All his life, Mike Jurich would run ahead to open a door for a woman.
It’s funny the things that come to mind after losing a loved one. Jurich was a member of the “Greatest Generation,” a lifetime Tacoma resident and World War II Navy hero. Married to wife Agnes for 67 years, they had three kids – Mike, Mary Ann and Susie – and six grandchildren.
“At age 90, Dad had to go renew his driver’s license, and all of us kids were like, uh-oh,” daughter Mary Ann Brennan said. “He drove a truck, and I’d told him he’d have to take an eye exam when we got there.
“He walked up and said, ‘Do you want me to do this with or without my glasses?’ and took his glasses off and aced the test. They gave him his new license — and lifted the glasses restriction.”
Last week, two days after his 91st birthday, Jurich died in one of those senseless accidents that broke hearts and left everyone who knew him shaking their heads.
A strong, tough man, Jurich was a World War II frogman who won the Bronze Star for clearing the way to shore through mine fields for four landings in the Pacific Theater. Unless asked, he rarely talked about the experiences.
Every day, however, he and his wife would walk the Old Town waterfront near their home and make friends.
“I met him down there and one day we were walking near the diver’s dock, and he said, ‘We never had equipment like that ...’” friend Roland Lund said. “I asked what he was talking about and he told me a few stories.
“He said he’d learned to swim in the cold waters off Old Town, and in the Navy noticed that divers got to eat first. So he volunteered and became a frogman. Those guys preceded the Navy SEALs teams – except in the Pacific operations they didn’t have wet suits.
“They dove in their trunks, and cleared the path of mine fields for the guys behind them.”
Late in the war, one of those guys was Gen. Douglas MacArthur.
Keeping a promise he’d made years earlier to return to the Philippines, MacArthur wanted a media-covered landing on the beach where he could wade on to the island. But first, the Navy wanted to make sure his landing craft didn’t hit a mine.
So Jurich and his team cleared the path, only to be told to get off the beach once the photo op occurred. Jurich watched the landing, anyway.
His children never heard about that growing up. What they knew about their father’s swimming experience was far more personal.
“We go down to the water and Dad would put us on his back and swim,” Mary Ann said. “That’s how we learned to swim, swimming with Dad.”
After the war, Jurich never had a job that kept him indoors or didn’t require physical exertion. He was a commercial fisherman sailing Alaskan waters, worked in Northwest shipyards and did heavy construction.
“He mulched a yard at 90, and he’d have roofed my house if I’d asked him,” Mary Ann said. “He was the toughest man I ever knew.”
And among the sweetest. When Agnes was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, Jurich took care of his wife at home for several years, then admitted to his children it had become too much.
She went into a care facility, and Jurich visited each evening to feed her dinner.
Last week, that’s what killed him.
“Dad was allergic to whole wheat and sesame seeds, and he’d had four or five incidents with it in his life,” Mary Ann said. “When he fed mom, he’d sometimes eat what she didn’t.”
Last Sunday, Jurich ate a small salad with what he thought was Italian dressing. It was ginger. Within minutes, he’d gone into anaphylactic shock.
Raced to St. Joseph Medical Center, Jurich was revived by paramedics and the emergency room crew, was able to talk to all three children when they arrived. When he went into a second crash, Jurich didn’t survive.
Services for Jurich will be at 10 a.m. Saturday at Aloysius Chapel at Bellarmine Preparatory School.
Jurich’s life should be celebrated more than his death mourned. As he’d done the past 67 years, Jurich might just have hurried ahead to open one last door for Agnes.
Larry LaRue: 253-597-8638