History in the making
by Jesse Phelps
The Ojai Valley Museum was full to bursting on Sunday as a
community gathered to share an incredible book with its authors.
Twenty-eight of 33 veteran authors gathered to sign "Ojai
Valley's Veterans Stories," a collection of reminiscences
and memories of Ojai and wartime, firsthand accounts of the perils
and attitudes surrounding our fighting men and women during the
Retired Sgt. David Pressey and 1st Lt. Charles Bennett, a platoon
leader during the Tet Offensive in Vietnam, both belong to the
Ojai Chapter of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Post 11461. One
day, listening to their fellow soldiers talk, they had the idea
to compile the history.
"This is a story of life," said Pressey. "And
it's a history of Ojai here, embedded in this book. And it isn't
war stories per se, it's a story of life. It goes back into the
Depression, the roots of these people, their childhood, what
A splendid audience greeted the heroes. Museum Executive Director
Jane McClenahan said 140 people signed in at the register and
with veterans, volunteer staff, press, and family members, the
turnout was estimated at 225 people. Bennett was thrilled that
so many veterans showed up to sign.
"We have 100 percent of those who are alive" and able
to attend, he said.
Asked how the project came about, he said, "We just asked
members of our VFW post to tell their stories because we wanted
to put out a newsletter and we wanted to let others in the VFW
post know about this. It was kind of a start-and-stop thing.
We'd have it happen one month and then the next we wouldn't.
But after about two years we had enough stories and it was kind
of a logical move - hey, why don't we put this stuff into a book?"
The book features accounts from 33 veterans, 28 of whom gathered
around 10 tables inside the museum to sign the book for the legion
of supporters and interested people. The book is divided into
six sections: Veterans of Three Wars; Veterans of Two Wars; World
War II - Europe; World War II - Pacific; Korean War Era, and
Vietnam War Era.
The accounts included two from women, both of whom were present
at the signing. Virginia Allen was a nurse and Betty Culbert
was heavily involved in USO activities.
Culbert described working six and seven days a week for the war
effort, first on a "big naval air base" and then for
an oil company. "I had an all-girl dance combo and one day
the Navy band moved out and they were scheduling a dance at the
USO that night. So the director called me up ad said, 'We don't
have a band.' I said, 'Never fear, we'll be there,'" she
recalls. "So we showed up in our white skirts and our red
blazers. We played for the dance and then we became the official
USO dance team."
She says they performed around the county, at outlying air bases
and at Hueneme on Sunday afternoons. "We were kinda busy,"
The museum featured a number of fabulous exhibits to accompany
the signing. The contributors were immortalized on one wall,
their pictures hanging side by side with brief descriptions of
their service. Posters, remembrances, stories and even a front
page from what was then called The Ojai, declaring "Ojai
Prepares for War" decorated the walls.
An interesting section depicted the history of the Ojai Valley
as a military post. For many years, the Ojai Valley Inn &
Spa housed military units during World War II.
While that war united the country against a common foe as it
never had before or since, America, too, had its dark side even
then. Fearing that the U.S. might fall prey to espionage, Franklin
Delano Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which caused the
eviction and internment of 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry
who lived in Arizona, California, Oregon, and Washington.
The camps, including Manzanar and Tule Lake, were rough and cold
and provided inadequate protection from the elements. A thoughtful
section to the left, just inside the museum entrance, paid tribute
to Ojai's interned Japanese citizens, including Kiyo Fukasawa,
who the exhibit says, taught school in Manzanar "under trying
circumstances" before returning to Ojai and teaching at
But this day was all about the veterans and their stories. Contributor
Sanford Drucker says he's proud because the Library of Congress
has consented to record and archive the stories and because he
was able to get support from the book from Tom Brokaw and Bob
Dole. Brokaw's endorsement calls the book "More great stories
about a great generation."
Says Pressey, "Brokaw and Dole couldn't find Ojai on a map
but they recognized from this book, a commonality of veterans
and their experiences and that's why they endorsed it."
Drucker spent more than three years on Attu Island in the Aleutians
with the 4th Infantry Regiment, part of the Polar Command. In
the book, he says, he has vowed to promote peace "within
myself first, then in others. I understood that somehow we needed
to put an end to the senseless killing."
He also points out that proceeds from book sales go to "neediest
veterans and the Ojai Valley. And also to the World War II Memorial."
The book features diverse perspectives but Bennett and Pressey
said the No. 1 reason for doing it was the togetherness it fostered
amongst the vets and the desire to share experience with the
"The biggest reason for doing this book we wanted to leave
some kind of a history for people that lived in the Ojai Valley.
It was also an attempt to try to get a sense of community back,"
said Bennett. "We were feeling like we were losing that.
(The veterans) remember how it was when Ojai was a much smaller
town, everybody knew everybody else. What you see here today,
it's a community," said Bennett.
"We are all comrades," echoed Pressey. "We don't
even have to like each other, but we're comrades," he laughed.
"Whether we were dragged in kicking or screaming or we volunteered
like this guy, we were there for our country."The museum
will continue to feature these amazing people and their indelible
stories as it will host the vets for a series of talks over four
Sundays in January. The talks will go from 3:00 to 5:00 p.m.
each Sunday. A $3 donation is requested and all talks are free
to museum members. Here are the scheduled speakers for each day:
Jan. 5: Otto Heino, Julio Contreras
Jan. 12: Larry Prince, Ed Marshall
Jan. 19: Sanford Drucker, David Pressey
Jan. 26: Phil and Betty Culbert, Chuck Bennett
The book is available at the museum, on the Web at veteransstories.org, and will soon be available
through Amazon and other major retailers. "It's just mushroomed,"
© 2002 The Ojai Valley News
Back to the news
Lt. Chuck Bennett, Sgt. Dave Pressey, 1st. Lt. Sanford Drucker,
and Sgt. 1st class Ed Marshall were the highest ranking officers
present at the Ojai Museum last Sunday where a special book signing
was held for "War Stories from Ojai Valley Veterans,"
a collection of war stories from local veterans who served in
World War II, Korea, Vietnam and the Gulf War.