Our local World War II Heroes of Yesteryear
By Tom Morrow
Over the years I’ve written a good deal about our heroes of World War II – local names that never should be forgotten. Most, if not all, are gone but here are a few names I recall from past columns in the old Blade-Citizen:
Oceanside’s Alex Kapitanski, who was affectionately known by nearly everyone in North San Diego County as “the flag man,” earned both a bronze star and silver star for valor in the European ground campaign. Kapitanski was a combat photographer, landing at Normandy and surviving all the way to Germany at the end of the war.
During that terrible last winter of the war in 1944-45, 20-year-old Ed Anderson of Escondido watched as his platoon leader die from enemy fire during the Battle of the Bulge. The only thing more frightening to Anderson other than the bitter cold was the enemy machine gun emplacement that had killed his platoon leader and many of his comrades. He took it upon himself to, as he put it, “silence” the danger with his own .50 caliber Browning Automatic Rifle. Then Anderson proceeded to a second enemy position where his rifle jammed, but he managed to use it as a club to take out the surprised German defenders before they could react.
Anderson received the nation’s second highest military honor, the Distinguished Service Cross, for action that saved many of his comrades. He also was awarded the Bronze Star for earlier action.
Oceanside’s Nat Bassevitch was a member of the 29th U.S. Army Division on D-day, June 6, 1944, but was captured the next day while serving as a scout in front of the troops. Bassevitch managed to escape his captors only to be captured again the next day by the same German unit.
“Boy, were they mad!” Bassevitch recalled, laughing.
Del Mar’s Bill Arballo, who was a 1941 graduate of Oceanside High School, was an Army medic in Italy and earned the coveted Silver Star in combat while attached to the 135th Regiment of the 34th Infantry Division. While his unit was pinned down by an enemy mortar and artillery barrage, Arballo was wounded and unable to walk, yet he crawled to tend to wounded soldiers, refusing to leave until all were cared for. Corporal Arballo was awarded the Silver Star for his “courage and devotion to duty” that inspired his entire company.
Oceanside’s John Martz was another North San Diego County survivor of the “Bulge.” He was a sergeant in the 513th Regiment of the 17th Airborne Division wounded in an artillery barrage, but quickly recovered to rejoin the fighting just days later only to be wounded once more. A fellow soldier captured a German ambulance and took Martz, who was unable to walk, and three other men to the rear for medical treatment.
Retired Marine Sgt. Major Joe Kratcoski of Oceanside was one tough veteran who had a war record of which John Wayne would have been envious. Kratcoski won major battle ribbons in three wars, the first Bronze Star in the South Pacific, a second in Korea, and the Navy Commendation Medal after serving two tours of volunteer duty in Vietnam.
Carlsbad’s Jim Maguire joined the Marine Corps in January 1941 and by December 1942 he was a captain piloting a torpedo bomber in the Guadalcanal campaign in the South Pacific. Later in the war he was a night fighter pilot over Guam and Okinawa, winning the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal. He was promoted to major in December 1943, and became a career Marine aviator retiring in 1967.
I haven’t forgotten the ladies: Army Lt. Lucille Tubbs of San Diego went to Russia in 1944 as a nurse. Some 50 years later the Russians gave her a special commemorative medal. Cpl. Marie A. Proulx of Oceanside was a career Woman Marine who served during World War II at El Toro Air Station in Santa Ana. Oceanside’s Irene Milbrodt was a U.S. Navy photographic lab technician in Washington, D.C., and later in Hawaii during the war. Dixie Bales, also of Oceanside, was a Navy “Wave” assigned to Balboa Naval Hospital in San Diego, where at the same time, her husband, Lou Bales, was seriously wounded while serving in the U.S. Army in Europe.
Carlsbad’s Harry Wagner languished in a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp in China before being rescued.
Oceanside’s Dave Zahler was a Bronze Star holder, who fought in the “Battle of the Bulge” and later helped to liberate the infamous Dachau death camp near Munich.
Vista’s Bill Miles saw early U.S. Army action in North Africa in the November 1942 debacle at the “Kasserine Pass.” He was in the first invasion of Sicily, then later landed on the bloody beaches of Anzio and on to Monte Cassino.
Historically Speaking, these heroes of World War II may not be with us any longer, but they certainly should never be forgotten.