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Stories of their service

Posted: November 11, 2011 1:30 a.m.
Updated: November 11, 2011 1:30 a.m.

Carl Diekman, 90, left, and Jim Greene, 75, greet each other at a birthday party for the United States Marine Corps at the Veterans of Foreign Wars hall in Canyon Country on Thursday.

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From poetry and sketches to story-telling, Spam-eating and cake-cutting, World War II vets are giving Santa Clarita Valley residents a chance to see, hear and taste the war from their perspective this Veterans Day.

“You can’t say enough to veterans when it comes to showing your appreciation,” Santa Clarita Councilman Bob Kellar said Thursday.

“When you reflect on what World War II vets went through, knowing how different a war World War II was, it’s staggering,” he said. “The sheer numbers of military people lost and wounded is unbelievable.”

Kellar, who served from 1965 to 1967, said he remembers being awestruck listening to old soldier stories told by WWII vets fighting shoulder to shoulder with those deployed to Vietnam.

“I was mesmerized by those stories,” he said remembering vets whom he knew personally, with names like “Frenchy” and “Pepcheck.”

This Veterans Day, Santa Clarita Valley residents get an opportunity to also share in the stories of old soldiers.
The Signal found three World War II veterans of note — one Army, one Navy and one Marine.

Sketches of WWII
Harold Olov Wang turns 100 years old Dec. 7, the same date Pearl Harbor was attacked in 1941.
At 99 years old, Canyon Country’s resident artist has an exhibit featuring sketches drawn during his service in World War II.

More than a dozen of his personal sketches of actual soldiers, sketched in those quieter war moments when there was a break in the fighting, are on display at the Westfield Valencia Town Center mall.

The exhibit, called “WWII Memories: The Art of Harold Olov Wang,” is expected to remain at the mall until Jan. 3, near its entrance by the Dig It! The Fossil Workshop store.

Wang was drafted into the U.S. Army in the spring of 1942 after war broke out.

He served four years, including one year in occupied Germany.

“This is a glimpse into a soldier’s life,” mall spokeswoman Stacie House said Thursday. “It allows us to take pause and reflect on what it all means.”

Pencil and pen drawings in the exhibit reveal a profoundly pensive and reflective side of World War II soldiers as they’re seen looking out over a boat railing or from under the brim of a helmet.

One of Wang’s sketch called “The Letter,” which he drew in 1945, is a personal portrait of a lone medic earnestly reading a letter — not too dissimilar from media images and reports of troops stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan reading letters or texting in quiet moments.

“This is a man who put a lot of his life on paper,” House said about the exhibit. “We commend all of our soldiers who, like

Mr. Wang, unselfishly served to protect our freedom.”
Wang’s artwork is balanced with poetry written by the artist, giving an already personal glimpse into war added dimension.

Another World War II vet sharing his experiences this Veterans Day is Bill Harrison, author of “Six Days on a Raft: a True Story of Faith and Survival.”

Faith and service

Today at 8:30 a.m., Harrison will be telling the harrowing story of his survival at sea during World War II when he visits the Santa Clarita Christian School Veterans Day Chapel on Luther Drive.
School officials invited Harrison to speak as part of their special Red, White and Blue Day, paying tribute to those who have awarded us our freedom today.

“Mr. Harrison is a great example of those who have served our country in the military,” said Tracey Scott, the school’s events coordinator.

“But his great example of faith can testify to all of us that God has a plan for us, and he will carry us through anything we will face in our lives,” she said.

Harrison’s book, which is available at Amazon online and also at today’s reading, is billed as: “One Raft.  No Food.  No Water.  Miles of Ocean. A man’s spiritual journey of endurance and faith while facing the unknown.”

Harrison, who now lives in Hemet, was a 23-year-old U.S. Navy machinist when he and more than 30 other servicemen on board the  mine-sweeping vessel YMS 472 sank during a typhoon of the coast of Okinawa in 1945.

He survived six days without food or water on a raft adrift in the Pacific Ocean in the last days of World War II.

The story begins as the world began celebrating the end of that war, when he and nine of his comrades entered the fight of their lives.

When the YMS 472 sank, the six days that followed proved to be Harrison’s most dramatic ordeal.

Also in the waters of the Pacific Ocean in the waning day of World War II, just six months prior to the sinking of Harrison’s vessel, was decorated Retired Staff Sgt. Carl Diekman of the U.S. Marines 5th Division who served in the decisive battle on Iwo Jima.
Iwo Jima vet

On Thursday, Diekman took center stage at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 6885 on Sierra Highway, where he was invited to help honor the service of all those in the United States Marine Corps.

The Canyon Country vet, who turned 90 years old last month, was the oldest Marine on hand Thursday when he officially cut a cake baked in honor of all Marines.

Diekman was one of 110,000 Marines on one of 880 vessels sent to Iwo Jima in the closing months of World War II. On Feb. 23, 1945, when his fellow Marines were raising the flag on Mount Suribachi, Diekman was on the Iwo Jima coast waiting to join them.

On Thursday, Santa Clarita Valley residents were invited to join Diekman at the VFW hall dinner table as vets prepared not only for Veterans Day but for a chance to serve up some authentic World War II grub.

The dinner was cooked up as a special birthday party for the United States Marine Corps, called simply the Marine Corps Birthday.

The birthday menu featured a World War II “S.O.S. meal” of ground-beef gravy on toast with a side order of Spam, which, according to old soldiers, was the ‘today special’ for many of the days during World War II.

The canned meat was introduced to servicemen stationed across the Pacific during WWII, from Okinawa to the Philippine Islands, when fresh meat was scarce.


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