The San Pedro War Memorial is coming.
Thanks to donations from County Supervisor Janice Hahn and grants from City Councilman Joe Buscaino and the Port of Los Angeles, the memorial, honoring the men from San Pedro who died in service to their country in World War I, World War II, Korea, and Vietnam, will be placed alongside the USS Iowa in the near future. The memorial will be part of the Iowa’s Freedom of the Seas Park Pavilion at the end of the waterfront promenade beneath the bow of the battleship museum, overlooking the Main Channel.
All that remains to do is finalize the lists of names to go on the memorial. I’ve been pushing this project for years, and I thought I had complete lists, but it turns out I was wrong. Timing is everything, and in this case, the long wait was worth it: The sources of funding came together, and additional San Pedro heroes were uncovered all within a few months.
The total of San Pedro’s Vietnam War dead, listed here in the past, stood at 20, but I got the names of three more purely by chance. Earlier this year, I was talking at work with Louie Cesena, a longtime San Pedran and one of the few longshoremen older than me. He is a Vietnam veteran, and when I mentioned the memorial project, he asked about David Torres. I said, “David who?” because there was no Torres on my list of San Pedrans who died in Vietnam (casualties are listed by hometown at the time of death).
It turns out Torres, who attended Barton Hill Elementary and Dana Junior High, was living in Oregon when he enlisted in the Marines. He was 20 and a lance corporal when he was mortally wounded by a mine on August 2, 1969. He is buried in Springfield, Oregon.
Benjamin Bugarin was born and raised in San Pedro, but his mother was living in Sepulveda when she was notified of his death. Bugarin, a 1960 graduate of San Pedro High, was killed on April 27, 1969, during a night attack on his position north of Saigon. He was on his second tour in Vietnam, having enlisted in the Army after graduation and risen through the ranks to become captain. He is buried at Wilmington Cemetery.
I was told about Bugarin by former San Pedran Ron Gonzales (Fermin Lasuen S`71 and fellow journalist), who came to hear my talk on the memorial to the historical society last month. At the National Maritime Day observance in May, I happened to ask John Pitts, former president of the American Merchant Marine Veterans, if any merchant mariners had died in Vietnam, and if any were from San Pedro. More than 40 merchant mariners died in that war, including Robert Rowe of San Pedro. Rowe, 57, was one of seven seamen killed when the SS Baton Rouge Victory was sunk by a mine in the Long Tao River south of Saigon on August 23, 1966. He is buried in Belvidere, Illinois.
Then there’s Major Harry John Harrison, brought to my attention by Fort MacArthur Museum Director Stephen Nelson. Harrison, a Pennsylvania native and West Point grad, came to San Pedro with his wife and children in 1940 as commander of the 3rd Coastal Artillery’s Battery E at Fort MacArthur. After WWII broke out, he volunteered for the paratroopers; he was with the 109th Infantry when he was killed in action at the Hurtgen Forest in November 1944 at age 34.
All of this to say that if anyone reading this knows of someone from San Pedro who died in WWI, WWII, Korea, or Vietnam and wants to make sure they are included on the war memorial, they should drop me an email. I’m not even sure yet if Harrison qualifies as a San Pedran, but as the above examples show, word of mouth can sometimes reveal what hours of research might easily overlook.
The community also could participate in another project linked to the memorial. Here again, timing was everything. The goal all along was to make this memorial interactive: Visitors would not just see names, dates, and locations etched in granite but, using modern technology, be able to access pictures and stories about each individual. This will be possible now thanks in large part to Don Milne and his Stories Behind the Stars project, which I first read about earlier this year in World War II magazine.
Milne’s goal, using volunteer help, is to create stories on each of the more than 400,000 Americans killed in WWII. These stories are then posted on the websites Fold3 or Together We Served, accessible through either computer or smartphone. He already has more than 1,000 volunteers across the country helping him; anyone interested in joining this noble effort can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. His immediate goal is to have stories done on all 2,403 Americans who died on December 7, 1941, by this year’s 80th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Twenty San Pedro sailors died that day.
Working with Stories Behind the Stars will cover the 173 San Pedrans who died in WWII, but that still leaves another 70 from the other wars. If you’re interested in helping out on doing their stories, please contact me. spt