Long-overdue honors come to Newberry veteran

MARQUETTE – The day before her 89th birthday on March 1, M. Joy (Wangberg) Sleeper received a long-overdue honor.

The medals she earned serving her country during World War II.

“I read in my Navy WAVE magazine that I was entitled to them so I sent for them,” she said in a telephone interview. “It took a year, but I received them. The timing turned out to be pretty good.”

Sleeper, a Newberry resident since 1948, received Victory and Campaign medals to go along with her honorable discharge and honorable service lapel pins.

While she grew up in downstate Birmingham, the Upper Peninsula was a familiar place to her all of her life. Her parents were Yoopers.

“My dad (Ingwald Wangberg) was born in Ishpeming,” Sleeper said. “And my mom (Clara Hooper) was from Calumet.”

During World War I, Ingwald Wangberg was gassed during the fighting.

“He had been a pharmacist but the doctors told him he needed to find an outdoors job,” Sleeper said. “So he went to Michigan State University and earned a degree in landscaping.”

He settled his family in the Detroit suburbs, but they visited the U.P. regularly.

During the World War II, Sleeper’s three brothers enlisted in the military and so did she. Her oldest brother, Harold “Red” Wangberg was a distinguished Navy pilot who served on the U.S.S. Yorktown.

Her brother, Frank Wangberg, was a Navy lieutenant who served as a meteorologist in Alaska while youngest brother, Dave Wangberg, was a Navy seaman.

It was only natural when she enlisted, Joy Wangberg chose the Navy as well, but for more reasons than her brothers’ service.

“I was a Mariner Girl Scout, so it was natural me going into the Navy,” she said. “My Girl Scout training saved me several times. I already knew how to tie knots in ropes through my Girl Scout experience. And I got out of a lot of the exercise stuff because of my lifeguard training through the Scouts.”

Boot camp was at Hunter College in the Bronx, N.Y.

“It was wintertime and we were by a reservoir,” she said. “The wind came off that something terrible.”

She trained in Georgia as a Storekeeper I and served in Cleveland, Ohio. Sleeper’s job was to determine benefits for military survivors and for the families left behind from those who died during their service.

“I’m sure the war was difficult for my parents, especially with my oldest brother being a fighter pilot,” Sleeper said.

The Wangberg children all came home safely from World War II and after the war, Joy returned to college. She had done some course work at Olivet College before enlisting, then enrolled at what is now Western Michigan University to continue her education.

On a trip to visit family in the U.P., Joy Wangberg met fellow Navy veteran Keith Sleeper. The couple married and decided to settle in Newberry.

“Sure, I was happy to be in Newberry, to be near a lake,” she said. “I loved the change of seasons. I still do.”

Joy and Keith, who passed away in 1985, had four children: son David, who lives in Gladwin, and daughters Nancy, Barbara and Mary, who all live in the Newberry area. There are two grandchildren (Kirsten Carlson and Keith Sleeper, DDS) and two great-grandchildren (Russell and Sloane Carlson).

In September 2011, Joy Sleeper was a participant on the inaugural Upper Peninsula Honor Flight, which takes WWII veterans to Washington, D.C., to visit the memorial in their honor as well as other landmarks.

“It was awesome,” she said. “It was so well organized. We were greeted at every place we went. It was wonderful.”

Sleeper is active in a WAVES organization that meets during the summer months.

“We were thinking of meeting in April, but the way the weather is, we might have to wait,” she said with a laugh.

Renee Prusi can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 253.