Veterans Column: Local Veterans of Foreign Wars Reflect on Memorial Day

Memorial Day 2020; Memorial Day; Moorpark Field of Valor, Moorpark Morning Rotary Club, Field of Valor Moorpark
Barbara Lombrano, a U.S. Navy veteran who comes from a military family, honors her fellow men and women of the Armed Forces during last year’s Field of Valor ceremony in Moorpark. (Photo Credit: GCVF staff.)

Author: Vince Gangi, U.S. Air Force veteran and GCVF volunteer.

In 1999, Congress selected May as Military Appreciation Month. Each year, the president issues a proclamation for Americans to take time to participate in an event to honor the men, women and families of the armed services past and present.

May was chosen because of the many military designated celebrations associated with the month, including days for Loyalty, Armed Forces, Military Spouse Appreciation, Children of Fallen Patriots, Victory in Europe and, of course, Memorial Day.

Normally, this month’s column would be filled with events that the community can attend to honor the Armed Forces. However, this year those events have been canceled or postponed.

Therefore, to celebrate military appreciation, I asked local veterans their thoughts on the significance of Memorial Day to them.

Alexander Deraney

Deraney, of Ventura, retired as a Lieutenant Colonel in the Army. He served from 1992 to 2016, including during the Iraq War.

The seeds of motivation to join the U.S. Army were planted for Deraney before he was even born. His father, Pfc. George Deraney, was seriously injured in the Pearl Harbor attack. His dad’s service during World War II had a profound impact on Alex’s decision to join the Army.

Deraney has experienced much during his distinguished career in the Army, including being at the “tip of the spear” during the fall of Iraq, returning to Iraq to work with their leaders and teaching at U.S. Military Academy.

Regarding Memorial Day, Deraney recalls: “My most emotionally taxing job in the Army was when I was brigade rear detachment commander for 172nd Infantry Brigade stationed in Germany, soldiers deployed to Afghanistan. One of my many duties was communication link between the soldiers and their families. As we started to have casualties, seeing the pain and suffering of spouses, children and other family members is something that will stay with me always. Yes, we need to remember the fallen but also the family members they left behind.”

John Arias

Arias, an Oxnard resident, served in the Army from 1967 to 1971, reaching the rank of Sergeant.

Arias was 18 when he enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1967. By early 1968, at the height of U.S. involvement in Vietnam, Arias found himself assigned to a combat infantry unit engaging the North Vietnamese Army in the mountains south of Da Nang.  

He recalled many encounters with the North Vietnamese and carried with him the memories of most of his brothers in his platoon but certainly all of those who were killed in action, including his best friend Jimmy Concannon Jr. 

Arias told of a newly arrived medic, Spc. Gary Browning, who was concerned how he would respond in action. Specifically, would he be able to rush to the aid of a fallen comrade? In a battle where Arias’ platoon was called to support another that was under heavy fire, Browning proved that he was courageous enough to help his wounded brothers. That day Browning sacrificed his life assisting others as he was hit by enemy fire and killed.

This Memorial Day, as always, Arias will remember not only the soldiers lost in his platoon and company but all other service members:  “What hits me the hardest is that so many of those guys who lost their life were either teenagers or early 20s. They have missed so many things that we just take for granted. They should never be forgotten.”

Arias received the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star Medal for Valor during his tour in Vietnam.

William ‘Bill’ Mors

Mors, who lives in Ojai, served in active duty with the U.S. Navy from 1941 to 1945 and in the Reserves from 1945-1984. He reached the rank of Lieutenant and fought during World War II.

After the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, the entire nation was ready to support the country’s war effort. Mors was 17 at that time when he enlisted in the Navy. Mors was selected to attend officer training school where he would ultimately be assigned in 1943 to the 31st Special Naval Construction Battalion also known as the Seabees.

He was deployed to Saipan until the end of the war in 1945. After the war, Mors remained in the Navy Reserves until 1984. His notable military accomplishments are far too many to recall here.

His perspective on Memorial Day: “I was proud to serve my country in World War II and beyond. I recognize that some of the wars after that were/are not as well supported.  These conflicts were not perceived to be of global consequence. Regardless, I believe the men and women that defend this country deserve respect for putting their lives and bodies in peril to defend our freedoms.”

Mors is 96 and remains active in his church and other special projects.

Dennis Murphy

Murphy, of Westlake Village, retired from the Navy in the rank of Captain. He served from 1981-2005, including the War on Terror.

Murphy was deployed on a submarine in the Persian Gulf with an aircraft carrier battle group during escalating terrorism hostilities. He was in the Gulf when the USS Cole was attacked and had to take immediate defensive action to secure the safety of his men and submarine.

“Each year I remind myself that Memorial Day is to honor those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for their country. Much later in my career, I started giving speeches on Memorial Day at the Submarine Memorial dedicated to those 52 submarines and 3,500 men lost during World War II. 

“These ceremonies were attended by submarine veterans from World War II where we would recognize their valor and give memory to their shipmates who made the ultimate sacrifice. 

“As part of that Memorial Day ceremony tradition, a bell was rung 52 times with someone calling out the name of each submarine lost and the number of souls onboard. This made the sacrifice real and gave Memorial Day a special meaning. It has been 15 years since I last spoke at one of these ceremonies, but I think about it with vivid recollection each year.”

This Memorial Day, as we likely remain under public health orders, think about the freedoms currently taken away. We owe those freedoms, that will ultimately be returned, to the over 600,000 men and women who have died in battle since World War I. 

“Those who have long enjoyed such privileges as we enjoy forget in time that men have died to win them.” — Franklin D. Roosevelt

Vince Gangi is a retired mortgage banker and a Vietnam era veteran of the U.S. Air Force. His father was a WWII veteran. He currently volunteers at Gold Coast Veterans Foundation.

Source: VC Star article from May 3, 2020