Mitch and Me: A Posthumous Tribute to a Childhood Friend

Mitch Kehetian and me in 2017; Image courtesy of Grace Kehetian Kulegian

 

There are so, so many stories that I can tell about “Mitch and Me”.  Most would be, I believe as interesting as those creative tales told by the prolific 19th Century American writer-adventurer, Mark Twain, whose mind and pen introduced the world to the life and times of the unforgettable fictional characters on the pages of the “Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn.”

As picturesque as fiction is, I prefer the down-to-earth literary genre of autobiographies and biographies: life stories, the manna and the misery of our lives, what makes us tick, including looking at what someone contributed, or chose not to contribute, to build a better life or destroy others.

Mitchell “Mitch” Kehetian passed on February 22, 2020, at the Beaumont-Oakwood Hospital in Dearborn. He was 89. His lovely wife of sixty-seven years, Rose, and their three daughters – Grace, Janet and Karen were at his bedside.

Born in Detroit and raised in the cosmopolitan neighborhood of Delray, Mitch  lived to write, and wrote to live, beginning as a hustling copy boy at the William Randolph Hearst owned Detroit Times, en route to the prestigious positions of Managing Editor at the Macomb Daily and the Associated Newspapers. During his fifty-plus years as a writer, he also served on staff at the Citizen -Journal in Columbus, Ohio, and East Side Newspapers in Detroit.

Unpretentious and laconic, in his later years Mitch was blessed with distinguished white hair and a walrus mustache, lily-white skin and sky-blue eyes, atypical of dark-skinned Armenians. Mitch Kehetian was William Saroyan’s physical double. To my knowledge the two writers never met, but with one glance at photos of both of them, one would not know who was who. Saroyan, a Pulitzer Prize winning playwright-novelist, author of The Human Comedy and My Name is Aram was one of the most prominent literary figures in the 20th Century.

Throughout his life, Mitch’s demeanor generally put one at ease immediately, especially those whom he interviewed or approached him for advice. But never – and I mean never – should one have invaded his space at deadline, the hour when the newspaper was “put to bed”! A prudent writer, whose engaging personality became a magnet for young and inquisitive journalist, was my “boss” when I was a sports writer for a western Wayne County daily newspaper.

Like most who grew up and were schooled in Detroit during the Great Depression, we looked to the auto industry for employment. Mitch and I appeared destined to follow in the footsteps of our older brothers, but when we came to the crossroads after high school graduation, I took an incredulous and dangerous road and Mitch started his journalistic adventure.

Neal Shine (former Detroit Free Press managing editor and publisher) told the story in one of his columns: Mitch Kehetian’s news instincts were sharpened in the early 1950’s at a very basic level. The Detroit Times paid him a dollar every time he called in a news tip that Times editors deemed newsy….” One story that caught the Time’s news desk’s attention was Mitch’s report that he saw a guy on a stretcher  “….being carried out of the First and Last Stop Bar covered with a sheet. The bar came by its name as a result of its proximity to Woodmere Cemetery (in Southwest Detroit).The editor loved the story so much that he encouraged Kehetian to pursue a career in journalism.

Shine’s column continued: When Kehetian found out later that the man he assumed was dead had merely passed out he was crestfallen.” After he learned that he had conveyed incomplete information about the incident, Mitch called the Times back the next day to correct the story. The editor was impressed by Mitch’s honesty and complimented him for his actions. “You should still be a reporter,” he said. “I’ve got a lot of reporters here who would never have called me and admitted they were wrong.”

As a journalist, truth and facts would be the driving forces of Mitch’s  lifelong work. What appeared in and on the pages that he was responsible for was based on facts and he inspired those who surrounded him to seek the same in their pursuit of a story. His legacy will live on and inspire those who seek truth and will work to build bridges rather than walls between us and our neighbors; between nations.

To his last breath, he was a fighter using the pen to seek justice for the downtrodden, pursuing the eradication of racial discrimination from the hearts of all of us. In his soft-spoken voice he offered hope and give confidence to those who retreated to the sidelines, in depression and in doubt that good would triumph over evil.

Some years ago he was asked to lend his voice to bring home the remains of Private Eddie Slovik, the only American soldier to be court-martialed and executed for desertion in World War II.Mitch did not hesitate to act and waged a successful battle to achieve what the cynics believed unachievable. Mitch argued that while more than twenty thousand American soldiers were arrested for desertion in World War II, all, but one, were given a wide range of sentences, that Private Slovik’s death sentence was a travesty of justice – carried out, surely to thwart those who waivered in battle. Inevitably, Mitch rallied support and the case was won: the twenty-four year old soldier’s body was eventually brought home from France for burial in Detroit southwest Woodmere Cemetery.

Death has haunted Mitch and me as long as I can remember, but we managed to somehow survive. Our first encounter, at the age of eight or nine, was on the railroad tracks near Detroit Produce Terminal where we attempted to harvest fallen ice chunks from conveyors. The plan, during the time of ice boxes, was to resell the ice to residents on our street. To salvage the icy jewels we had to crawl beneath the boxcars. One day our world almost came to an end because the train began to move its load as we were “harvesting”. As we crawled to safety the ice was crushed on the tracks…but, blessings, not our bodies.

In our thirties, Mitch would survive a plane crash, while my life would be be spared by KGB agents who at the height of the Cold War were convinced I was an FBI agent.

I feel alone now.

We had made a pack and he opted out.

I miss him.

Read the full “Mitch and Me” series:

Mitch and Me: A Posthumous Tribute to a Childhood Friend
Mitch and Me: The Years of the Great Depression
Mitch and Me: Iconic Moments of Friendship
Mitch and Me: Challenges in a New World
Mitch and Me: Explaining the Inexplicable
Mitch and Me: A Divergence
Mitch and Me: The Final Chapter to an Epic Life
Mitch and Me: The “Contract” is Null & Void

 

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bookTom Mooradian was one of 151 Americans who traveled to Soviet Armenia to repatriate during the 1940’s. Thought to be a spy by the KGB, Tom miraculously survived 13 years behind the Iron Curtain winning the hearts of the Soviets through his basketball prowess.  Filled with political drama, romance, and intrigue, Tom’s autobiography, The Repatriate reads like a novel, and will have you guessing how Tom managed to return to America alive.
The Second Edition is now available on Kindle and in Paperback!

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