November 7, 2003

Mt. Soledad Veterans Day Tribute to Honor Bob Hope, Jerry Coleman, Korean War Veterans

Veterans Day, November 11, 2003 marks the 50th anniversary of the official end of the Korean War. The Mt. Soledad Memorial Assoc., which erected its original war memorial in honor of Korean War veterans in 1954, will mark the anniversary with a special Veterans Day ceremony beginning at 2 p.m. at the Mt. Soledad Veterans Memorial located atop Mt. Soledad in La Jolla. The event is open to the public and is free of charge.

The Association expanded its mission to honor all U.S. war veterans, living and deceased, from all branches of military service in conjunction with the construction of the Veterans Memorial Walls and the expansion and enhancement of the entire Memorial in 2001. The six curved walls will ultimately feature the faces and military records of 3,200 service men and women on plaques of luminous black granite; approximately 1,500 plaques have been installed to date.

But the Association has not forgotten its roots and deep feelings for the sacrifices made by Korean War veterans. Board of Trustee President William J. Kellogg says it is most appropriate for the Association to pay a special tribute to those who fought in the Korean War.

“From 1950 to 1953, the United States joined with United Nations forces in Korea to take a stand against what was deemed a threat to democratic nations worldwide,” Kellogg said. “At war’s end, 1.5 million American veterans returned home to their families, homes, jobs and to a ‘peacetime’ country long reluctant to view the Korean War as something to memorialize. In what has been referred to as ‘the forgotten war’ and ‘a police action,’ more than 54,000 lives were lost in just 37 months. But today, 50 years later, our association has certainly not forgotten the brave actions and sacrifices of our service men and women.”

Highlights of the Veterans Day event include:

 Keynote speaker Jerry Coleman, the longtime Padres announcer and former New York Yankees star who was voted Rookie of the Year in 1949 by the Associated Press and the following year was named Most Valuable Player of the World Series. But the public is much less acquainted with his distinguished military career. Coleman’s playing career was interrupted twice, first when he was called to service as a Marine Corps pilot in World War II and then Korea. He flew 120 missions and earned two Distinguished Flying Crosses, 13 Air Medals and three Navy Citations

 Bob Hope Recognition and Plaque Presentation. A plaque honoring Bob Hope —entertainer, patriot and humanitarian— who died July 27, will be unveiled and presented to members or a member of the Hope family.

 Col. Pete Houben, San Diego County Veteran of the Year, 2000, will make remarks on the 50th anniversary of the end of the Korean War. Houben, a Korean War veteran, will announce the installation of a bollard honoring the Korean War Veterans Assoc. Veterans of the Korean War – both U.S. armed service veterans and South Korean war veterans – will attend and participate in the ceremony, including a wreath laying

 San Diego County Medal of Honor recipients John Finn, at 94, the nation’s oldest Medal of Honor recipient, and John Baca will be recognized by Mt. Soledad Board of Trustee member Ed Ward, who is serving as the Veterans Day event Master of Ceremonies.

On Dec. 7, 1941 at Kan-eohe Bay on Oahu, Navy Petty Officer John Finn left his quarters and manned a 50-caliber machine gun in an exposed area of a parking ramp, and for 15 minutes “which felt like a lifetime,” he later said, fired upon incoming Japanese planes and single-handedly downed one plane. Finn continued at his post while sustaining 21 gunshot wounds.

John Baca, serving in 1970 as a Sp4c in the U.S. Army in Vietnam, distinguished himself while serving on a recoilless rifle team during a night ambush mission. A platoon from his company was sent to investigate the detonation of an automatic ambush device and soon came under intense enemy fire from concealed positions along the trail. Hearing the heavy firing from the platoon position and realizing that his recoilless rifle team could assist the members of the besieged patrol, Baca led his team through the hail of enemy fire to a firing position within the patrol’s defensive perimeter. As they prepared to engage the enemy, a fragmentation grenade was thrown into the midst of the patrol. Fully aware of the danger to his comrades, Baca unhesitat-ingly, and with complete disregard for his own safety, covered the grenade with his steel helmet and fell on it as the grenade exploded, absorbing the lethal fragments and concussion with his body. His action directly saved eight men from certain serious injury or death.

The public is encouraged to arrive early and use the pre-event time to tour the Veterans Memorial Walls. The Memorial is located at the top on one of the highest peaks within the city of San Diego. Surrounded by Sole-dad Natural Park, the site offers panoramic views of the city of San Diego, the mountains to the east, and the Pacific Ocean to the west.

Onsite parking is limited; free parking is available on roads leading to the site and at two area churches: Mt. Soledad Presbyterian Church at 6551 Soledad Mountain Rd. and All Hallows Catholic Church at 6602 La Jolla Scenic Dr. South. Shuttle buses will serve both sites beginning at 1 p.m. and until 4:30 p.m. (one hour after the end of the ceremony.)

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