikaze pilots in World War II, raising 17 children, and investing in their community, 90-year-old Milton Rackham and his wife Carol have been nominated together as grand marshals for Belding's 110th Labor Day parade.
"It's such an honor, but it's also such a surprise," said Rackham. "How come they picked me?"
At first, the Rackhams thought the honor should go to the mayor or a city official, but the City of Belding would soon show them how much the Rackhams mean to the community.
For starters, Milton enlisted in the Navy during WWII, later receiving the Purple Heart after surviving a Japanese kamikaze attack. "We were protecting an ammunition ship when five planes came down, and we were able to get four of them," said Milton.
Co-chair of the Belding Labor Day committee Shelley Gladding said the honor of being a grand marshal is only given to those who've gone above and beyond the call of duty.
"He has served his country; he had some injuries in war," said Gladding. "We were looking this year for someone to give back to and show our appreciation for what he's given, not only to our country, but he's given to our town."
Milton and his wife of 65 years married young: he was 24 and she was 16. They raised 17 children, seven of their own and 10 from the foster system.
"We found with the kids there were lots having trouble, so we took in 10 foster kids from the juvenile home," said Rackham.
Milton had just started a cleaning business and was on the job when a car rear-ended him, forcing him to live in metal braces for four years. Unable to work with heavy machinery, Milton went to school and learned the ins and outs of the upholstering business.
"I'd pick up a piece of furniture from your home on a Friday, and if it wasn’t done in a week it would be free," said Rackham.
Forty-five years later, you can still find him working on repairing furniture. The job has introduced him to at least one family on every street in the city of Belding.
"He knows so many people here that I don’t," said Carol. "People probably look at me and say, 'Oh, who is she?' And they go, ‘Oh that’s just Milton’s wife.'"
Gladding said choosing this year's grand marshal was "a no-brainer" after being introduced to Milton and Carol.
Milton and his wife were among six other candidates for this award. The Rackhams are being honored as a true example of love, dedication, and perseverance.
The 110th Labor Day celebration runs from September 4-7.
The parade is Monday, Labor Day, at 11 a.m. in Belding.