On Sunday, Nov. 11, Veterans Day will be commemorated at Pasadena City Hall beginning at 10:30 a.m. Everyone is invited to join civic leaders, special guests, military veterans and active members of the US armed forces. The commander of the USS Pasadena will be the guest speaker, and the Condor Squadron of World War II-era T-6 planes will fly in formation at 11:11 a.m. Free hot dogs will be provided by Pasadena firefighters at the conclusion of the event.
I was born as the result of a union forged during World War II. My mother was a Red Cross volunteer visiting a hospital to cheer up wounded servicemen, and my father was a patient convalescing from shrapnel wounds that would leave him with a 50 percent disability rating at the end of the war.
My father did not belong to any organizations like the American Legion or Veterans of Foreign Wars. But there was a cigar box on the top shelf of my parents’ closet, and sometimes he would take it out and let me look at the medals inside, including the one he was most proud of: the Purple Heart. In our den was the framed Navy Unit Commendation awarded to his regiment, the 22nd Marines, for their action in the seizure of Eniwetok Atoll in the Marshall Islands.
On Dec. 8, 1941, the day after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, my father volunteered for military service. He was deployed to the Pacific Theatre of Operations before he was 17 and sailed for the Western Samoa island of Upolu in June 1942. He spent 16 months there and received extensive training in jungle warfare. In early 1944, the 22nd Marines were assigned to the invasion of Eniwetok Atoll. He never talked about his combat experiences until years later when I was in the Marine Corps.
It is in the juxtaposition of two stories that his humanity found redemption. In the first story, he chillingly described the haunting memory of how the orders had been given before the Marines landed to “take no prisoners.” After the Marines conquered the first island, the captured and surrendered Japanese soldiers were lined up on the beach and were about to be executed. Navy chaplains pleaded for mercy, but the Marines followed their orders.
The other story was about what happened after my father was wounded. The 22nd Marines had successfully completed a series of amphibious landings. My father returned to the troop ship unscathed. On another island, an Army unit had gotten bogged down, so my father’s unit was sent back into battle, and he had an ominous feeling his luck was running out. His unit encountered fierce resistance, and he was so badly wounded by an exploding Japanese hand grenade that he could not walk or even crawl. On Feb. 22, 1944, the Marines were forced to fall back to the beach and leave everything behind, but they did not leave my father behind.
This Veteran’s Day, I will remember the “nobody gets left behind” spirit with which my father’s Marine comrades carried him back to safety. That spirit is best personified in the Marine Corps motto, Semper Fidelis: Always Faithful. My father remained Always Faithful throughout his life in word and deed.
The Navy Unit Commendation that hung in our den reads, in part: For outstanding heroism in action against enemy Japanese forces … the 22nd Marines landed … in rapid succession and launched aggressive attacks in the face of heavy machine-gun and mortar fire from dugouts and foxholes … By their courage and determination, despite the difficulties and hardships involved in repeated reembarkations and landings from day to day, these gallant officers and men made available to our forces in the Pacific Area an advanced base with large anchorage facilities and an established airfield, thereby contributing materially to the successful conduct of the war. Their sustained endurance, fortitude and fighting spirit throughout this operation reflect the highest credit on the 22nd Marines and on the United States Naval Service.
Heroism in action. Courage and determination. Gallant men. Sustained endurance. Fortitude and fighting spirit. These are the words that describe my father and how he should always be remembered. He was a real patriot, a Yankee Doodle Dandy, born on the Fourth of July.
And so on Veteran’s Day I will remember him. Perhaps you, a friend or family member is a veteran. Please join us on Nov. 11.
Attorney William M. Paparian is a former mayor of Pasadena and a member of the Pasadena Veterans Day Committee.