The American Legion Cecil Cox Post 147 of Clovis recently honored the Clovis Police Officer of the Year, four veterans - including two former POWs - and the Legionnaire of the Year at their annual birthday celebration.
Post 147 gave Detective Jeremy Edmonson a plaque in appreciation for his service and in recognition of his nomination from his peers as Officer of the Year.
Edmonson became an officer trainee at Clovis Police Department in 2006. He enrolled in Fresno Police Academy the same year, and graduated in July 2007. He was hired by Clovis Police Department July 1, 2007. Since then he has worked several shifts, became a defensive tactics coordinator, joined the SWAT team, and has now been a detective since 2011. He also participates in community and educational events, including the Clovis Police Department’s annual Chief for a Day program. He also teaches sexual assault investigation at Fresno State once a semester.
“Law enforcement is an interesting field to be in,” Edmonson said. “It’s challenging, especially in this day and age ... it’s becoming harder to hold people accountable for their actions. But as I sit here today those challenges seem small. I know there’s a lot of experience in this room, retired officers, and veterans. You guys are incredible. Because of the sacrifice that you’ve done in your life, you’ve made me free, and my family free, and given me the opportunity to do the job I’m doing now. To be recognized by the American Legion is pretty incredible.”
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Following the Officer of the Year recognition, four veterans were honored with Quilts of Valor.
“It is important that we honor our vets for their emotional well being,” said Alan Fry, Post 147 commander. “They serve under hazardous conditions, long hours and long separations from their loved ones. They do jobs most of us don’t want to do or can’t. They need to feel appreciated so that the job they do doesn’t go unnoticed. That is one of the main functions of the American Legion and this post. We need to support them to have a strong military. This holds true of policeman as well.”
The first veteran to be recognized was Jack Schwartz, who turns 100 years old next month.
Schwartz became an officer in the U.S. Navy in 1940 after graduating from Caltech. He felt that the U.S. would soon be going to war, and he thought being a CEC officer would be his best option. His first post was in Hawaii, then he went on to Guam. He was on Guam when the war started, and was captured when Guam surrendered to the Japanese. He spent the entire war - three years and nine months - in various prisoner of war camps.
Following the war, he returned to the U.S. to recuperate, but then went back to the Navy. His career led him around the world, including Long Beach, Coco Solo Naval Air Base in Panama, Seattle, Key West, France, and finally Albuquerque, New Mexico. He retired September of 1962 as a commander after 22 years of service.
George Heimbuch, 94, was also a prisoner of war in WWII. His daughter, Janet Davis, told her father’s story while he listened in the audience.
Heimbuch enlisted in the Army Air Corps at age 19. His first duty was at Mindanao, a small island in the Philippines. He had only been there a few months before the Japanese took control over the island. Heimbuch was taken prisoner of war on Mother’s Day, 1942. The prisoners were held on the island a couple months while the Japanese tried to decide what to do with the prisoners. It was finally decided to send the prisoners to Japan, and loaded them onto “hell ships.”
“They were referred to as ‘hell ships’ due to their deplorable conditions and the treatment at the hands of the Japanese,” Davis said.
The trip took 40 days, and Davis said they lost a third of the men due to conditions and treatment. The solider that died were just thrown over the side of the ship to a watery grave.
“My dad survived, and he landed in Japan and ended up at a POW camp just outside of Tokyo,” Davis said.
It was the same camp that Schwartz was imprisoned. The two were there together, in the same barracks, although they didn’t know that at the time. They just recently met after Schwartz read Heimbuch’s story in the Fresno Bee.
“He spent three and-a-half years as a POW at the hands of the Japanese, and they were very cruel,” Davis said. “At the end of the war he weighed 90-92 pounds, which is pretty small for a six-foot man.”
When Heimbuch finally came home, he re-enlisted in the military, got married, and had three children. He retired from the military as a Master Sergeant after 20 years of service.
The next Quilt of Valor was presented to Vietnam veteran James Anderson by 25-year friend John Dunn.
Anderson enlisted in the military in July 1965. His first duty station was in Pearl Harbor, where he worked on submarines. After two years, he wanted a change and volunteered to work on a PBR (Patrol Boat, River) - a boat 32-ft. long boat equipped with machine guns. After training, he was sent to Vietnam. He was assigned to River Division 514, and they patrolled the waterways of Vietnam up to Cambodia.
For his service in Vietnam, Anderson received two bronze stars. He received one bronze star for his actions in a firefight. His boat, along with two others, was traveling up river when they came under attack. One boat was hit, and Anderson’s quick actions and the amount of fire that he returned saved the lives of all the soldiers on all three boats.
Anderson’s second bronze star was awarded for his 418 patrols and 20 confirmed firefights during the 18 months he was in Vietnam.
He was also given the Navy Achievement Medal for the surrender of 11 Vietnamese soldiers who were carrying mortar, small arms, and had a vast array of information.
“When I first got this invitation (from the American Legion), I was very humbled,” Anderson said. “Our support for our military is absolutely paramount ... and the people that have been out there fighting ... they are going to suffer for the rest of their life.”
The last veteran to be honored was the youngest - 23-year-old Army veteran Fidel Bobadilla.
“I feel very honored to be here in front of these past war vets...coming home to something like this is very special,” Bobadilla said.
Bobadilla joined the Army in February 2010. He was an infantryman - an M240 machine gunner - and was stationed in Alaska for a year. In April 2011, he was deployed to Afghanistan to the Kabul Province.
On June 2, 2011, Bobadilla’s unit was hit. A sergeant was killed, and Bobadilla lost a leg, although he did not realize that at the time.
“I only saw the leg that was attached, thank God. It kind of kept me calm,” he said. “Thanks to my training, I was able to relax and wait for medevac to get there.”
Bobadilla was airlifted to Germany and was unconscious for two weeks. When he finally woke up, he was able to talk to his parents and his wife, Daisy, for the first time. He was then flown to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. He was there for a month undergoing surgeries. He lost his spleen and it was there that he found out he was a double amputee.
“That was pretty hard, but my wife stuck with me the whole time,” said Bobadilla, breaking down in tears.
Bobadilla received a standing ovation from the American Legion and all those who attended the event.
Last, but not least, the Legionnare of the Year was announced - Fran Kilgore - who is so devoted to the post that she had to be called out of the kitchen to receive her plaque.
“This person has done a lot of wonderful things for this unit,” Fry said. “She’s served in various capacities, she’s increased our enrollment, works tirelessly at functions, spearheaded the oratorical contest, and we’re better because of her.”