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Lyle Torpey died July 11, 2019 at 98 years old. He lived a remarkable American life. In the span of his lifetime he would see the age of horse power turn into the space age.
Lyle’s first jobs were on farms in the Palouse country of Eastern Washington. Some of these farms still plowed the land with massive teams of horses, dozens in a trace. He saw sweeping changes in technology including the early beginnings of the aviation industry. As a boy he heard a newly famous young pilot named Lindbergh speak in Washington DC about the future of commercial flight. Ultimately, he would see men fly to the moon and ride upon its surface in machines he helped design.
Lyle was born in Farmington, WA. His grandfather ranched there and his father worked there occasionally. It was there he fell in love with the outdoors. There was fishing, hunting and cross country skiing for miles. However, times were hard for the family of four kids. To find work, they traveled across the country many times between the hills of the Palouse and the Washington DC area where they had connections for employment.
It made for an interesting and diverse life going between the wheat fields of Eastern Washington and occupying a front row seat to those historic times in Washington DC. Lyle’s father took them to every major event, if it was free. They went to inaugurations, protests, museums and speeches. Among the speeches Lyle attended was FDR’s “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself” 1933 inaugural address.
The Depression hit the family hard. His father spent long weeks away from the family seeking work. Lyle worked odd jobs for money to buy ammunition to provide game for the table. The local general store owner kept an open box of shells under the counter so Lyle could buy one cartridge at a time because that was all the money he had. He had to make each shot count as it meant rabbit with dumplings for dinner vs. bread and milk. As a result he became a crack shot. In WWII he earned a sharp shooter grade with a rifle.
He went to school in Washington DC, Arlington, VA, Tacoma, WA and graduated from Farmington, WA High School. He participated in many sports including gymnastics (the rings) baseball and boxing. The family had lived in some tough neighborhoods so Lyle had to learn to fight early. This helped him become a talented boxer attracting the attention of local coaches and trainers. He fought in the Golden Gloves losing to the man who went on to be the national champion in his weight class.
Lyle worked for the Civilian Conservation Corps or CCC. This Depression era program employed thousands of out of work young men building trails, planting trees, and improving parks. He worked on several projects around Mt. Spokane.
After graduation, he traveled back to Washington DC and worked for a plumbing and electrical company and the Curtiss-Wright Airplane Company. There he became a Certified Aircraft Welder. He was saving his money to marry a Farmington ranch girl he was dating named Ruby Kammerzell. He finally saved enough and drove back, once again, across the US with his sister. As soon as he got there, he eloped with Ruby during a January Palouse blizzard.
Lyle hired on at Boeing and they moved to Seattle to a tiny apartment on First Hill. They enjoyed all of the best things of the city then from lunch at Ben Paris’ to fishing from the many boat houses that lined Elliott Bay.
During WWII Lyle enlisted in the Army going to basic training in California and further training in Hawaii. His first action with the 27th Infantry Division was on the island of Saipan.
He was then sent to the invasion of Okinawa. This was the largest amphibious assault in the Pacific Theater of WWII. The 82-day battle was the bloodiest of the Pacific. There were roughly 160,000 casualties on both sides including at least 75,000 allied. More than 12,500 American soldiers died.
Lyle was shot by a sniper toward the end of the conflict. The bullet hit a large knife he had on his hip. The knife saved his life but the shrapnel went throughout his body. The Army surgeons removed as much as possible enabling him to walk again but he carried a good deal of metal the rest of his life.
After the Japanese surrender, he went to Japan in the Army of Occupation. He served on the northern most island Hokkaido in and around Sapporo.
For his service he was awarded the Bronze Star, the Purple Heart, the Army Good Conduct Medal, the Asian-Pacific Campaign Medal, the WWII Victory Medal, The Army of Occupation Service Medal and the CIB or Combat Infantryman Badge. The CIB is only given if the soldier was engaged in intense hostile fire with the enemy.
After the war he went back to work at Boeing and he and Ruby lived in Bothell on 7 acres. He took many courses at the University of Washington in metallurgy and related subjects. While he was taking classes, he taught welding at several Vo-Tech schools in the area as he had done before his service. He worked his way from the plant floor to become a Research and Development Engineer and an expert in metallurgy. He worked on many programs including the B-17, B-52, 707, 747, Minuteman, and 727. He worked on the Saturn project and the Lunar Rover (LRV). He spent extensive time in Huntsville, Alabama working on Apollo
In 1967, Ruby and Lyle moved to a small farm in Enumclaw where they raised purebred Shorthorn cattle and registered quarter horses while he continued to work at Boeing. They grew huge gardens with every kind of vegetable and kept an orchard. Ruby was an excellent cook and meals at the farm were fabulous with home made pies, 5 vegetables, pot roasts, and pickles and relishes of every type. During these years they truly enjoyed the Northwest going bird, deer, antelope and elk hunting, camping, clam digging, salmon and trout fishing, huckleberry picking and exploring. They traveled extensively going to Hawaii and Alaska many times. They also made trips to Tahiti and Moorea and, soon after it opened to tourists, China.
Ruby died on 7/11/2011. At the same time, Lyle got colon cancer. He survived an operation going on to many years of vigorous activity on his farm. His health waned the last few years, but through everything he remained kind, sweet and thoughtful. He was an incredibly smart, humble, strong and caring man who spoke no ill of anyone.
He is survived by his daughter Karen and son-in-law Jay Carbon of Buckley, WA; his grandson Aaron Frase, his wife Colleen and children Ava, Etta and Samara of St. Paul, MN; as well as several nieces and nephews. He was preceded in death by his parents Charles and Effie and his brothers Charles (Jr.) and Robert and a sister Alta.
He died on 7/11/2019, the same day and hour of Ruby’s passing. They were married 69 years.
Lyle lived a truly remarkable American life. There was no finer man. We will miss you always Dad.
There's still time to send flowers to the Funeral Service at the Weeks' Enumclaw Funeral Home at 1:00 PM on July 21, 2019.
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