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Serving America

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Thank You to all those who have lost their lives fighting for America. #FD-637

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Memorial Weekend events honoring the fallen

There are five different events honoring those who have fallen while serving America as well as those who served in the military and have since passed away.

Saturday at Oleander Estates u 10 a.m. Groundbreaking Charles O. Palmer II Park, southwest of Union Road and Woodward Avenue Sunday at Woodward Park u 6:30 a.m. Registration for Wounded Warrior Christopher Braley 5K Run/Walk sponsored by

In-Shape of Manteca u 8 a.m. Wounded Warrior Christopher Braley 5K Run/Walk sponsored by In-Shape starts. u 8 a.m. Flyover by Korean War Vintage T Six Trainer u 9 a.m. Flag raising ceremony and taps; memorial opens, breakfast by Nulaid Eggs, car show and motorcycle show plus exhibits open, helicopters begin landing including Vietnam Huey Gunship and Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Patrol chopper


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Serving America

The Bulletin-Saturday, May 24, 2014


War is the ‘ultimate truth serum’ B y JA S ON C AM P B EL L Th e Bu lletin

Chris Braley talks about the seconds leading up to the bomb blast that dramatically altered the course of his life like he was telling a joke with an old friend. There he was, in Iraq, calling one of his friends a “boot” because he had fallen into a ditch and couldn’t get out. And when he finally leaned down to give him a hand, Braley himself tumbled in. A laugh was shared between the two – a war laugh. The kind of laugh that you grab and hold on to because you don’t know when something funny is going to come your way again. And as his friend edged his way out on one side and Braley the other, it happened. ••• Boom An explosion from an IED – a crude homemade bomb pieced together by insurgents and designed specifically to inflict damage to foreign troops – ripped through the edges of Braley’s upper body and sent pieces of metal into his face and head. His friend has his lower body shredded on the opposite bank. The two that had just shared a laugh seconds before were suddenly casualties – no longer boots on the ground but a statistic that would roll across the ticker at home for the people that watched the nightly news. “A Navy corpsman and a Marine were injured today when a roadside bomb…” The 2004 Sierra High grad staggered around as blood poured from the hole in his face into his Kevlar. He was in bad shape. And although he didn’t know it, he was facing a much tougher road than the ones that he walked as a Navy Corpsman.

••• Blending back in The military calls it “assimilating back into civilian live.” And as he takes a long, deliberate drag on the Camel he’s holding in his left hand, Braley shows that two years after his discharge he’s doing quite well at that. His 19-month-old son, Chris Jr., is running around at the top of the driveway in a pair of slip-on shoes that make his feet look like those of a dinosaur. His short red hair has been a major topic of discussion in the Braley household today after Chris took him to get it cut. He thinks that it makes his son look like a Marine. But as his wife Devary, cleans him up and pushes what little hair he has left up into a faux hawk, she complains that he let them cut it too short. “All of the other kids are going to look at him and think that he’s monster tough,” he said. “And they’ll be right.” This is life in the Braley household. Mom and Dad playfully bantering back-and-forth about a haircut while Jr. runs around and the youngest, 7-month-old Liam, grabs onto whatever he can in an attempt to put it in his mouth and drool on it. It’s a far cry from what he faced in September of 2007 when he was flown back to Bethesda Naval Hospital so that American doctors trained in treating traumatic brain injuries could work together collectively to give Braley a shot at a normal life. ••• But he had support Upon learning that a Manteca serviceman had been injured in Iraq, Manteca pastor and founder of the Memorial Day celebration at Woodward Park, Mike Dillman, flew out to Maryland with his wife and daughter to offer their wishes and prayers

HIME ROMERO/The Bulletin

Former Navy Corpsman Christopher Braley poses for a picture with his wife, Devary, and their two boys – 19-month-old Chris Jr. and 7-month-old Liam.

to Braley as he lay in a hospital bed. He had never before met the man, himself a Vietnam Veteran. But with the full backing of the community – Braley’s hometown – Dillman’s presence was a tremendous sign that no matter how alone he felt during the long and arduous road to recovery, there would always be somebody in his corner. Sometimes that somebody is the Commander in Chief.

President George W. Bush visited Bethesda when Braley was there – even going so far as to kiss him on the forehead as the clammy corpsman took in the surreal magnitude of the situation unfolding before him. Just seconds before, massive black shepherds had been roaming the hallways searching for bombs and now the President SEE BRALEY, PAGE 6

To all the men and women serving in the armed forces past and present we would like to salute you and thank you for loyal service and sacrifices for our fight for freedom... Thank You.

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The Bulletin-Saturday, May 24, 2014


of the United States is kissing him on the forehead and consoling his mother – kissing her on the cheek – like they were old family friends. “I’ve never seen anybody with as much confidence as he had,” Braley said. “The swag that man had – I don’t even like using the word swag. But he walked in with this assurance – like everything was going to be alright. And when you’re in that position, seeing somebody like him come across like that can make a big difference.” By December he was well enough to get transferred to the VA Hospital in Palo Alto, but discovered when arriving that nearly all of the staff had gone home to spend Christmas with their family. Both his aunt and uncle are nurses, so they were able to work out an agreement where they would deliver the IV medication he needed through his PICC lines so that he too could spend the holiday at home. Nobody knew he was coming. And when he walked up to the back door and his grandmother saw him standing there, she burst into tears. “She’s a softy anyway,” he said. “Nobody knew that I was going to be there except my aunt and my uncle so it was a big surprise for everybody. To be home for Christmas was huge. It meant everything at that time.” ••• The ultimate truth serum War still haunts Christopher Braley. Injured soldiers sometimes feel like they let down the men that they leave behind, but Braley – who took the time to train his Marines through impromptu classes on how to treat battle wounds – knew that his guys were well-versed enough in what to do in case of an emergency to function even without him there. Ideally, he said in retrospect, he’d always


hoped that in the event of a mass-casualty incident he could serve as a director rather than administrator and focus on triage while the guys in the platoon took care of the treatment. No, being away from the battlefield isn’t what haunts Braley. It’s what runs through his head when he finds the idle time that comes when he isn’t looking after his boys or helping his friend Vince Nastro with his “Welcome Home Heroes” foundation. The combination of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and the recovery from TBI – traumatic brain injury – makes every second of every day a challenge. He’s only had one major public episode that could have very well landed him in jail, but for the most part he suffers silently. It’s the dreams – night terrors actually – that really seem to grab on and won’t let go. He knows, however, when his head hits the pillow that he did everything that was ever asked of him as a soldier and a battle medic, and that despite that one incident on Sept. 17, 2007, he faced the threat of daily death like any good soldier does – by laughing at it. No, despite how crazy he says he may have been when he got out of the military, Braley is not insane. He just knows how he reacted in combat situations. ••• He knows the truth “War is the ultimate truth serum – you find out who you really are because there’s no way of hiding it,” he said. “People’s true colors come out. You hear about people hesitating in that moment, and fortunately I never had to see something like that for myself. In war you have to trust the guy next to you – you have to know that he’s got your back and he has to know that you have his. “Your life is directly in somebody else’s hands. And when you’re in a situation like that, you can’t lie about it anymore.”

A 2004 Sierra High grad, Braley was injured in an IED blast on Sept. 17, 2007. He was awarded the Purple Heart.


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The Bulletin-Saturday, May 24, 2014

America’s longest war B y J AM ES E. C A D L E

T h e Wo o dbridge Writers G r oup

Nearly six decades have passed since his release from active duty, but his Marine Corps bearing is evident. It can be seen in the ramrod straight posture, the self-confident manner, and the energy with which each challenge is met. John P. Evans is every inch a Marine. Growing up in a military family, his father, Richard Evans, Sr., a World War I veteran, served as a machine gunner with the U.S. Army’s 37th Infantry Division in France. He was commissioned an officer in the Army Air Corps in 1942. Soon after Pearl Harbor, his two older brothers joined the U.S. Marine Corps and served in the South Pacific. John’s brother Bob, was badly wounded in the battle for Bougainville. Brother Dick fought from Guadalcanal to Peleliu Island, returning home “without a scratch”. John P. Evans was only eight years old, but knew that he, too, would one day become a Marine. Early on the morning of June 25, 1950, the North Korean People’s Army drove south across the 38th Parallel which divided the two countries. Three days later they captured South Korea’s capitol city of Seoul. President Harry S. Truman ordered U.S. Forces to Korea and, on July 1, 1950, Task Force Smith which consisted of the U.S. Army’s 1st Battalion, 21st Infantry, 24th Infantry Division, arrived in Korea. John Evans embraced his destiny. Only 17 years old, he obtained his father’s required permission and joined the U.S. Marine Corps. Completing boot camp at Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego,

Photo courtesy of John P. Evans

U.S. Navy Corpsman Vission, (left) 1st Sgt. Leone (also a WW II vet) and Cpl. John P. Evans(right) in reserve south of the 38th Parallel, Korea, Summer 1952.

he was assigned for a six month period to a unit providing security at the Hawthorne Naval Ammunition Depot, Hawthorne, Nevada.

Following the North Korean invasion on June 25th, North Korean forces rapidly pushed south, forcing Allied Forces to set up the Pusan Perimeter, a roughly 100 by


50 mile rectangle at the southeast tip of the Korean Peninsula. North Korea occupied 90% of South Korea, and there was grave doubt that the Pusan Perimeter could be successfully defended. United Nations, Republic of South Korea, U.S. Army, and the 1st Marine Division, the Pusan Perimeter held. On September 15, 1950, Tenth Corps, which included elements of the 1st Marine Division, conducted an amphibious landing at Inchon, west of Seoul, and drove inland. Troops broke out of the Pusan Perimeter and headed north in a pincer movement. North Korean troops began a major withdrawal. Allied Forces continued north into North Korea, captured the capital city of P’yongyang, and stopped at the Yalu River dividing North Korea and the Republic of China. On November 28, 1950, an estimated 300,000 Communist Chinese troops pushed south into North Korea, forcing a withdrawal of Allied Troops. Heavy fighting continued until Allied Forces reached a position just north of the 38th parallel. Both sides took up defensive positions and the Outpost War began. Corporal John Evans boarded the troop transport USS General William Weigel on December 15, 1951. The destination was Korea. The USS Weigel docked in early January on the east coast of South Korea just south of the 38th Parallel. Evans, assigned to Baker Company, 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, was about to join the “Outpost War”. Armistice talks had opened at Panmunjom on June 23, 1951. During this period, SEE LONGEST


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Allied Forces sought to improve their tactical positions and to put pressure on North Korea and China to negotiate. Each side patrolled between the lines, attacking opposing outposts, ambushing enemy troops, and gathering intelligence. Fighting was fierce, and nearly 40% of U.S. casualties took place during the final 20 months of the conflict. The terrain, described by Evans as “diabolic”, was mountainous and rugged. Extreme winter temperatures ranged 20° to 30° below zero. Clothing was worn in layers so removal was easier as body temperatures rose. White winter camouflage gear, however, could not be removed without danger of being seen by enemy soldiers. On those occasions, Marines labored to climb steep terrain, perspired heavily in their layered clothing, and found the perspiration freezing on their bodies as they waited in ambush for enemy patrols. On the evening of September 14, 1952,

Evans was informed that he would take part in a patrol to occupy an outpost. Led by a newly arrived 2d Lieutenant, Evans was second-in-command and served as Squad Leader of the reinforced squad. The unit had thirteen riflemen (three equipped with Browning Automatic Rifles), a four man machine gun section, a radioman, Naval Corpsman, Evans and the lieutenant. A Korean civilian, a member of the Korean Service Corps, was assigned to accompany the squad and improve the outpost trenches. As darkness fell, the squad moved silently through the wire and reached their assigned outpost just over a half mile north of the Main Line of Resistance. They prepared to set up a perimeter defense, unaware that a superior force of Communist Chinese Solders had moved in to surround them. A metallic sound rang out as the machine gunner cleared his weapon and racked a round into the chamber. Heavy gunfire erupted immediately, much of it from Chinese “Burp Guns”, automatic weapons firing 900 rounds per minute. The machine gunner was instantly killed. In addition to weapons fire, Chinese sol-

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diers began a steady barrage of hand grenades. A number of the grenades exploded in the trench occupied by Evans, and he was badly wounded in the foot. Realizing that his lieutenant was disabled and unable to command, Evans took charge. The squad reacted quickly and managed to gain superior firepower to prevent the Chinese from overrunning the position. Evans had been assigned a Thompson submachine gun which added a great deal of firepower. The outpost coordinates had been previously registered by B Company’s mortar unit. The squad’s radioman, Pfc. Dick Hawthorne, called for the mortar unit to “box us in”, asking the mortar unit to fire on all four sides of their position. The rounds exploded close enough to throw dirt on the squad, and drove back the Chinese troops. A 30 man reinforcement unit responded from Baker Company to aid in the withdrawal. Evans, wounded too badly to walk, was carried out on the back of a fellow Marine. He exchanged his Thompson submachine gun for a lighter weight M-1 carbine to help provide protection during the withdrawal.

Pfc. Hawthorne was later awarded the Bronze Star for having retrieved the body of their machine gunner under heavy fire. Evans’ squad sustained two deaths that night, the machine gunner and the South Korea civilian worker. Two were wounded, Evans and their Naval Corpsman. Evans gives credit to his men for their steady, well-trained response to the attack at the outpost. Additionally, the support of Baker Company’s mortar unit and the arrival of the reinforcement unit likely saved the lives of the squad that night. Very modest, Evans would shun any hint of his heroism, but there is little doubt that his quick command response at the outset of the ambush was instrumental in the survival of his unit. Evans was treated at an aid station upon reaching Baker Company and after removal of grenade fragments from his foot at a field naval surgical tent, was transferred to hospital ship USS Repose in Inchon Harbor. During his recovery aboard Repose, he met and spoke with SEE LONGEST



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General Lemuel C. Shepherd, Commandant of the Marine Corps, who was touring Korea. Evans was subsequently transferred to Yokuska Naval Hospital in Japan for rehabilitation before returning to his unit. He arrived on a significant date, the 177th anniversary of the establishment of the U.S. Marine Corps. Evans remained in Korea until he completed his tour of duty in mid-January, 1953, and was returned to the United States. He re-enlisted and served training recruits as a Drill Instructor for the remaining three years of his career. The signing of an armistice took place at Panmunjom on July 27, 1953, resulting in a cease fire. During the war, 36,574 Americans were killed in action, another 103,284 were wounded. No agreement on a peace treaty has ever been reached by the two sides and hostilities continue.


u 4 p.m. Helicopters will take off u 4:30 p.m. ‘The Beast’ dragster will fire up FROM PAGE 2 u 4:15 p.m. Fire Brands on Main Stage u 5:15 p.m. The Deadlines on Main Stage u 10 a.m. Free kids’ energy zone, military exhibits, u 6:30 p.m. The High Voltage Band on Main Stage Silly Ricky Show u 7:45 p.m. Air Force Band Mobility u 11 a.m. Busy Bee Dog Show in Kids Zone u 9 p.m. Tahoe Fire Dancers u 11:30 The Advocates perform on Main Stage u 9 p.m. Fireworks celebrating the safe return of all u Noon Victorious All Stars on Main Stage u 12:30 p.m. Processional led by Patriot Guard riders who have worn the cloth of our nation. The Traveling Tribute will remain open for public u 12:45 p.m. Arrival of the Gold Star families u 1 p.m. Community Memorial Service and Missing viewing through 4 p.m. on Monday. Monday Man Formation fly over u 1 p.m. Welcome Home Heroes Traveling Tribute u 10 a.m. - Ripon Cemetery, Ripon. Memorial Day ceremonies dedication u 11 a.m. - East Union Cemetery, Manteca. Memou 2 p.m. East Union Drum Line, Bagpipe Band, Manteca Police Display, Silly Ricky Show, The Advo- rial Day Ceremonies u 11 a.m. - Lathrop Veterans Memorial, Valverde cates, Jeff Cannons, Mechanical Bull competition, Park on Fifth Street, Lathrop. Memorial Day cerBusy Bee dog show u 3 p.m. Flyover featuring a World War II Harpoon emonies u 11 a.m. - Park View Cemetery Memorial Day cerBomber Plane emonies u 3:15 p.m. We Are Family on Main Stage


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sions to Germany; he aborted not a single one of those missions. He served from 1941-1945. “I had 15 traumatic missions, very serious missions,” said Cornell in the video interview. During one combat mission, he took a heavy hit on his left foot from 20-mm shells fired by the enemy fighters into his plane. On another mission, a burned body landed in front of him after a plane overhead blew up. For his distinguished war service, Cornell was awarded the Army Air Corps Distinguished Flying Cross twice, the Air Medal four times, and three Battle Stars, with Winston Churchill giving him a letter of recommendation. “One of the things that bothered me,” Cornell confessed about his bombing missions, “I killed women and children. That will never leave me.” ••• Carl Stappenbeck: Veteran of WW2 and Korean War Stappenbeck served first in World War II in the Navy, and in the Korean War as a member of the U.S. Air Force. He was in WW2 in 1945 and got out in 1947. A little over a year later, he was in the Korean War where he served from 1951 to 1953. Like many young men during World War II, the longtime Manteca resident lied about his age to get into the service. He was 16 years old when he volunteered to serve. The recruiter looked at his birth certificate and, either Stappenbeck did a good job changing the numbers or the recruiter simply ignored it, but he was immediately admitted, he said with a little smile. “My mom died when I was six, and my dad was in the hospital. The people I lived with just went ahead and signed me off,” he somberly recalled. “Back then,” he quickly added, “everybody was patriotic. Many guys went into the service at 16. There was a group in Man-

Keith Cornell was a bomber pilot during World War II.


To contact Rose Albano Risso, email or call 209.249.3536.

Photo contributed

teca – all were 16 when they went into the service,” said the octogenarian former Post Commander of Manteca VFW 6311. Ftacek, Stappenbeck, and Cornell are just three of the very few heroes who served their country during World War II, and whose numbers are diminishing in great numbers nationwide every day. ••• Other members of The Greatest Generation who served in WWII Some of these members of The Greatest Generation are currently making their home at Emeritus at Manteca (formerly Leisure Manor) on North Union Road, and at Prestige Senior Living at Manteca on East Louise Avenue corner Empire Avenue. Emeritus Community Relations Director Jan McLennon gave the following names of World War II veterans living at this independent living facility. “Some did not want to give out their age, so I included their names and branch that they served in,” McLennon said. They are Leroy Miller (Army), Henry Dutra (Army), Dr. Irving Shaw (Army/Air Corps), Dick Waltz (Marines), Joe Kolda (Navy), Gilbert Luna (Army and Navy), Ole Tokheim (Army), Joe Vegar (Navy), Lorraine Curtwright (Navy), and Edith Katelinek (Navy). At Prestige Senior Living are the following World War II veterans, no age or army branch given: John Bechtold, Frank Daines, Dale Johnson, Ralph Wilson, and Earl Olson.

Photo contributed

Keith Cornell as a B-17 pilot and a 1st lieutenant in the U.S. Eighth Air Forces who flew 25 combat missions to Germany.


Al Ftacek, who flew 35 bombing missions to Germany (33) and France (2) is shown with wife Penny at their home in Manteca. They were pen pals during WW2 and were married after the war.

To all The men and women serving armed forces pasT We want to takeina The moment to salute all the menand andpresenT women in our Armed present their services services and we would like To saluTe you and forces Thankpast youand for your for loyal and dedication in perserving our freedom. Our thoughts and well sacrifices ourtofighT for freedom... wishesfor go out you and your family today and every day... HAPPY MEMORIAL DAY... TRACY NISSAN we saluTe you all…Tracy nissan

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Serving America

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War on Terror: ‘Our mission was a success’ By V I N C E RE MBU LAT T he B u l l e t i n

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James Vickers and his wife Jennifer and they young daughter enjoy a family moment.

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James L. Vickers was influenced by the events of September 11. In 2001, he had over 10 years of his career under his belt at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory when the terrorist attacks took place on U.S. soil. But it wasn’t until his younger brother Dennis decided to do fulltime active duty in the Global War on Terrorism – the international military campaign aimed at eliminating alQaeda and other militant organization – when he opted to enlist in the U.S. Army Reserve. “I also went in to support my brother,” said Vickers, who was able to maintain his job as laser technician at Lawrence Livermore while serving his country. From May 2003 to May 2011, he served as a medic during his two hitches in reserve duties. His most memorable time took place six years ago in Iraq. The Global War on Terrorism also included Afghanistan. Some of the notable deaths locally included that of Cpl. Charles O. Palmer and Cpl. Michael D. Anderson Jr. In 2008, Vickers was deployed to Camp Taji also known as Camp Cooke, as part of the 328th Combat Support Hospital from Sacramento. “Our mission was health care for detainees and rehabilitation of soldiers,’ he said. By then, he was married – James and Jennifer have been married for eight years and have a 3-year-old daughter – and living in Manteca. He’s originally from Vincennes, Ind., which is located on Wabash River in the southwestern part of Indiana. Vickers attended Vincennes University, where he received his associate degree in the field of laser and optical technology. That also landed him work in California in 1990.

Photo contributed

A medic in the Army Reserve, James Vickers was stationed at Camp Taji in Iraq in 2008-09.

Lawrence Livermore Lab is world renowned for its laser research program. Innovations fostered here eventually led to the National Ignition Facility, which is the largest scientific construction project that began in 1997 and completed in 2009. Vickers, who resided in Concord prior to the Central Valley, was there for that as well as serving his country. In Taji, located about 20 miles north of Baghdad, he attended to Iraqi detainees. As part of the rehabilitation, he helped with health care for these soldiers. This included monitoring blood pressure, diabetes and other risk factors. They were taught about a proper dieting and work training. “I think we made a difference,” said Vickers, who is still at Lawrence Livermore Lab. “It was good to come over and help (the detainees). “We helped make their situation better and for that our mission was a success.”

HAPPY MEMORIAL DAY… KIA COUNTRY To all the men and women serving in the armed forces past and present we would like to salute you and thank you for loyal service and sacrifices for our fight for freedom...




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Chuck Somma: Saving the Hornet B y P HIL B OOKMAN

Chuck Somma, in his role of docent aboard the USS Hornet, shows visitors jackets with various colors used to distinguish different jobs of the crew.

T he W o o dbridge Writers G r oup

The scene is the aircraft carrier Hornet. Planes are brought up to the flight deck ready for the hookup to a catapult that will shoot them to the sky. Shortly, they will engage enemy planes and ships in fierce battle. Once a pilot discovers his electrical system isn’t working, he probably can’t connect to the catapult. No catapult. Maybe no action. Send for an electrical mechanic. It could be 20-year-old Chuck Somma who will determine if electrical problems can be overcome or if the plane would fight another day. If so, another plane would be brought from below decks. Somma, now retired and living in Woodbridge, was on the eighth naval ship to be named Hornet. The seventh was sunk in a savage battle with the Japanese, called “The Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands” near Guadalcanal. For Somma, “It wasn’t a matter of age. You had a job to do and you did it. That was to repair planes.” Somma joined the Navy in 1950 after graduating from Castlement High School in Oakland. Sent to aviation electrician training in Florida, he joined the Hornet shortly after. In 1954, after the Korean War ended, the Hornet was sent on a round-theworld cruise that would prove to be one of the highlights of Somma’s naval career. “It was mostly a show the flag cruise,” Somma said. Leaving from San Francisco, the Hornet visited Pearl Harbor, Yokosuka, Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore and other points in the Far East. It would then take them to Europe and Naples, Lisbon and then back to Norfolk in the United States. “It was one

Photo courtesy of Chuck Somma

of the great experiences of my life,” he said. But the Chuck Somma story didn’t end there. He became one of the greatest of all ex-Navy volunteers. The Hornet, which had been decommissioned in 1975, was in a mothball fleet in Bremerton, Washington, until 1995. It was brought to Hunter’s Point in San Francisco where it was to be scrapped. “Not so fast,” said Somma and others who served on the Hornet and other ships. They determined the carrier was worth saving and could serve as a floating museum. The crew raised several million dollars to halt the dismantling of the Hornet and begin its restoration. The Hornet was towed to the Alameda Naval Shipyard in late 1995 and would remain there even though the base

was closed in 1997. With the Navy’s approval to transfer ownership of the Hornet to a nonprofit foundation, the ship has become a major Bay Area attraction. Somma instantly became a docent for the “museum,” showing tour groups around the ship and being one of the hosts at special dinners and meetings. He did this until 2007 when forced into a wheelchair by illness. Somma worked for the Amero Corp. in Livermore after his discharge and stayed with the company for 35 years. But it is Chuck’s volunteerism with the Rotary Club of Tracy that particularly stands out. He was coordinator of seven Rotary clubs seeking to raise millions to help eradicate worldwide polio.

He also participated in several trips to Mexico to build or rebuild playgrounds at schools and hospitals. A major undertaking was a two-week trip to Irkutsk in Siberia bringing medicines and equipment for the city’s hospital and orphanage. Doctors and surgeons there really appreciated it, Somma said. Somma’s wife Linda also works outside the home and is a leader in volunteering. She worked on the Hornet, was one of the first members of the McHenry House, Tracy’s Family Shelter’s board of directors and, with Chuck, volunteered on community service projects. With most of his life spent as a volunteer for worthy causes, Somma reflects, “I enjoyed every minute of it.”

Thank You.

“Those we lost live on in us. In the families who love them still. In the friends who remember them always. And in a nation that will honor them, now and forever.” - President Obama Helping America’s Heroes Move-In to Their Dream Homes since 1947


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Vietnam Wall: A salute to freedom B y P HIL B OOKMAN

T he W o o dbridge Writers G r oup

There are some places to which I am drawn, places that memory holds and cannot release. One such place is Normandy of D-Day June 6 infamy. Memorial days as celebrated in western countries such as the United States, Britain, France and the Netherlands, honor the fallen of wars and their deeds. One Memorial Day, I attended services in Arnhem, the Netherlands, site of “A Bridge Too Far.” And then, there was Dachau, the Nazi extermination camp near Munich with its notorious welcoming sign, “Arbeit macht frei,” work will set you free. Of course, it didn’t for hundreds of thousands. Yet, through the years, I knew there was another memorial to which I was being drawn. The Vietnam Memorial. I was, and still am, unsettled about that war and grieved for the young men who died fighting it. I think

of our participation in that war as a chapter many years in the making and a story still being told. It was the story of once young men and women and the victims and the 57,939 whose names were etched into a stretch of black marble gouged into the fine earth of the



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Washington Mall. They were among the more than 500,000 sent to Vietnam. “It’s time we recognized that ours was in truth a noble cause,” said then President Ronald Reagan. I can’t agree with that and I wonder if that view would be shared by most of those whose names appeared on that black marble. I have to think that if there was anything noble about that war, it was not the cause, but the men and boys who did what their country said was their duty. If there is a nobility about dying in war, it is to be found defending country, freedom or family. It is not to be found in questionable wars with questionable aims. Vietnam was not a World War 1 or World War 2. This was the cause where the end never could justify the means. Almost from the beginning, we tried to impose an American style of democracy on a nation that had no understanding of democracy as we understand it. It never worked, opposing a people that already had been fighting the French for 35 years, and winning. Frank McCulloch, former editor of the Sacramento Bee, a Time magazine bureau

chief in Vietnam, and one of the most revered names in journalism, said this: The society of the north had no problem with public support and that it was defending its homeland. They were a war people 1,000 years ago. They are a war people today. They just licked us hands down in most oneon-one situations.” David Halberstam, a great journalist, in his book, “The Best and the Brightest,” said this: “The North had become invulnerable to bombing. Bringing in more combat troops would bring the same problems encountered by the French who suffered a humiliating defeat at Dien Bien Phu.” after which the French said “enough” and pulled out of Vietnam leaving more than 7,000 men to the mercies of the north. Most were never seen again. In Vietnam we followed our boys through the moving pictures of hand-held cameras and the words of the media people who walked with them. And we watched as they walked through valleys of death. We saw them hug the ground as bullets and mortars ripped overhead. We saw mud on their faces and tears being shed and saw blood on their chests. We saw eyes that saw no more. We saw ponchos over bodies and bodies placed in bags and then in flag-draped coffins for the quiet trip home to their native land, a land torn by its own war, mostly a nonshooting war, but a war nevertheless. Then, the coffins would return to the Mantecas or Stocktons, to their native soil. There would be no marching bands and few presentations of medals. Some years later, I would find myself in front of that black monument where for the longest time I kept my hand pressed against it, tears from my eyes. I looked not for an individual name, but drawing all names into my being as I mourned for the lost souls.

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The Bulletin-Saturday, May 24, 2014

The long way home from Frankfurt

Lt. Jack Furrer, circa 1944 B y RA Y N OB LE T he W o o dbridge Writers G r oup

Although we all will stare into the awesome face of eternity, it is not often we do so at the tender age of twenty, and even less so while commanding an airship of men barely out of their teens as their airplane heads nearly straight down toward an unfriendly earth. Such was the case of Lt. Jack Furrer. How did it come to this? And how fortunate we are today to enjoy Jack’s company here at Woodbridge some 70 years later. It was a routine bombing mission into Frankfort Germany, if any such endeavor could be called routine. In 1944, the likelihood of any given air crews survival to the 30 mission level was dangerously

problematical. With only one more mission beyond this one, Jack’s 29th, he would be rotated back to the United States for reassignment. The Allies were mounting giant armadas of aircraft carrying hundreds of tons of high explosives to rain on Germany’s considerable industrial strength to neutralize their war machine, but paid an enormous price to do this. Tens of thousands of men and thousands of aircraft were lost in this effort. But Jack’s story begins in 1924. Born on January 19th, he was raised in Oakland, CA. Jack graduated from Fremont High School in 1942 and before being drafted in December of that year, he SEE LONG



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Photo courtesy of Nannette Furrer

Lt. Jack K. Furrer (right) met with Lt. James Evans (P-51 pilot) and remaining crew members shortly after returning to Thorpe Abbotts. Paul MIller is sitting to the left of Lt. Evans. The B-17 in this photo is not Furrer’s plane.

gun turrets, each having twin 50 caliber machine guns located on top and bottom, the tail, both sides and the nose, it fairly bristled with protection. Occasionally there was a shortage of gunners, so one man would handle both side guns dashing

between the two as necessary. Furrer and his crew were immediately thrust into the midst of the furious air war over Germany. The British were handling the night bombing raids on “Der Fuhrer’s” homeland. U.S. bombers were

making the more dangerous daylight trips that were subject to the assaults of the hundreds of Messerschmitt and Fokker fighter aircraft of the Luftwaffe. SEE LONG




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worked as a “burner” cutting steel plates to be used as parts to be welded into Liberty Ships. Early in 1943 after a high grade scored in a general knowledge test, Jack was sent to preflight training for the Army Air Corps at Maxwell, AL, then on to Preliminary Flight School at Lakeland, FL where flying the bi-wing PT-17, he soloed in 4 hours and 20 minutes. Basic Training was taken in the BT-13 at Courtland, AL. He received his wings in January 1944 at age 19. Transferred to George Field, IL for Advanced Training, Jack transitioned to multi-engine aircraft in AT-10s. Furrer was sent to Army Air Force Base in Sebring, FL for B-17 and crew combat training. The B-17 was a 4 engine bomber carrying a crew of ten, and was popularly known as the Flying Fortress due to its six twin 50-caliber machine gun stations. After about 40 hours of flight time with his young crew, he was assigned a B-17. He had orders to take his aircraft and his nine-man crew to Ireland. At this point Jack had logged only 40 hours of flight time in the B-17 with a total time of 200 flight time hours. He was now an old man, 20 years of age. Necessary fuel stops were made at Goose Bay, Greenland, Iceland and finally Ireland. After being transported to London with a layover of a week, Jack was assigned to “The Bloody 100th” Bombing Group. Those in the know offered cheerful and unsolicited comments such as “In the bloody 100s you’re never gonna make it”. Jack was assigned to Thorpe Abbotts, a military air base and given his B-17, aircraft number 44-8514 which he named “Lassie Come Home”. By 1944, The Flying Fortress had undergone many modifications. With six


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Furrer and his crew flew the round trips to Stuttgart, Dusseldorf, Bremen, Cologne, Berlin; some of these twice for a total of 29 trips. Each was a round trip of about 8 to 10 hours at 24,000 to 28,000 feet while wearing oxygen mask and electrically heated flight suits to protect against the 40 to 50 degrees below zero temperatures at those altitudes. Number 29, the Frankfurt raid, turned out differently from all those before it. Jack and his crew needed only 30 missions to complete their tour and be cycled back to the States. They were nearing the end and to this point must have felt lucky. While they had taken fire, they had made it home with no injuries to crew and the usual hits from flak and machine gun fire from enemy aircraft. The German fighter aircraft were deadly and the anti-aircraft fire from the ground together took a terrible toll on the fleets of bombers on any raid. “Lassie” had

been lucky and if she made home without damage, it was called “a milk run.” Being aware of this, Jack and his crew maintained the orders for radio silence so as to not alert the enemy’s anti-aircraft command and the squadrons of defending fighter aircraft awaiting the allied raiders’ arrival over Frankfurt. But someone broke that silence. As a diversionary tactic the bombers did not fly directly toward Frankfurt and wished to appear flying past it. So at the correct moment they would turn into the target. That silence was broken when someone gave the game away when they radioed “We are turning right into Frankfurt”. “At that point we knew we were identifiable targets”. Because of a strong headwind their ground speed at that point was a slow 100 miles per hour making their aircraft an even easier target. After dropping their bomb load and a few seconds out of Frankfurt, “Lassie Come Home” took anti-aircraft fire in her left wing. Both engines on that side SEE LONG


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were severely damaged and caught fire, the flames reaching as far back as the tail. The concussion of the hit caused the wing of the bomber to suddenly pitch up causing the whole aircraft to roll violently to the right and begin falling through the layers of formations of B-17s below. Jack, following procedure, feathered the propellers and the engine immediately shut down. It seemed a hopeless situation for the plane and Jack, fearing an explosion, ordered the crew to bail out. The four crew in the front of the aircraft bailed out. Jack, however, was caught in his seat by his flak jacket which was somehow entangled with the seat itself. This jacket was a vest with steel plates in front and back accompanied with a steel helmet that was put on just before a bomb run and removed soon after. The aircraft was now descending almost vertically headed toward earth. He realized that if he was to survive this

ordeal, he would have to regain control of the aircraft. After plummeting 14,000 feet, he was able to pull his plane out of its dive. He probably exceeded all the structural limitations the designers thought it could stand. In the course of all of this, the fire had, for whatever reason, gone out. It was about then that Jack heard over the planes intercom the voice of the tail gunner ask “What’s going on up there?” Jack then discovered that his mike had come unplugged and the crew in the rear never heard bail out order. So the waist gunner, Sgt. Paul Miller came forward to occupy the co-pilot’s seat after he helped Jack with his flak jacket. Furrer noted that the bomber did not have enough power from the remaining engines on the right wing was losing altitude. At this rate, they would not make it home so he ordered the remaining crew to jettison all loose gear which, of course, they did. The plane’s radios and navigation instruments were damaged. They were now alone and lost over Germany. Their compass was operable but without a fix

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on their current location, it was of limited value. Jack asked the crew for a map. They confessed that the maps were jettisoned with everything else. In frustration Jack queried “How much does a map weigh?” It was soon after that a fighter was seen approaching. They feared it might be a German plane coming to finish off their crippled aircraft. It was not. It was Lt. James Evans piloting his P 51 Mustang, the most capable fighter in the ETO (European Theater of Operations). Evans quickly noted the condition of the damaged B-17 and pulled alongside the left wing. With the plane’s radio out, hand signals were the only way to communicate. And since Jack was more than busy controlling the damaged aircraft, the hand signals were being done by Sgt. Miller from the right seat next to Jack. The P-51 pilot indicated that they were going deeper into Germany and needed to turn around. After getting them on the right heading, Evans with fuel issues of his own, headed back to his base. Now they could use the compass to find the

safety of the English coast. But wait; the story’s not over. After crossing the English Channel, they found themselves headed for London. The Brits, not liking surprises, thought this might be Germans on a raid and greeted our beleaguered B-17 with anti-aircraft fire. Jack took the hint and turned right and up the coast to Thorpe Abbotts, his home base. This was Jack’s last mission over Germany and he was returned to the US and reassigned. Of the 4 crewman who bailed out of “Lassie Come Home”, three where confined as German POWs for the remainder of the war. Tragically, Sgt. Robert Garrison was killed while resisting apprehension in Germany. Furrer has a long and storied career in the United States Air Force, flying during the Korean and Vietnam wars and remained active in the service until his retirement on April 1, 1968. He has many interesting stories about those years. When you see him, be sure to ask why he named his B-17 “Lassie Come Home”, and thank him for his service.


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Thank you for your service B y P HIL B OOKMAN

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This is a book review of sorts, a sequel to David Finkel’s Pulitzer Prize winning “The Good Soldiers.” Finkel, then of the Washington Post, wrote of being embedded with the Second Battalion, 16th Infantry, in its deployment in Iraq. This was during the much publicized “surge” of 2007-2008. It chronicled life, sometimes horrors and depressions of the soldiers sent to fight that war. In his second book, “Thank You for Your Service,” Finkel is embedded again, this time with veterans and their families, still fighting the ravages of that war after their deployments ended. It could easily be veterans of Korea, Vietnam and Afghanistan. A scene is the funeral of a veteran who committed suicide. A eulogist is at a loss for words, but finds this:

“What is there to say except, “Thank you for you service.” This is not an easy book to read as Finkel describes the battles of one veteran haunted by his experience. The veteran is on a Humvee that hits an IED, Improvised Explosive Device, sending the Humvee, light armored car, aflame into the air. He crawls out, his leg broken, yet realizes that others did not. He crawls back and pulls two men from the burning vehicle. He should have been hailed as a hero, but someone yells they forgot the driver. He looks back and sees the outline of the driver’s body aflame. That scene would never leave him and in his almost daily nightmares, he would hear the burning soldier screaming, “Why didn’t you save me?” Now, he undergoes daily treatment, but the thought of suicide never leaves him. The hard-to-accept figure is 22 suicides a day of veterans, more than 3000 so far

this year. A Washington Post nationwide poll shows that more than half of the 2.5 million Americans send to fight in Iraq or Afghanistan struggle with physical or mental health issues stemming from their service. “They feel disconnected from civilian life and believe the government is failing to meet the needs of this generation’s veterans.” That belief is being manifested with the news that some facilities are neglecting or failing to treat needy veterans. On the other hand, most veterans do not feel embittered or regret serving. “Considering everything they experienced, almost 90 percent would still have joined and 87 percent are proud of their service.” Many are attending college and finding employers grateful to them for their service. “They have come back to a nation that has embraced them--strongly, positively-

-and put tremendous value and appreciation into their service,” Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said in a Post interview. Sen. John Walsh (D-Mont.), an early Iraq war combat veteran, is a leader in the battle to reduce military suicides. Walsh commanded an infantry battalion in Iraq with the Montana National Guard. The bill, the “Suicide Prevention for American Veteran’s Act,” would extend the time to receive care from the Veteran’s Administration to as long as 15 years. Sometimes it takes longer for veterans who experience post traumatic stress disorder. The bill would also improve the quality of care by making mental health care jobs more competitive with the private sector. Now, there are more than 1,000 jobs open including psychiatrists, psychiatric nurses, nurses and physician assistants. “No matter what the cost of the measures urged in the bill, that is the cost of war,” he said.

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