Veterans Day: Hear Valley heroes tell their stories (with audio)

Central California War Veterans Oral History ProjectNovember 10, 2013 

Today, Americans honor the nation's veterans, especially those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country.

Veterans Day originally was known as Armistice Day. Nov. 11 is the anniversary of the armistice that ended World War I in 1918.

On this Veterans Day, The Bee presents the stories of four veterans of foreign wars who call the Valley home:

James "Dale" Anderson, 86, Visalia

Marines, World War II

Note: After the interview for this profile was done, Anderson died on July 22.

James "Dale" Anderson wanted to join the Navy, but ended up in the Marine Corps and fought in the bloody battle of Okinawa near the end of World War II.

Anderson recalled that when he enlisted in 1944, he was caught up in the same patriotism as other Americans.

But he admitted there was another reason he and two friends decided to join: "When we'd go to town on Saturday night we couldn't get a date as civilians because all the girls liked the uniforms, and so three of us decided, 'Hey, we need to be in the military so we can get a girl!' "

When Anderson stepped off the landing ship at Okinawa, he remembered dropping into deep water and going under. "If it wouldn't have been for a couple of big guys who caught me under the arms and led me in about 20 feet where I could touch the ground, I probably would've drowned right out there."

More peril was ahead. "We didn't take any fire as we got on the beaches because the fighting was inland from where we landed. We were loaded in trucks and we headed inland. We had a sergeant named Sgt. Ferguson and he'd been over there before. I looked down on the side of the road and there was half a body, just from the rib cage up, laying there and I said 'Fergie! There's a piece of a body laying there!' And he says, 'You're going to see a lot of them from here on in.' And we did.

"In the next mile before it got so dark we couldn't see, we probably passed 20 of those bodies laying along the edge of the road."

Anderson left Okinawa with a reminder of how close he came to death. "We heard a rumor that the Japanese were getting ready for a banzai attack. About 4 a.m. we heard them making noise over the ridge. I don't know what kind of dope they used on them, but they got all doped up, where they couldn't feel much pain. Just about daybreak, here they came.

"You see a big man coming across the way with his sword in his hands coming at you. It's a very scary feeling. We started firing at them and this guy wouldn't go down. I thought somebody maybe had given me blanks for my weapon. But he did at last fall right close to my foxhole and I was able to reach out and get the sword. It was very scary."

— Profile by Lauren Albertson

Cory M. Cummings, 27, Fresno

Air Force, Afghanistan

Cory Cummings was at Fresno City College, getting poor grades, when he decided to join the military.

He entered the Air Force in 2006 and was sent to Kabul, Afghanistan, to work with NATO forces, doing convoy duty and humanitarian work.

He recalled some warm moments providing aid to Afghan civilians. "One of the moms had her baby and she made me hold her baby for her. It was just like a weird experience. When we go off-base there, we have to wear a bulletproof jacket, a helmet, and we have a big gun and all this stuff, and I'm holding this little, tiny baby. The baby's bawling when I pick it up, and I'm like, 'Oh OK! Have it back. I don't think she likes me.' So that was pretty cool."

Uncertainty was ever present in Afghanistan. "You don't know who the enemy is, and you don't know what's going to happen. Where I was at, it didn't seem like war. It just seemed like you needed to be careful. It's not like what you would think of when you think of war, like when you think of World War II or Vietnam."

He is ambivalent about the U.S. mission in Afghanistan. "We're trying to help the people that don't want to be helped. They don't want to change or adapt. It seems like we're trying to impose Western lifestyle on them and they don't want it. They're living in like the 1500s with the way that their infrastructure is."

— Profile by Jillian Bertolucci

Chester "'Chet" Hansen, 85, Fresno

Marines, Korean War

Chet Hansen joined the Marine Corps in 1946 after graduating from Roosevelt High School, and later entered the Marine Reserve. He was called to active duty in 1950 when the Korean War broke out and soon found himself in the middle of a hot war in a cold place.

"There were a lot of things you had to learn in a hurry and America didn't understand cold war and didn't have the right shoes or boots and stuff," he said. "They sent us over with rubber-top boots, and once your feet sweat, you know what happened to them, they got frozen." Soldiers soon learned that leather shoes were the best thing to wear, and it paid to have an extra pair of socks drying at all times.

Hansen respected the enemy's fighting ability. "They were pretty intense. It didn't make any difference whether they were North Koreans or Chinese. However, the North Koreans were superior. They really had a mission. Poor Chinese guys were kind of just shoved into that thing and poor skinny little guys running around in tennis shoes in freezing weather. The only food I ever saw was this little tube of rice around their neck in a cloth bag and that's what they had to eat. Humanitarian guy that I am, I always felt kinda sorry for them."

Hansen saw combat on a nondescript hill known only by a number. The day ended with a wound that sent him back to America. "So 611 was where we were and that's where I got wounded and fought my little war. It all happened in one day and that was it. … The only thing I even remember about that was that there was a lot of machine-gun fire and I was standing on top of a mound, which was a grave site for a very important Korean. Anyway, there I was and the machine gun went zooming by and just nailed me in the ankle. That was the end of my little war and I hopped down the hill on one foot."

— Profile by Lauren Jenkins

Jonas Hofer, 89, Fresno

Navy, World War II

Jonas Hofer survived a car wreck that left him with a broken back when he was 15 years old. That event set the stage for more survival adventures when he served in the Navy during World War II. He abandoned one ship that was heavily damaged by Japanese torpedo planes, and survived kamikaze attacks while stationed on a second.

If life had worked out like he planned, Hofer might never have been assigned to a ship. He joined the Navy in 1942 and learned to fly, but washed out after he broke a knee playing baseball. He became a bugler and was stationed on the USS Houston, a light cruiser, where he was also assigned to navigation and sometimes steered the ship.

During the Battle of Formosa in October 1944, the Houston was struck by a Japanese torpedo bomber, and the captain ordered the crew to abandon the heavily damaged vessel, which later was towed to safety by another American ship. Floating in the water for 14 hours before he was rescued, Hofer watched the battle action. "I remember when we were in the battle with the Japanese and I counted 13 burning planes in the water. Because of the current, me and another fella tied ourselves together with our belts. This is about 6 o'clock in the evening."

It was about 14 hours before Hofer was rescued by a boat sent from an American destroyer. "I remember guys coming down and grabbing me by the shoulders and taking me up to the main deck. After we had knelt down and thanked the Lord for saving us, then I went and had a sandwich, 'cause I hadn't eaten all night. And somebody let me sleep down in his bunk, and I slept for 24 hours."

Hofer next was assigned to the USS Kula Gulf, an escort carrier, which survived kamikaze attacks. "They knew they were going to lose their lives, and they would try to sink the ship. But every one of them missed us. One of them missed us by about 20 feet, and the bomb went off, I guess, when he hit the water … and washed two guys off the deck. We never could find them. I thought in my mind, if I was a Japanese pilot coming in, I'd turn around and go back. I'd say, this is a war we lost already."

— Brionna Mendoza

VETERANS DAY EVENTS

Veterans Day Celebration: 7 a.m.-4 p.m., Clovis Veterans Memorial District building, 808 Fourth St. Details: (559) 299-0471.

95th Porterville Veterans Day Parade: 10 a.m., Main Street from Morton to Walnut avenues. A moment of silence will be observed at 11 a.m. Grand marshal is Denver Tate, logistics and supply officer at the California Cadet Corps.

Porterville Band-a-Rama: Annual Veterans Day event featuring high school marching bands in a mass performance, takes place after the parade at Rankin Stadium at Granite Hills High.

94th Fresno Veterans Day Parade: 10:30 a.m. in downtown.

Ninth annual Hubbard-Baro Memorial Golf Tournament and Ceremony: 9:30 a.m., Fort Washington Golf and Country Club, 10272 N. Millbrook Ave., ceremony includes a 21-gun salute, military flag procession and salute to veterans. Details: (559) 434-1702.

Lemoore Veterans Day Parade: 6 p.m. in downtown. Details: (559) 924-9574.

"Remembrance Day": Presentation by author and lecturer David Styles, 6 p.m. Castle Air Museum, 5050 Santa Fe Drive, Atwater. Details: (209) 723-2178.

Yosemite National Park free admission: The fee-free weekend (through Monday) is offered to all visitors in honor of current and retired service members and their families.

CLOSURES

The following places will close or not operate today in observance of Veterans Day:

Public schools

Colleges and universities

Cities of Fresno, Clovis, Tulare, Visalia, Hanford and Madera

County, state and federal offices

Courts

Fresno, Tulare, Kings, Madera county libraries

Post offices and mail delivery

Banks

Kings Area Rural Transit

The following places will operate on the holiday:

Fresno, Clovis, Visalia, Madera, Hanford and Tulare waste collections

Fresno Area Express (weekend service)

Clovis Transit (limited service)

Porterville Colt (Saturday schedule)

Visalia City Coach

Tulare City Transit

Madera Dial-A-Ride

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