People reporter traces dad to Ojai
By Kelly Feser Eells
Once upon a time, former Ojai
resident Armando Arias was America's favorite prisoner-of-war.
Or at least its most famous. One thing's for certain: On Sept.
23, 1953, he was the best-known soldier aboard the USNS General
R.L. Howze (the last POW troopship out of Korea), having made
headlines for most of the three years he'd spent in captivity.
When he left for Korea in August of 1950, few outside his family
and the U.S. Army knew that, while serving as an intelligence
officer during World War II, he'd been captured four times and
sent to four different German prison camps - all of which he,
It wasn't until he was reported missing in action three months
later that the public at large met "Lieutenant Arias, Ace
POW." By the end of 1951 he'd been officially reclassified
as a POW, and everyone got to know the "L.A. Captive of
Reds (who) Fled Nazis Four Times," even better, thanks to
the photo of the "dashing young war hero" that now
accompanied most of the stories written about him.
But, as Arias' son, Ron, points out, "No one, including
my (two) brothers and I, ever really knew my dad."
Not for lack of trying. Indeed, the younger Arias, an acclaimed
author and Los Angeles-based People magazine correspondent, spent
more than 15 years learning about his father, and it's all chronicled
in his latest book, "Moving Target, A Memoir of Pursuit"
(2003). And though it began as a personal quest, "a search
for the truth about my father" (who "vanished"
in 1969, the last year Arias and his brothers saw him alive),
"Moving Target" is much more than the story of one
man. Chockfull of history, social commentary, and wry humor,
it reads more like a mystery than a memoir.
Which, Arias notes, to some extent, it is. "The more (information)
I gathered, the more I saw a pattern. But," he chuckles,
"I had the darnedest time coordinating it all into a book.
It's probably the toughest story I ever researched."
Still, "unraveling all those truths was very cathartic."
Arias discovered early on that his father died in Ojai, in 1980.
"Ojai was a whole 'unlocking' for me, the Rosetta stone
of the story. All his friends were here; I know it really was
Shangri-La for him. I'll always have a connection to Ojai."
The book, he adds, "is also sort of a tribute to" everyone
who loved Armando Arias, as well as everyone who helped his son
Ron Arias will be reading from "Moving Target" at Local
Hero Bookstore on Saturday, May 10, from 2 to 4 p.m.
"When I do readings," he smiles, "there's something
for everyone: POWs, cynics, expatriates; really, everyone."
The Ojai Valley News
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