Leading San Pedro

“This town eats its own.” I recall a friend on the San Pedro Chamber board saying this while lamenting that San Pedrans aren’t great at supporting their local leaders.

Whether he’s right or wrong, I believe that for many years San Pedro hasn’t done a good job of grooming future leaders. For example, before I launched San Pedro Magazine, I was not active in the community, but got involved because it now became my business to do so. The first major event I attended was a chamber luncheon attended by approximately 250 people. Although I was born and raised in San Pedro, with tons of family and friends here, I didn’t recognize more than two or three people.

Over the next several years, I became friends with many of the luncheon attendees. A large majority of them are wonderful people who do a nice job serving a community they love, but most came here from somewhere else. On one hand, it’s good to have leaders in your community that can provide a fresh pair of eyes on its issues, but on the flipside, I’ve found it challenging for many of them to accurately reflect the will of the majority of the people because they lacked the relationships to be able to do that. Furthermore, it’s not a very sustainable model to have to constantly find leadership arriving from someplace else instead of developing leaders that grew up in the community.

In recent years, things have begun to dramatically change. Our councilman, Joe Buscaino, was born and raised in San Pedro, as was the newly elected president of ILWU Local 13, Chris Viramontes. These are young dynamic leaders with the ability to attract their peers into getting involved to create a powerful leadership force for our community. In addition to Joe and Chris, I’d like to add the name of Anthony Pirozzi to the list of young San Pedro leaders that can brighten the future of our town. And I’m not the only one to think so; the San Pedro Chamber is giving Anthony its annual Leadership Award.

Anthony is one of my best friends. We met in high school when everyone called him Yog (which I still call him). In fact, I had to get past knowing him as Yog, who we loved teasing as kids, to recognize Anthony, a man that has grown into a great leader. The first glimpse occurred when Anthony joined our other friends, Dave Stanovich, Ron Galosic, Scott Lane, and Tony Cordero in leading the fight to secure baseball fields for Eastview Little League on Knoll Hill. Anyone that’s either played at Eastview or had a kid play at Eastview (I’m in both categories) will probably agree that their effort to have the fields built is one of our town’s finest accomplishments in the past few years.

The fact that Anthony threw so much of himself at the campaign is not a surprise. Anthony and I spend countless hours on the phone (his wife, Carolyn calls me his second wife) and the thing that comes up a lot is his passion for helping kids get better. He’s very proud that although he was a mediocre student at San Pedro High, he was able to get good grades at Harbor, go on to earn a degree at Cal Poly Pomona, and become an aerospace engineer. He uses his role as a Boeing executive to speak to kids about their futures and has facilitated more than $100,00 in donations from Boeing to San Pedro charities that serve children, such as the Boys & Girls Club, Top Sail, Toberman House, and Cabrillo Aquarium.

After the Save Eastview campaign had concluded, I convinced Anthony to join me on the board of directors at the San Pedro Chamber. Upon his election as chairman of the board, I began to realize that our generation has begun to assume the mantle of leadership. I can say with firsthand knowledge that we are fortunate to have leaders like Anthony, Joe, and Chris because they care so much for this town that we all love and they all share the same passion for grooming the next generation of San Pedrans into great citizens and great leaders. spt

Jack Baric can be reached at jackbaric@hotmail.com.

Gold Star Memorial Day

Every Memorial Day, our nation honors the men and women who died while serving in the United States military. But what happens if you can’t remember the soldier for whom that day means the most to you? If you are Tony Cordero, you spend most of your adult life volunteering to make it easier for others that carry the same cross. Tony was just four-years-old when his father, Air Force Major William Cordero, died on a bomber plane that went down in the Vietnam War. Tony can’t remember anything about his dad.

In 1990, Tony was among a very small group that started Sons and Daughters in Touch, which represented the children who lost their fathers in Vietnam. Until then, the only organizations that were set up to provide assistance for grieving family members were Gold Star Mothers of America, which was started around the period of World War II and later a group called Gold Star Wives was formed. Gold Star represents all Americans that had a U.S. military family member killed in war.

Many similar organizations have sprung up since Tony’s group started their nonprofit. They each provide benefits for Gold Star families, such as scholarships and counseling. Tony talks about kids that lose a family member to war when they are very young. He says, “What is their life supposed to be like? We can help because we’ve gone through it.” Tony cites a local member of his Vietnam group that every year flies out a recent widow and her two daughters from Texas to spend a couple weeks with their members. He explains, “We don’t sit around and grieve and visit cemeteries. We go camping, do tourist things, and share stories.”

Whatever their opinions about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, most Americans treat our soldiers and their families with respect because we understand the huge sacrifices they have made. That wasn’t the case during Vietnam. Tony says, “That mindset today is an outgrowth of the lessons learned a generation ago when there wasn’t a big embrace. Whether you think we should have gone into Iraq is one conversation, but the reality is a couple thousand of our citizens who volunteered to go didn’t come home, and it’s a good thing their families are embraced.”

One of the hallmarks of that new respect is the overwhelming outpouring of love that Americans show when they see heartbreaking photos of young children at the funeral of a parent killed in battle. Oftentimes the children are the same age as Tony when he lost his dad in Vietnam, which is tough for him to see. However, there is another scene that is harder for him to watch. He explains, “When you see a little kid in class and the teacher says we have a special guest today and in walks dad returning from war, that’s painful for all Gold Star children because that’s what we missed out on. We all had a funeral. Those are great moments and I’ve never met a single Gold Star family that has animosity because someone else had their loved one return home and we didn’t, but you look at them and selfishly say, ‘I didn’t have that homecoming.’”

As part of the cathartic process of honoring his dad, ten years ago Tony was among fifty Gold Star sons and daughters that returned to Vietnam. It was the largest contingent of Gold Star families to ever visit Vietnam together. “The families got to stand in the place where their fathers died. Combine that with seeing Vietnam and making Vietnam a place instead of a bad word and it was an outstanding experience. The locals loved us, anything made in America they wanted. I wish every Gold Star family could have the same experience,” states Tony.

As we all enjoy the Memorial Day holiday, let’s take a moment to remember the fallen soldiers and their surviving family members for their ultimate sacrifice for our nation. Tony was especially keen that this year we remember former Wilmington resident, Tofiga Tautolo, and his family. Memorial Day falls on May 27, which is the one-year anniversary of Tofiga being killed in action in Afghanistan. He is survived by a wife and two-year old son. spt

Jack can be reached at jackbaric@hotmail.com.