Alfred Ronald Hemming, a member of a shrinking set of surviving veterans of World War II and an electrical worker who helped modernize the landing facilities at Spokane’s Felts Field, died Wednesday. He was 104.
For the last seven years of his life, Ron Hemming lived with his son, Richard Hemming, and his wife, Margie, at their family home on Sunderland Road. Ron Hemming died there Wednesday afternoon, shortly after listening one last time to “Three O’Clock in the Morning,” a classic waltz tune that was a favorite dancing number for him and Merle Hemming, his wife of 76 years.
“I learned about everything I know from my dad,” said Richard Hemming, who organized a 104th birthday party for his father in May that included a motorcycle drive-by by members of the Combat Veteran Riders. “I helped him build a couple homes. He taught me how to be a man, about what integrity is.”
Born in Saratoga, Minnesota, on May 28, 1916, Ron Hemming signed up for the U.S. Navy after graduating from high school in nearby St. Charles, where he was raised. While home-ported in Long Beach, California, prior to the war, Ron Hemming rode motorcycles with a fellow Navy buddy inland to Riverside, California, where he met Merle McPhail.
They were on a date on a motorcycle coming home from a movie when Ron Hemming struck a moving train, injuring his foot and knocking Merle unconscious. Merle’s father, who had some misgivings about the young sailor dating his daughter, dropped everything to come to their aid that night, Ron Hemming said his parents later told him.
Both were taken to the hospital.
“They called my grandpa, and my grandpa said, ‘I don’t give a damn how much it costs, you take care of them kids,’” Richard Hemming said.
The couple married March 30, 1940, in Kingman, Arizona.
Ron Hemming, on the other hand, never uttered a curse word that his son could remember. That’s despite serving at sea for years, first as a submarine chaser in the Atlantic Ocean scouting for German U-boats and later a tour on the U.S.S. Markab, which was assigned to assist destroyers in the Pacific ahead of a planned invasion of Japan. The bombings 75 years ago of Hiroshima and Nagasaki hastened the war’s end, and Hemming returned to the United States, where he raised two sons while working for the Civil Aeronautics Authority, the precursor to today’s Federal Aviation Administration.
After stints all around California, the family moved to Spokane in 1957 after Ron Hemming was assigned to Geiger Field. Eleven years later, he helped install the modern air traffic control tower at Felts Field before retiring in 1971.
Ron Hemming rode motorcycles until 1981, the year he turned 65, Richard Hemming said. Father and son rode a loop that took them through Davenport and Hunters, up the Columbia River to Kettle Falls and back to Spokane Valley.
“He had a couple of times on that ride where he almost lost control, and when we got home I said, ‘Dad, you oughta think about giving this up.’ And he did,” Richard Hemming said.
In 2003, Ron Hemming suffered a ruptured aortic aneurysm. At 87 years old, doctors gave him a 10% chance of living. The surgery to repair damage to his artery lasted seven hours.
In later years, Ron Hemming was a fixture at the Combat Vet Riders clubhouse off Trent Avenue, where Richard Hemming served as chaplain. He enjoyed cribbage and talking to his son about past fishing and hunting trips in northeastern Washington.
Ron Hemming is preceded in death by his wife, Merle, and son Robert. He is survived by son Richard Hemming, of Spokane Valley; and grandchildren Robert Hemming of Spokane Valley, Michelle Bieker of Spokane Valley, and Christopher David Hemming, of Bremerton; as well as cousins in Minnesota and Montana.
Ron Hemming will be cremated and laid to rest next to his wife and son in Spokane Memorial Garden. Services are pending.
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