Drafted off an Iowa cornfield during World War II, Benjamin Ypma would go on to serve as a military policeman in the southwest Pacific, a violent job that involved keeping the peace in bars and houses of ill repute. On one occasion, Corporal Ypma and his fellow MPs warded off a group of Australians attacking a U.S. military store with hand-to-hand combat.
Ypma’s attitude through it all? “The Lord is my shepherd, and he’s a good shepherd, and I appreciate his rod and staff, which beat the crap out of some people when I needed it.”
Ypma, a two-time widower who now lives in Grandville, turns 100 on Feb. 5, one of fewer than a half-million surviving U.S. veterans from WWII. And while the high school dropout considers his service in the southwest Pacific some of the best schooling he’s ever had, it’s the indelible mark he has left on the lives of others – both soldiers and civilians – that stands out the most to those around him.
A plaque honoring Ypma in the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans notes that following his service from 1941-1945, he graduated from seminary school and served as a minister, chaplain, pastoral counselor and missionary around the world. He’s baptized a war correspondent in a crocodile-infested river, counseled Vietnam veterans nearly half his age and ministered to people from Africa to Cambodia to Taiwan.
“He’s been an integral figure spiritually for hundreds, probably thousands of people,” says Mary Koster of Rochester Hills, one of Ypma’s two daughters. “He’s a very passionate and spiritual man, but also very real, very transparent. He doesn’t hesitate to give advice but at the same time he knows when to keep his mouth shut. He amazes me with the different ways he can reach people.”
As for turning 100, it’s simply a number to Ypma. He still drives himself around, takes but one pill a day (for high blood pressure) and just a few years ago agreed to teach an exercise class when the instructor had to step down.
And when he looks back on his eventful life, it’s Ypma’s proud service to his country that was perhaps his most influential period. For a man who once served as a bodyguard to Gen. Douglas MacArthur, who went through New Guinea with both the King James Bible and Darwin’s “Origin of Species” in his knapsack, Ypma says his “spiritual evolution” was cultivated in the Army.
“How can you separate in me the war from the development of my life?” Ypma says. “It is a great, providential gift that I was yanked out of the cornfields, pitching manure.”