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Local retirement home offers pictures of the past to honor present residents

Posted: November 18, 2013 3:21 p.m.
Updated: November 18, 2013 3:21 p.m.

Harriet Zielke poses for a photograph next to her portrait on the Wall of Honor at the Summerhill Villa retirement community. She served in the Navy during the 1940s. Signal photo by Charlie Kaijo

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SANTA CLARITA - Chet Soule opened the book with practiced precision.

He flips though the pages. Some are adorned with text; others with hand-made drawings of faraway images crafted from long-ago memory.

Suddenly, his eyes light up. He turns the book around, one gnarled finger prodding the laminated page in front of him.

The picture is of a young man, dressed in his Army uniform, forever captured in a triumphant pose. Through the muddled black-and-white photograph his eyes shine behind a prominent set of spectacles as he points a rifle at some off-panel and likely imaginary foe.

“That was me,” he said excitedly while he sat in the Summerhill Villa retirement community recently.

Soule’s younger self is no longer contained just within the pages of the book he and his wife crafted to chronicle his experiences in Europe during World War II.

It is now on display for all to see after those at Summerhill Villa chose to honor him and other veterans with a wall of honor in the community in Newhall.

The wall
The idea for such a display came about around two months ago, according to Margie Veis, the executive director at Summerhill Villa.

But she never expected the display to turn out as poignant as it did.

“It’s more than what I expected,” she said as she stared down the collection of portraits.

“This is a wall of love,” she added.

Looking for a way to honor residents’ veteran population, Summerhill Villa employees asked families for pictures of their loved ones in uniform, which many families eagerly provided.

The veterans then sat for portraits, which were hung on the wall next to the pictures of them in their younger years.

Each of the pictures on the wall is of a current Summerhill Villa resident who spent time in the armed forces, many of them during World War II.

The subjects
The faces that line the wall once lined up to march in some of the fiercest battles in history.

Soule served in the Army and fought in the Battle of the Bulge, the last-gasp counteroffensive by Nazi Germany that was among the deadliest clashes for American troops in World War II.

Soule was also among the first American troops to occupy Berlin after the fall of Nazi Germany.

Navy veteran Ken Wilson, 87, was assigned to amphibious duty in 1944 and sailed from the East Coast through the Panama Canal to Hawaii and on to Southeast Asia and eventually Japan.

He and his amphibious landing ship played a part in the Battle of Okinawa, a fierce 82-day struggle that was one of the largest amphibious assaults in the Pacific theater of World War II.

He later was among the American troops to occupy Japan after the end of the war.

“I feel very good that they recognized us,” he said of the wall. “But many, many, many men were in the service and sacrificed more than I personally did.”

Some other thoughts went through his mind when he saw the pictures of himself.

“I wondered who the guy was who was in the uniform,” he said with a wry, wrinkled smile. “Then I wondered what made me so old.”

Harold Roth, 97, enlisted in the Army and was stationed in North Africa, France and Germany — among other places.
He, too, was somewhat shocked when he came face-to-face with his younger self.

“We feel very honored and we feel very surprised,” he said Wednesday of the wall. “The surprising thing was just that I didn’t remember how good I looked when I was young.”

Harriet Zielke, 96, also has her picture on the wall.

Zielke, who served in the Navy in the 1940s, said she was enthused with the notion of joining the armed forces and would encourage those graduating from high school to take some time to serve as she did.

Russell Garland, 82, said his time in the Navy fortified his interest in photography and filmography.

Garland was stationed in Alaska for 30 months in the 1950s and shot training films, including those for Arctic survival. He later used that experience in his professional life, working in the film industry.

“It helped to be young and a touch naive,” he said when asked of his service. “But it all worked out, I had a good life.”

David McBride, 86, first joined the Navy at age 17 and served as a chaplain on a hospital ship.

Though he said he was humbled to be honored, he said it is the wives of military veterans that deserve recognition.

"They played such an important part," he said. "They kept us going and they contributed in so many ways."

Navy veteran Robert Werkmeister, 90, referred to his compatriots at Summerhill Villa as heroes.

“You’ve got a bunch of heroes here and I can’t claim to be that,” he said, waving his hands at the veterans seated around him.

But what does he credit for the successes in his long life?

“I’ve had enough good luck,” he said, as his fellow veterans nodded. “I have no complaints.”
On Twitter @LukeMMoney




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