Timely book honors vets
by Kelly Feser Eells
In light of current events, no matter one's political leanings,
now more than ever seems the time to train the spotlight on veterans
of foreign wars.
And who better to "say how it was" than the veterans
themselves, especially those featured in "Ojai Valley's
Veterans Stories," the brainchild of three local veterans.
Living Treasures founder and independent businessman Sanford
Drucker; Casitas Municipal Water District director and graphic
artist/designer Chuck Bennett; and Anglican priest and educator
David Pressey have created a book that, per its authors, "comes
to you unpolished and unvarnished. These are the stories of pain
and pride, suffering and resentment, pleasure and camaraderie
experienced by all veterans."
These veterans, and their wartime experiences, will be honored
at a reception open to the public at the Ojai Valley Museum,
Dec. 15 from 2 to 5 p.m. Admission to the museum is $3.
These are stories, as Drucker explained, that "will be important
to these veterans' kids and grandkids," many of whom have
never heard their veteran relatives even discuss their years
of active duty, much less their personal feelings about war,
"Ojai Valley's Veterans Stories," he noted, takes neither
a pacifist nor hawkish view. "It's simply history, as told
by 31 men and two women - neighbors of yours and mine that you'll
likely get to know in an entirely different way - who were there."
The stories, taken from verbal presentations, "Tell it like
it was, not like some academician would explain. The freedom
of expression without the restraint of a politically correct
environment (i.e., Veterans of Foreign Wars, Ojai Post) gave
us an understanding of the feeling of what it means to be a veteran.
We found a commonality of emotions."
Drucker also noted that the camaraderie afforded fellow VFW members
"helped them talk about things they likely never would've
talked about before. A lot of these guys just aren't comfortable
Without giving away too much of what's inside "Ojai Valley's
Veterans Stories," the Ojai Valley News will periodically
highlight those neighbors featured in the book, a book that "The
Greatest Generation" author and renowned newscaster Tom
Brokaw calls, "More great stories about a great generation."
As authors Bennett, Pressey, and Drucker - Vietnam, Korea, and
World War II veterans, respectively - stated, "It was discovered
that the membership of this Post represented many facets of American
history for the last 65 years. It was truly amazing how this
small community should have such a microcosm of world history
at our fingertips."
For example, Drucker laughed, "Most of us know (famed artist)
Otto Heino as a first class potter. But do you know him as 'Superman,'
what he was called during World War II?"
Heino, who was among the first group of B-17 Bomber - known to
many aviation enthusiasts as the "Flying Fortress"
- gunners sent to Europe during Word War II, flew close to 40
missions and was twice shot down, each time bailing out at some
90 miles per hour and landing behind enemy lines.
Finnish by birth, Heino's first name was originally pronounced
"Ah-ho." But in England, where he was stationed during
the war, "No one (in my company) could pronounce it. They
were sure it was German, so it got changed to 'Otto.' And I've
kept it, because it's been good luck."
Heino and his company were taught German two nights a weeks because,
"at that time, it was good to know the enemy's language
- in case you had to bail out."
While 'Otto' is the name civilians, family members, and assorted
patrons of the arts know Heino by, his VFW comrades and the ever-dwindling
number of World War II B-17 Bomber gunners still alive "to
tell" know him by 'Superman.'
However, it wasn't Heino's amazing escape from not one, but two,
flak-ridden planes that led him, and an estimated 100 other area
World War II veterans, to being feted at Camarillo's WWII Airpower
Heritage Museum "Hollywood Canteen" celebration last
year. At that celebration, staying power (four of the local World
War II veterans featured in "Ojai Valley's Veterans Stories"
have passed on since telling their stories), more than anything
else, was lauded.
In Drucker, Pressey, and Bennett's book, 'Superman' talks about
how he got his nickname; he also talks about how it felt being
the lone survivor of two missions that killed, not just everyone
else on board, but untold people on the ground.
As former congressman and past Ojai mayor Robert Lagomarsino
has stated, "If Americans ever forget the horrors and deprivations
of wars past, we are destined to repeat them. (This book), these
neighbors, living right here in our area, tell wrenching stories
of war experienced all over the world."
And, as the book's authors state, "...these are the straightforward
stories of those on the receiving end of direct orders from our
government. They're not from studious historians rummaging around
in dusty tomes talking on the 'grand scale of war.' Here you
are, sitting in the living rooms of your neighbors."
And, if the trio sounds a note of urgency, that's because there
"Four of the veterans featured in this book have passed
away since it was published; several others have entered nursing
homes. We're racing the clock to ensure that our legacy of experiences,
memories, emotions, and yes, attitudes are not lost to our community
and posterity. This is a book for our families, for veterans,
for young people, and indeed, our very nation."
© 2002 The Ojai Valley News
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