DEPENDING when you read this, soldiers have or will soon drop from the sky onto Baldwin Park. No, U.S. forces are not invading the San Gabriel Valleys sixth-biggest city. They are paratroopers marking today, Veterans Day.
Did you know that Veterans Day is always the 11th hour, the 11th day of the 11th month? quizzed John Diaz, 83, who spent a career in the U.S. Air Force and served in two foreign wars, Korea and Vietnam.Diaz, of Alhambra, and others in the American Veterans Post 113 in Irwindale give presentations at grade schools and colleges and participate as honor guards at veteran funerals. In military language, they are educational ops.
A lot of people dont know where the 21-gun salute comes from, said Diaz during my brief stopover at their facility on Los Angeles Street Thursday afternoon.
I was baffled. Luckily, Diaz was eager to explain.Take the year of our countrys independence, 1776. Add the seven and the six, and you get 13. Now add the one and the seven, and you get eight. Eight and 13 adds up to 21. Thats where they got it from.
Unfortunately, not all veterans take after Diaz. Many dont like talking about the wars theyve fought in, or the military in general. Once theyre discharged, they quickly blend into society. I heard a radio report about an Iraqi war veteran who lost a hand. He chose a metal hook prosthesis over the more life-like rubber hand because he would be forced to talk about his injury and not hide from it.
Richard Moreno, 84, parachuted behind enemy lines in 1944 in occupied France. The place was Normandy. The battle was D-Day. Before that, he fought in Northern Africa and Sicily as part of the 82nd Airborne.
My father, Louis Scauzillo, also fought in World War II, also in Northern Africa and Italy. I saw in Moreno the same kind of reluctance to share about the war as in my dad.I first learned about my dads bravery on Dec. 11, 1998, when my older brother delivered the eulogy at his funeral.
He never talked about the Nazis going through the bodies of his buddies with bayonet stabs, making sure everyone in his company was dead. By remaining still, by playing dead, my father lived. Later, he was knocked unconscious by a mortar blast. He owed his life to the army surgeons and nurses who stitched him back together.
And he carried more than a dozen reminders tiny pieces of metal bomb fragments in his right arm and shoulder for the rest of his life.He rarely complained of the pain, the arthritis and limited movement of his arm. He never spoke of the war; the deep scars in his shoulder told the story whenever he took off his shirt.
No, I dont like to talk about it because I will remember the guys who got killed, Moreno said. I dont want to remember.
Moreno is still clearly shaken by talk of war and remembrance, memories more than 60 years old. He, too, said he never spoke to his children about his war experiences.
Diaz, who flew missions in Vietnam, was wounded when the plane was hit by enemy fire. The loss of compression popped his left eardrum. His military career spanned from 1946 until 1977. For the next 20 years, he worked as a flight mechanic at Edwards Air Force Base.
Pete Ramirez, who runs the Am-Vets facility, said todays recent war veterans dont usually join with the older veterans groups. From talking with some whove served up to three tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, he said they are tired of war. They want to resume their lives.Sometimes Ill hear them talk about those IEDs (improvised explosive devices or roadside bombs) which are responsible for killing hundreds and hundreds of U.S. troops, said Ramirez, who served during Desert Storm as a reservist.
Moreno politely excused himself and left. Then, after a brief tour of the clubhouse, Diaz shook my hand and thanked me for my interest.
They are men of few words. But their reticence to talk about war is their choice. It doesnt excuse us from not talking about them. They are what today Veterans Day is all about. Lets talk it up.