Remembering Our Veterans


    When I was teaching English at Campolindo High School and Veteran’s Day (Nov. 11) arrived, I’d ask students to find a veteran in the family, neighborhood or community and personally thank that person for serving our country as homework. Many did.

Bill O’Brian.

    Recently, my wife and I visited Mount Rushmore in Keystone, South Dakota, and attended the evening ceremony which included a review by a U.S. Park Service officer of the four presidents enshrined there. Concluding, he asked all current military service people and veterans to come to the stage for the lowering of the flag. I joined a group of about 50 veterans, with six of us, men and women, chosen to fold the flag to its triangular shape when lowered. Those on stage removed their hats, saluted or held hands over hearts. Emotional, all I could think of was how many thousands of military service people have served and died for our country, and we on and in front of that stage all lived because of their sacrifice.
    The Park Service officer then told the audience, standing themselves, that this event would probably be the only public acknowledgment the veterans on stage would receive for their military service. We received a rousing applause, the only time I have ever been thanked in public for serving my country.
    On Oct. 11, I attended the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 8063 monthly dinner at their modern building on Mt. Diablo Blvd. in Lafayette at the invitation of Terry Murphy. What follows are short biographies of eight local Lamorinda veteran members of VFW Post 8063. I hope in some small way the printing of their service histories and pictures serves as a public acknowledgement of their service to our great country and encourages readers on this Veteran’s Day to do what I asked students to do, or even give the veteran with whom you interact a standing ovation.

    Presently, Isely is the Commander of Lamorinda VFW Post 8063. He graduated from the University of Missouri in 1963, receiving his commission as a 2nd Lt. having completed ROTC. He served for nearly five years in the Field Artillery, starting at Ft. Sill, Oklahoma, before going to the 12th Armored Division in Germany. He returned to Ft. Irwin, California, and helped activate an artillery battalion which included three firing batteries with six guns each of 105mm howitzers. He and his unit then deployed to Vietnam. He spent nearly a year there and returned home to finish his five years of service at the Oakland Army Terminal.

Veteran Ed Isely (right) salutes a fellow soldier.

    Currently Winnacker is the chief of the Moraga Orinda Fire Department. Prior to starting his firefighting career in 2004, he received his commission as a 2nd Lt. in the U.S. Marine Corps in 1997 after completing The Basic School for all officers at Quantico, Virginia. He also completed the Infantry Officers Course, further training in tactics, weaponry and survival. He then served as a platoon and company commander, and, in 2003, left for the invasion of Iraq which took about six weeks to go from Kuwait to Baghdad.
    After four months in Iraq, he returned home, was demobilized and joined the fire service. In 2011, he and his reserve unit were mobilized and sent to Africa, participating in Theater Security Cooperation along the southern edge of the Sahara Desert in various locations in Africa. His unit served as training advisors for local military units.

Marine Corps veteran, and current MOFD fire chief, Dave Winnacker.

    Serving in the U.S. Navy from 1987 to 1995, Arleen’s rank was Petty Officer, 3rd Class. She worked as a physical therapist at stations in Great Lakes, Orlando and Camp Pendleton. She served for three months in the Persian Gulf on the Hospital Ship USNS Comfort, and finished her service at Treasure Island in San Francisco Bay.

Arleen Thomas.

    Living in Orinda since 1953, Cooper is a Veteran of World War II who served with the 7th Infantry Division in the South Pacific in two campaigns: Leyte and Okinawa. He was in the first wave invading Okinawa. Asked what the fighting was like, he said, “Horrible. I lost eight classmates from my class of 1943, Alameda High School.” Cooper, who helped found Boy Scout Troop 237 in 1955, was Scout Master for over 40 years. He was the Orinda Citizen of the Year in 1980. Additionally, he received the honor of Scout of the Century in 2014 from the Mt. Diablo Silverado Council.

Bill Cooper.

    Murphy started his service in 1967 in the U. S. Army, and finished in 1969 as an E-6, Staff Sergeant in the Infantry. In Vietnam in 1968, and serving an extended tour of 14 months, his job was to go on patrols to “find the enemy, let people know where they were and provide tactical information.” His unit was the 1st Battalion, 28th Infantry, 1st Infantry Division (known as The Big Red One). His team consisted of one radioman and six shooters, all trained to do reconnaissance.

Terry Murphy.

    Verdugo served during World War II in the U.S. Navy as part of the flight crew on a PBY Catalina, a seaplane of two engines that flew anti-submarine and Marine Corps support missions. He also served for two years in the Korean War as an aviation machinist and flight crew chief.

Gilbert Verdugo.

    Kirby served in the U.S. Army from 1968 to 1970. He then served an additional 20 years plus in the National Guard and Army Reserve. During his Vietnam tour, he manned a Quad Fifty, which consisted of four 50 caliber machines guns mounted on a turret on the back of a huge truck. It fired from a stationary position or while moving down the road. His unit was the 5th Battalion, 2nd Artillery.

Michael Kirby.

   An ROTC graduate from U.C. Berkeley, Dinwiddie received his commission in 1994, and went to Infantry Officers Basic training at Ft. Benning, Georgia. He earned his Airborne wings (parachute) between his sophomore and junior years of college. He went to Ft. Hood, Texas, with the 1st Calvary Division. He then spent a year in Saudi Arabia in the Security Assistance Command helping to train Saudi troops. He served in the Iraq invasion in 2003-4, called Iraqi Freedom, as a company commander of 160 paratroopers. His unit staged in Kuwait and fought through five cities to Baghdad. He resigned his commission in 2004 to take care of his ailing father.

Starrett Dinwiddie.

    So, there is the story of some of your fellow Lamorindans who served their country in the military. As for my story: I was commissioned a 2nd Lt. in the U.S. Army in 1965 from ROTC upon graduating from U.C. Berkeley. I went to Ft. Benning, Georgia, for Infantry Officers Basic and Airborne (parachute) training before serving with the 2nd Battalion, 9th Infantry, 2nd Infantry Division in Korea. I served as platoon leader and led daylight patrols in the Demilitarized Zone and night stakeouts just below it. I was also a staff officer as the operations and training officer. I finished my last two years at Ft. Ord, California.
    The Lamorinda VFW gives away free poppies but accepts donations on Veteran’s and Memorial Days at the U.S. Post Offices in Lafayette and Orinda and at Lafayette’s Diablo Foods. The Post sponsors several Boy and Cub Scout troops and also supports the Poly-Trauma Center in Palo Alto, the Concord Veteran’s Center, and Veteran organizations in need. During the recent Santa Rosa fire, VFW 8063 bought myriad supplies from Costco, loaded trucks and trailers, and passed the supplies out to those in the affected areas. Additionally, they gave thousands of dollars, money from poppy donations, to help area

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