El Cajon, CA
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Articles by J. S. Anderson, USMC Ret.

Midday this Thursday, the bikers began gathering at the designated staging site, the distinctive rumble of their motorcycles filling the air. They come together often, like on the previous Friday, when many of them rolled out to honor Marine Corps Sergeant Chad Jenson and support his family. Laid rest at Miramar National Cemetery, Sergeant Jenson was one of the 16 who perished when a Marine Corps KC-130 crashed during a routine flight on 10 July.

The Marine Corps veteran who fought in Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) described his anger at the enemy, how “they were able to get me” with a mortar round. “I could take it face-to-face,” he explained. But being hit by a mortar round “wasn’t fighting man-to-man, “he said.

Two years of the Vietnam War (1967 and 1968) accounted for nearly 49 percent of all Americans killed in action, with 11,363 in 1967 and 16,899 in 1968, according to the National Archives.

As our nation’s capital enjoyed 58-degree temperatures, El Cajon relished sunny skies and high 70s, maybe even low 80s.  Perfect motorcycling weather, if asking a biker.

The Lakeside Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) is hosting a special breakfast from 9:00 – 11:00 a.m. on Sunday May 21, to which all are invited. The purpose is to help a fellow warrior, Ana Sanchez, the subject of a previous story. Sanchez is a Marine veteran who served as a member of a Female Engagement Team in combat as part of the Lioness Program, in addition to her regular duties when overseas. An Ammunition Technician by assignment, she described the overall experience as, “one day I was pulling out bullets and the next day I was shooting them.” 

Persuading any Marine Corps veteran to speak about their accomplishments in uniform and time in combat is difficult at best, because the Marine culture eschews tooting one’s own horn. Marines give credit to others and do not seek it for themselves. We sat down to chat, 14 years to the day since Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) began. The war in which this Marine fought.

Usually nothing distinguishes them from others we see in our routine day-to-day activities. Perhaps there is an emblem or patch on a ball cap, if even such is noticed. They can be of any age from around 20 and up. When standing behind one in the grocery checkout line, there is no large label or sign on his back. When shooting the breeze during casual conversation at the coffee shop, waiting in the jury pool at the County Courthouse, waiting for your car at the garage, or when walking along in the local mall, these people are indistinguishable.

“Do you remember where you were when you heard,” he asked the mature members of the audience? Retired U. S. Navy Chief Electrician’s Mate Stuart Hedley’s story centers on one specific date. One of three specific dates in American history for which people alive at the time recall exactly where they were and what they were doing when the news reached them. Two of the dates are Sept. 11, 2001 and Nov. 22, 1963, the terrorist attacks and the assassination of President Kennedy respectively.

According to military spouse Johnnie Bruner, “It is an outstanding school full of staff that genuinely cares! And Mr. T is an excellent leader to his staff.” The school is Lakeside Farms Elementary School (Kindergarten through 5th Grade) and “Mr. T” is Matthew Thompson, principal. Bruner was commenting in the context of the special Lakeside Farms programs for military families and their students.

If asked where US servicemen were held prisoner by a foreign government in 1968, how many of us would identify only Vietnam? How many of us could answer about the 83 men, including one Killed in Action, who were captured and held by the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea (DPRK), also known as North Korea, for months?

From the comfort of the Navy Lodge overlooking the beach at Naval Air Station North Island, Senior Chief Earl Phares, United States Navy (Retired), one of those men and former Prisoner of War (POW) shared his story.