You may know him as the spry, 90-year-old senior with the ever-present smile who, from time to time, opens for award-winning vocalist Tony Reynolds with his own interpretation of a vintage ballad.
It’s what you may not know about this slight, unassuming everyman, however, that makes his story remarkable.
When we hear the word “hero,” it tends to conjure visions of mythical crusaders in the time of Arthur riding their steeds into battle for the fate of the human race. It’s a term tossed around in video games, and nearly every comic book on the shelf is lined with tales of immortals.
The real-life heroes, however, tend to be those individuals who stand outside the spotlight, silently giving of themselves, with no need for statuesque depictions of their deeds or grandiose tributes.
Dudley Nedervelt is one such champion.
He has contributed to the freedoms we enjoy and has called Grand Haven home for more than a third of this nation’s history.
Nedervelt was born in Grand Haven on Nov. 17, 1923. At the age of 18, he shared the shock that resonated throughout every home as President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared Dec. 7, 1941, as “a date which will live in infamy” after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
It was the beginning of our second world war.
Nedervelt remembers the first days after the initial attack and his decision to join the surge of 5.4 million troops that chose to enlist.
“It was cold in January when I decided to head to Detroit to join up with the Marines,“ he said, “and I don’t just mean the weather. You felt a chill just knowing what was happening over there.”
Nedervelt recalls that some of the greatest enemies he faced never picked up a weapon.
“On the way to our first engagement, the six-story troop transport had to drop us off on an island so they could fumigate after an outbreak of meningitis,” he said.
While fighting on the front, he remembers opening letters from his then girlfriend, Bertha, who expressed concerns about his welfare. He thought of her often, too.
“I proposed to my wife by sending $25 in a letter so she could buy herself a ring. I didn’t know how long I would be gone, and I couldn’t wait,” Nedervelt says with a smile.
To read more of this story, see Saturday's print or e-edition of the Grand Haven Tribune.
— By Ransom Grey, Special to the Tribune