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A concept drawing for the San Pedro Fallen Veterans Memorial. (photo: PacificBattleship.com)

Another Memorial Day is upon us, and when I happened upon what I thought would be a perfect column to mark the occasion, I didn’t know San Pedro Today would be honoring Yuri Kochiyama’s centennial in last month’s edition.

Yuri, the former Mary Nakahara while growing up in San Pedro, sent the following to News-Pilot sports editor Mil Chipp in 1950, and it appeared in his “Fan Fare” column on May 19 with the byline Mary N. Kochiyama. It is a timely tribute to fellow Pirate alum Doug Adams (S’40) who died in World War II at the age of 22. Mary graduated the previous year, but obviously knew Doug well; besides sharing the same birthday, she was, as noted last month, an avid sports fan and sportswriter. The column is edited solely for length with my comments in parentheses:

Today is May 19th…Doug Adams’ birthday. 

The date may not be significant, but the person is. Thousands of San Pedro residents, former chums, neighbors, schoolmates, sports fans and townspeople will recall this name with their respective associations of him.

I’d like to recall the memory of Doug Adams, partly in remembrance of his influence in San Pedro athletics, and also in remembrance of the number of other harbor youths whose lives were cut short in service of their country.

Doug would be a good cross-section of the Mike Godfreys, Jack Rados, Jerome Stambuks, Joe Lucidos, Rudolph Preciados, John Oggs, Bob Bauers, George Benders, Bob Bryans, Atsushi Sakamotos and Hugh Kuhls. (All of those mentioned, contemporaries of Yuri, were San Pedro High alumni killed in World War II.)

He lived in the neighborhood of Eddie Farrell, Ed Abney, Bill Avarell, Raymond Stewart, John and Bob Larson, Jackie Meier and Hal Robb. They all fought, played and grew up together.

Doug loved sports, all sports. He excelled in boxing and gymnastics; carved a niche for himself in football, swimming and diving; was a good track man, softball player, and weightlifter. He and his sports-loving gang rigged up their own rings and hi-bars, set up parallels and other apparatus, and practiced together.

Doug was at his peak in 1941 as a promising boxer. His early matches were KO’s in the first or second round. He was also considered at Compton Junior College as a potential Olympic bid in gymnastics, being groomed by a former national champion. While in service, he entered the Oklahoma state championships where he fought his way into the finals. There he lost his only fight, and it was by a decision.

He never reached the top rungs in college, amateur or pro athletics. He never hit a national rating. But what he contributed to local athletics and inspired in younger boys is something that could probably never be equaled by any singular San Pedro athlete.

On Sept, 8, 1942, he volunteered for service and was called in December for pre-flight training. Three years later, on Feb. 12, 1945, his parents received the heartbreaking telegram, that he was missing in action.

For eight months his parents prayed and waited, always clinging in the hope that he might somehow be alive. Finally, after the long days of waiting, the War Department notified the Adamses that Doug was killed on Jan. 4, 1945, in the Sulu Sea when the (aircraft carrier) Ommaney Bay was hit (by a kamikaze). Doug, with 15 other pilots, was trapped in the ready room.

Thus ended the life of a war hero and local star athlete.

But if Doug were alive today, he still would say: 

‘There’s a reason for everything that happens.’

Doug’s life is proof. He didn’t live long, but he lived to the fullest. He never became a national figure in sports, but he will figure prominently always in the advancement of local athletics.

He never became a champion, except that he championed the cause for many a little guy. He never quite hit the top, but he hit deep into the hearts of all who knew him.

The great affection and respect accorded him is shown by the fact that five couples have named their sons after him…the Ed Abneys, the Terry Croskerys and Hal Robbs, all San Pedrans…and the other two are his flying buddy and his wife, the Leal Lennerts, and his sister and brother-in-law, the George Fyffes.

Perhaps his best friend, Ed, can best describe Doug: 

‘Doug was the cleanest-minded guy I’ve ever known, but he wasn’t a sissy; he was plenty rugged but not a bully.’

Doug’s greatest contribution to San Pedro was not in his own achievements, but what he inspired in others.

His mother, still living at 714 W. Twenty-eighth St., grieved as she is, must be proud to have raised such a son.

Chipp’s introduction said it was “a column I think mothers of young men in our community should read aloud tonight.”

Seventy-one years later, we can still embrace that sentiment. The San Pedro Fallen Veterans Memorial project at the USS Iowa will keep alive the memories of Adams and the nearly 200 other San Pedrans who died in World War II, World War I, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. To make the memorial a reality, support its bid for part of the Buscaino Community Grant Program by voting online through May 31 at bit.ly/BGSanPedro. spt 

photo of san pedro today author Steve Marconi

Steve Marconi

San Pedro native Steve Marconi began writing about his hometown after graduating from high school in 1969. After a career as a sportswriter, he was a copy editor and columnist for the News-Pilot and Daily Breeze for 20 years before joining the L.A. Times. He has been writing monthly for San Pedro magazines since 2005, and in 2018 became a registered longshoreman. Marconi can be reached at spmarconi@yahoo.com.

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