By PEGGY MIZUMOTO
On Sept. 29, a group of most special heroes convened at Trinity Lutheran Church in Hawthorne.
Many years ago, America’s finest young citizens took it upon themselves to answer a call to duty, which would take them far from home to fight for democracy and freedom in France. They did this without guarantee of safety or promise of return to the families left behind, some incarcerated from the West Coast.
For their incredible courage and support to a homeland that was not theirs, these patriots were recognized when France conferred its highest award, making them French Legion of Honor Chevaliers.
It was a thrill to convene 25 Chevaliers, 24 from World War II and eight from other conflicts, for a celebration of their service to the U.S. and our allies.
It was a truly historic event, including a 100-year-old veteran, a 99-year-old veteran, and one Southern California female Chevalier! We all knew we were in the presence of greatness, as modest as they all are.
You could hear war stories being shared in the room, recounting actual combat events. One pilot described his many missions over France and the pride he took in that all 10 of his men returned home safely. He had not lost a one.
At the other end of the spectrum of memories was the heartbreak of a Chevalier who landed short of Omaha Beach on “D2,” two days after D Day. Their glider went down into the ocean and they lost their pilot.
You could not miss the emotion in his voice, recalling after all these years with sad clarity the loss of such a close comrade.
Their accomplishments, great as they were, go far beyond WWII. The biographies of each veteran spoke to a lifetime of post-war careers, families and patriotism that would fill anyone with awe.
We were fortunate to have Ms. Terri Gans, assistant to the Consul General of France, Los Angeles, and Ms. Pauline Yoshihashi of the Go for Broke National Education Center join us. Both shared words of gratitude for the Chevaliers at this event.
It was our greatest honor to have invited families, friends and veterans to celebrate WWII Chevaliers:
Lt. Col. Robert L. Hecker, USAFR (ret.)
Lt. Col. Elmo Maiden, USAFR (ret.)
Lt. Col. Larry J. Thorp, USAFR (ret.)
First Lt. Muriel R. Engelmen
First Lt. Lawrence Schelsinger
First Lt. Stanley Walsh
Second Lt. Gordon Hearne
Machinist Mate First Class Francis B. Kilduff, Jr
Staff Sgt. Yoshio C. Nakamura
Technical Sgt. Tokuji “Toke” Yoshihashi
Staff Sgt. Harry H. Kanada
Sgt. Don S. Miyada
Sgt. Fumio “Steve” Shimizu
Cpl. Noboru “Don” Seki
Cpl. Artis C. West
Cpl. Fred M. Whitaker
Technical Fifth Grade William R. Hahn
Pvt. First Class George Ciampa
PFC Joe Govea
PFC A.G. Harada
PFC Samiru “Sam” Ikari
PFC Herbert C. Moore
PFC Herman Smith
Pvt. Leonard “Jerry” King
At a time when there seems to be more separation than unity in the world, an event like this reminds us that a room full of veterans who come from European, Japanese, Chinese, African and Latin descent have a powerful way to join us together. It was an absolute honor to be in their presence.
It reminded us that patriotism, bravery and standing up to help our friends, as these veterans did, transcend wars, time, countries, politics and any other factor that may attempt to divide us.
Photos courtesy of JASON KUSAGAYA