Time To Salute A Different Kind Of Veteran

I usually try to use my November column to honor veterans, and this month is no exception. The only difference is that this column was written 70 years ago by one of those veterans that you don’t read much about – military nurses.

Berdine Stime was a lieutenant in the Army nurse corps when she wrote a letter that appeared in her local paper in Brookings, Minn. Stored away in an old trunk, it was just recently discovered.

It was while in New Guinea, in the rear of MacArthur’s advancing forces, that she ran into Vernon Nelson, an Army Air Corps mechanic. Vernon grew up in the same small Minnesota town as Stime and knew the family but had never met Berdine. They ended up getting married after the war and were living in Orange County when Vernon died at age 47, leaving Berdine with six children.

She came to San Pedro in the early `70s when her oldest son, Luthor, now well known for his dove release business, was hired as youth pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church. Berdine moved back to Minnesota in the `90s, then returned a few years ago and is living at Little Sisters of the Poor. Now 94, she has 19 grandchildren and 20 great-grandchildren, with three more on the way.

The following letter was edited only for brevity:

So far no hot running water, no iceboxes, no screens, so bugs and flies are numerous. No bathrobes, so when it rains the patients have to walk to the mess hall in their pajamas, through mud six inches deep! We use flashlights for throat examinations, etc., and a thousand and one inconveniences. But at least we have cement floors, a tin roof over our head, and enough equipment for essentials, with promise of better things to come. If it wasn’t for the heat, we really would have nothing to complain about, except the food, which isn’t too tasty but of good caloric value, and if we’re hungry enough, we eat it.

When the evenings cool off, as well as they do, together with a beautiful moon coming up, the sound of waves against the beach in our backyard, and Dianna Durbin singing, “Way Down Upon the Swanee River,” what more can you ask for, except an ice cold Coke or laundry services, a little less mud and heat, or a few hundred other things? I don’t know myself whether I’m griping about this hole or praising the beautiful country. What’s your guess?

Incidentally, in case of any doubt in your mind because of preceding rambling, I still love nursing, New Guinea or not, and even though my glamour days of nursing are over, and I’m… perspiring very freely while giving baths, or just standing still (and in pants), I’m still thankful that I’ve been permitted to be of some service, and do not want to be any other place.

Last night we went on a five-mile jeep ride, but because of the general bumps and ruts and holes, it’s actually about 10 miles. Then the ride up the “stairs;” they have regular steps for the jeep to go up, only the steps zigzag, if you get what I mean. You go up a ways, then turn and go up a little further. I don’t know how we did it, but all the time while up there, we were afraid it would rain, and they say when it rains, the jeep just slides down very “smoothly.” What a country! Never lacks of variety or gets monotonous. But these jeeps are real corkers! When the kids don’t like the looks of the road ahead, they just go around it, right through the woods, fields or rivers…. The only annoying “animals,” besides lizards, snakes and spiders, are the airplanes that delight in swooping so low they almost crack up.

What a humbling and heartbreaking experience I had today with two new patients, just young kids straight from the fighting line, one with both legs amputated, and the other, a most handsome and intelligent boy with a gangrenous leg to be amputated in the morning. Pitiful! I could hardly keep back the tears. But the hardest to take was the cheerful and brave way they took it in spite of the pain. They barely spoke, just smiled when we smiled (because of the lack of words to express ourselves). I spent three hours trying to clean them up (it will take several baths to get them really clean). They had been washed once on the boat in four days. But it all seemed so vain when I knew I couldn’t do the impossible, restore the lost limb. Then stop and multiply their suffering and handicap by hundreds and hundreds more. It’s enough to make one go crazy just thinking about it. And then to think of how often I fret and gripe – what a heel I’ve been. I marvel at God’s patience and love! “It passeth knowledge, that love of Thine!” Last night I cried myself to sleep thinking about it all, but I guess that doesn’t help, does it? Think I had better do something worthwhile for them from now on.

Berdine was one of 74,000 women in the Army and Navy Nurse Corps during World War II; 201 Army nurses died. What they did was more than worthwhile. spt

WWII Air Corps Veteran Gets Silver Star He Never Knew About

After World War II, New Mexico native Domitilio Lucero, like so many others, came to Southern California looking for work.

He got a job at the Long Beach Naval Shipyard on Terminal Island and discovered San Pedro. He married his high school sweetheart, and they put down roots and raised four sons, two of whom graduated from Fermin Lasuen High and two from San Pedro High.

Lucero didn’t talk much about the war, which was typical for most veterans. He had been a sergeant in the Army Air Corps, an engineer/gunner on a B-26 Marauder medium bomber based in England, and had seen plenty of action before being gravely wounded in a mission over Germany during the Battle of the Bulge. It took years of research from his sons to get the whole story, and it turned out to be a whole lot more than even Lucero himself knew. Back in the states, recovering from his wounds, he was unaware he had been awarded the Silver Star, the nation’s third highest award exclusively for combat valor.

Nearly 70 years later, Lucero, now 89 and living in Barstow, will receive his Silver Star in a special ceremony Nov. 5.

The Dec. 23, 1944, raid on the German rail bridgehead at Arhweiler was supposed to be a “milk run” for the 391st Bombardment Group, part of the Ninth Air Force. But the fighter support for the 32 planes in the raid never materialized, and they were sitting ducks when set upon by 60 German fighters. Only 16 bombers made it back to base, and nearly every one of those was damaged, including Lucero’s. His citation for “gallantry in action” reads:

Although thrown from his position, Sgt. Lucero crawled back to his post and although his armament was inoperative, he gallantly continued to inform his pilot of enemy aircraft positions. Sgt. Lucero’s heroic determination and courage under heavy enemy antiaircraft fire despite his painful injury reflect the highest credit upon himself and his organization.

Gerald Lucero, the youngest brother and 1970 SPHS grad, told The Air Force Times what his dad remembers of that day.

“He said they were coming in at you like you wouldn’t believe – five, 10, 15 of them, just coming in at you like you wouldn’t believe. He said he was just shooting everywhere he possibly could, and then they disappeared.” Then came the flak from below.

“He said you could see these black smoke bombs coming from the bottom, and then they were just tearing at the aircraft. He said he saw several aircraft going down, and that’s all he remembered.”

Struck by cannon fire from an enemy fighter, Lucero, then 21, spent 18 months in hospitals, where part of his rib was used to rebuild his nose.

Before he left his supply job at the naval shipyard in 1972 to go to work at the Marine Corps Logistics Base outside Barstow, he saw all four sons follow his footsteps into the service. The oldest, Elroy, a ’65 graduate of Fermin Lasuen, joined the Army and served in Germany. Today, he’s an electrical engineer in San Jose. Stevan enlisted after a cousin was killed in Vietnam. The ’67 Lasuen graduate became a member of the Army Airborne’s Special Forces and fought in Vietnam from 1969-70. The San Pedro resident is a recently retired schoolteacher after a long career with Los Angeles Unified. Vincent joined the Army and served stateside. He’s a security guard in Victorville. Gerald broke with family tradition by joining the Navy. Today he’s a time-share manager in Hawaii. Gerald, point man in the effort to get his dad’s Silver Star, told The Air Force Times of the impetus behind the effort:

“We just want to make sure that my children – his grandchildren – know, and their children know, about his involvement in the war because we’ve all felt… that my dad is a hero and what he had to endure… and I now… hear about this, and it’s even more so.”

Veteran Thanks a Veteran
I got this letter in response to my Memorial Day column on Bob DeSpain, the Rancho Palos Verdes veteran who survived the sinking of the USS Hoel in WWII. It speaks for itself:

“I served aboard the USS Hoel (DDG-13) from Jan. `69-Nov. `72, a guided-missile destroyer. (On) my first WESTPAC cruise `69-70, the ship was chosen to represent the U.S.A. in New Zealand’s bicentennial celebration.

“Our course took us to Pago Pago, then to Samar and over the site of the sunken USS Hoel (DD-533). All aboard paid their respects with a ceremony and wreath casting in memory of the crew lost in the battle.

“The information from official records was read to the crew of the battle and heroism of those men lost and those that survived.

“I salute Bob DeSpain for his labor, tenacity and survival. The battle, being outgunned, was lost yet successful in slowing down the enemy.”

It was signed by William G. “Bill” Forst, a Torrance resident. To Bill, Bob, all of the Luceros and every other veteran, an early happy Veterans Day. spt