By JOHN CRAWFORD
On a perfect, picturesque morning atop Mount Soledad in La Jolla, four living legends of the Greatest Generation, the four World War II veterans of the Grantville-Allied Gardens Kiwanis Club, received a public and well-deserved “thank you” for their years of service to the country and to Kiwanis.
The four living legends, each over 90 years in age, were able to personally witness the dedication of their own shared plaque as part of the Mount Soledad National Veterans Memorial, one of the only memorials in the nation that honors military veterans both living and deceased. The ceremony could have easily doubled as a Hall of Fame induction for the G.A.G. Kiwanis Club, as the four combine to represent approximately 200 years of membership in Kiwanis.
It was a beautiful morning atop the mountain as the marine layer burned away, leaving a sunny spring day for the crowd of about 40 people, made up mostly of Kiwanis members, spouses, and of course, friends and family of the honorees.
The emcee for the day was Neil O’Connell, a USMC veteran who also serves as President and CEO of the Mt. Soledad Memorial. One by one, O’Connell read the biographies of our four veterans – Owen Eugene (Gene) Elmore, Dr. Byron Y. Newman, John G. Peterson, and John (Jack) Scott – while also touting the history and significance of the memorial itself.
As club member Vic Enchelmayer was summoned to the podium for an invocation, a surprisingly well-timed, unplanned, and absolutely fitting flyover of vintage military aircraft took off from nearby MCAS Miramar. The flight path took each plane directly over Mt. Soledad, and seemingly directly over the head of 97-year-old Navy vet Elmore, who as a young pilot logged more than 160 combat and aerial missions in both the European and Pacific theaters, and later flew more than 1,200 humanitarian relief flights during the Berlin Airlift.
Elmore was accompanied by his wife, Wanda, and his two sons, Jack and James, who each took a few minutes to share some thoughts on their heroic father.
“On June 6, 1944, he made six trips to France,” recalled Jack Elmore, Gene’s older son. “Three to Utah Beach, and three to Omaha Beach.”
Commander Elmore joined the Navy after his 18th birthday in 1941, and is technically still in the Navy Reserve today. He joined Kiwanis in 1969, later serving as Club President and Lt. Governor, and winning the Kiwanian of the Year Award in 1982-83. He is still an active member of Kiwanis today.
Also honored was Dr. Newman, a native of Warren, Ohio who spent much of his time during the war years as an Army journalist. Newman took to the podium and described some of his earliest memories of the Army, as well as his experience during the Korean War.
Following his Army years, Newman, 91, maintained a 60-year career as an optometrist. He first joined Kiwanis in Van Nuys in 1971, and spent time as a member of six different Kiwanis Clubs in Southern California, including the last 16 years with Grantville-Allied Gardens (at the invitation of Elmore). He is a past Lt. Governor of Division 25, and put his journalism experience to good use as the editor of the Cal-Nev-Ha Kiwanis District newsletter during the 1980s. His wife, Bunny, was seated at his side during the plaque dedication ceremony.
Taking the opportunity to speak on his own behalf, Peterson, 93, identified two critical events that had a seismic impact upon his life. The first, of course, was being drafted into the Army in 1946. The second was his invitation 20 years later to come to his first Grantville-Allied Gardens Kiwanis meeting.
“My neighbor, Paul Christman, came across the street and asked me to join him at a Kiwanis breakfast. I did join him that morning, and I really enjoyed it.” Peterson will mark his 55th year as a member of G.A.G. Kiwanis later this month. “It has changed my life,” he gratefully explained.
A native of Winslow, Arizona, one of Peterson’s favorite experiences within the military was his early travel throughout the continental United States, including many parts of the nation that he had never seen before. “It made me grow up,” he recalled. “I had never been away from home before.” He also appreciated his education at San Diego State, made possible by the G.I. Bill, which provided financial aid to military veterans for college.
Last but certainly not least, Navy veteran Scott, age 96, also made it to the top of the mountain, where his story was told by Larry Hamilton. Scott served as a role model and mentor to Hamilton while the latter was a member of the SDSU Circle K club in the late 1970s, and the two have maintained a 43-year friendship ever since, meeting for lunch on Tuesdays whenever possible.
“He’s been there with me,” Hamilton said. “Now, later on in life, I’m glad to say I’m here with him, to help him out whenever I can.”
Hamilton spoke not only of Scott’s naval career, including his time on the destroyer U.S.S. Maloy, but also of his service as advisor to the SDSU Circle K club in the 1970s and 1980s. He extolled Scott’s volunteer service of more than 15,000 volunteer hours as a docent in Engine Room #3 on the U.S.S. Midway Museum (which he continues even today), and spoke laughingly at some of Scott’s quirks and idiosyncrasies today. “He hates mustard.”
One of the best parts of the ceremony from a special surprise from Quilts of Honor, a veterans support organization that crafts handmade quilts to honor those who have served. Each of our four veterans was presented with their own unique quilt and a “quilt hug,” where each of the four was enveloped within their personal blanket with a gentle and appreciative embrace.
The very moving and respectful ceremony was the culmination of a months-long effort by Club Secretary Kathy Butterstein, along with her husband, George. The plaque itself was funded by private donations from several Kiwanians.
Although Mount Soledad reaches only 824 feet in elevation above the shores of La Jolla, on this day, our club’s WWII veterans were truly on top of the world.
— John Crawford is president of the Grantville-Allied Gardens Kiwanis Club.