East Lansing, MI - Just in time for Veterans Day, News Ten met one of East Lansing's most beloved veterans. He's a World War II vet who told us about his remarkable life. From nearly dying while he was a prisoner of war to getting a death sentence from doctors when he came home.
Every Sunday after church, like clockwork, you can find Eugene Bleil at dinner with his college sweetheart.
"When I was overseas I got a 'Dear John' letter and I just prayed to the Lord that he would keep her single. And he did" said Eugene Bleil, World War II veteran.
But their romance was put on hold in 1939 when Eugene served as crew chief for the 17th Pursuit Squadron in the Philippines.
"We were bombed in Nichols field at night. We were bombed about four hours before Pearl Harbor" said Bleil.
On April 9, 1942 Bleil and his squadron were forced to surrender to the Japanese military. For 1,245 days Bleil and his group became Prisoners of War.
"I had dysentery, malaria, and pneumonia" Bleil remembers, "I went from 160 pounds which was mostly water...I went down to 70 pounds."
Three years after surrendering, Bleil and the surviving POWs were able to return home. But once home Bleil was thrown a serious blow.
"Doctors told me at that time you are 100 percent disabled but you won't live to see 40. It won't do you any good to get married because your totally sterile" Bleil said.
Discharged from service 100 percent disabled, classified as unfit for military duty. Bleil wanted more from life than resuming his farm life.
Bleil went back to school. Graduated from Michigan State with a Bachelor of Science in Chemistry. He then went to University of Michigan where he graduated in 1955 as a physician.
Doctors told him he wouldn't make it to see 40. Eugene Bleil is still going on.
"I'm 39 years old and holding because I can't get to 40 because I'm not gonna live that long." said Bleil.
Even when doctors told Eugene that he wouldn't be able to have kids, he and his wife were able to have two daughters. Daughters who went on to have their own families and giving Eugene four grandchildren and three great grandchildren.
During Saturday's University of Michigan game, the decorated veteran was recognized as the "Veteran of the Game."