Veterans Day: WWII Ojai veteran Pete Conforti remembers

web The Wall of Remembrance Pete Conforti 1 copy

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From The Wall of Remembrance, U.S. Army combat infantryman Pete Conforti of Ojai, during his service in the Pacific Theater of World War II.


Perry Van Houten, Ojai Valley News senior reporter

Ojai resident Pete Conforti was 21 and a combat infantryman in the U.S. Army when he landed on the island of Luzon during the invasion of the Philippines in World War II.

“We landed in Lingayen Gulf on Jan. 9, 1945,” recalled Conforti. “I was in the third wave. It was pretty rough, to start with.”

Conforti, now 95, was assigned to the 43rd Infantry Division, and remembers crouching in his foxhole while Japanese artillery shells burst in the trees above, sending shrapnel in all directions. Two buddies on either side of him were hit.

Flamethrower assaults and attacks from the air followed, as the enemy tried desperately to hold on to the island captured in 1942.

“The ship that I landed on was hit by a kamikaze. It hit the bridge, and I heard it killed about 35 sailors,” said Conforti, who learned to fear the fall of night. “Almost every night you could expect banzai charges,” he said, referring to suicidal mass infantry attacks by Imperial Japanese Army soldiers.

One of the most stirring sights during the recapture of Luzon was the several hundred ships of the invasion force anchored just offshore, in one of the largest invasions in U.S. military history, Conforti said.

Born in Italy in 1924, Conforti grew up in Santa Cruz, California, where he graduated from high school in 1943.

In December of that year, at age 19, he left for overseas and was stationed in the South Pacific, at New Caledonia. He stayed a few months before joining the 43rd Division in New Zealand, where he heard the news the D-Day landings in France had happened.

During the summer of 1944, after six or seven months in New Zealand, the division shipped out for New Guinea, where Conforti practiced jungle warfare and landings by sea, and where Hollywood star Bob Hope entertained the troops.

The division departed New Guinea in late ’44 for the invasion of the Philippines.

Part of a mortar team, Conforti spent 120 consecutive days in combat on Luzon, experiencing the tragic loss of a  well-liked sergeant who went home on leave but later returned to the unit, only to be killed by a sniper while trying to clear the enemy from the island’s central mountains.

After fighting to retake the island, Conforti was sent to the New Guinea island of Biak, but it wasn’t long before he shipped off again for the Philippine archipelago, where he wound up joining an engineering unit on the island of Leyte and was promoted to corporal.

The end of the war that August meant a homecoming for Conforti. “I came home in December of 1945 to good old San Francisco,” he said.

His first assignment stateside was at Beale Air Force Base, north of Sacramento, where he worked until he was discharged.

Conforti returned to Santa Cruz, moved in with his parents and went to work servicing cars at a Chevrolet dealership.

The family relocated to Los Angeles in 1949, and in the early ’90s Conforti moved to Ventura and bought a home. He moved to Ojai a few years later with his second wife, Lucy, who passed away in 2015.

Pete Conforti will turn 96 on Dec. 2, one of the few, if not the only, surviving World War II veteran still living in the Ojai Valley. “I’m probably one of the last ones,” he told the Ojai Valley News.

He’s probably right, according to historian and author David Pressey of Meiners Oaks, who included Conforti’s story in his series of books on Ventura County veterans. “He’s one of the last men I know who was in the thick of combat,” Pressey said. “He’s a patriot and I have great admiration for him.”

Pressey, who fought in the Korean War, said Veterans Day honors not only those who saw combat, but all who served in the U.S. military. “Every man or woman who signs that oath of allegiance to defend the Constitution from all enemies domestic and foreign is putting life, limb and all future happiness on the line for the good of this nation. Veterans deserve honor and respect for their fidelity, their loyalty, and commitment beyond what is required of the general citizenry,” he said.

Veterans Day marks the anniversary of Armistice Day, when the Allies and Germany signed a cease-fire agreement that ended World War I.

For years, the Ojai community has celebrated Veterans Day with free breakfast and lunch for veterans at the American Legion Hall, and The Wall of Remembrance, a display of posters begun by event organizer Nancy Hill more than 10 years ago, commemorating more than 2,000 Ventura County veterans.

The pandemic forced cancellation of the event this year, along with a Memorial Day observance in May.


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