By Raiza Giorgi
“Did you ever see the pictures of the thousands of people in the city streets, celebrating the end of WWII? Well, one of those thousands was me,” said Edward J. Jorgensen, U.S. Navy veteran and Solvang resident. “Everyone celebrated for days and I am thankful to have been a part of it.”
Jorgensen and several other World War II veterans were honored for their service and helped commemorate the 75th anniversary of the end of WWII in a ceremony held by the local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) on Saturday, Sept. 19, at the Santa Ynez Airport.
“This is a nationwide event, where DAR chapters all around are doing things to celebrate our WWII veterans and celebrating the 75th anniversary of the end of the war. We wanted to do something special to honor their service,” said Terry Bunn, of the Refugio Del Cielo chapter of the DAR.
On Sept. 2, 1945, formal surrender documents were signed aboard the USS Missouri, designating the day as the official Victory over Japan Day (V-J Day), according to the National WWII Museum. The news spread quickly and celebrations erupted across the United States.
“More than 400,000 Americans gave their lives to secure our nation’s freedom, and in the midst of exultation, there was recognition that the true meaning of the day was best represented by those who were not present to celebrate,” said Robert Citino, Ph. D., executive director of the Institute for the Study of War and Democracy at The National WWII Museum.
The veterans in attendance were Jim Kunkle, a decorated fighter pilot; Dwight Watts, a naval aviator on an aircraft carrier in the Pacific; Bill Hardy, who served on a destroyer in the North Atlantic; Rutledge “Putty” Mills, U.S. Army; and Lompoc resident Albert Ramirez, who served in the U.S. Army and the U.S. Navy and also fought in Korea.
Jorgensen said he was honorably discharged early from his service after contracting malaria while serving in the South Pacific.
The two veterans that are homebound are Robert Herdman and William K. Palmer, and a convoy of veterans and DAR members paraded to their houses to hand-deliver their certificates after the event.
“This week also (Sept. 15) marked the 76th anniversary of when I got shot down,” said Kunkle.
Kunkle is not only a fixture of the Santa Ynez Valley community, but he’s also a beloved figure in Normandy, France. The community even named a street in his honor when he visited in 2018.
On Sept. 15, 1944, Kunkle was shot down near Aachen, Germany, while protecting fellow pilots. He wasn’t able to communicate with his command and broke from formation to attack the enemy alone. He was able to hit two enemy aircraft before his plane was shot down. He suffered multiple burns as he climbed out, but he was able to open his parachute and land near some American infantry.
Kunkle was honored with the Distinguished Service Cross by then-President Barack Obama and French President Nicolas Sarkozy in a D-Day commemoration ceremony in June 2009.
Kunkle continues to fly his own airplane at the ripe age of 97.
“I can’t fly often enough,” he laughed.
To read more about Kunkle’s efforts during the war visit https://www.santaynezvalleystar.com/wwii-hero-to-be-honored-on-75th-anniversary-of-d-day/.
Axtell was part of a team developing fighter jets that ended up producing the XP-80. The code name for the project was “Skunk Works,” after a reference in the newspaper cartoon “Li’l Abner.”
The XP-80 flew before the end of World War II, but it wasn’t used in combat until later.
“While I was in the Air Force we ended up as the first squadron that went to Hiroshima after they dropped the bomb,” he said. “I can tell you, that is something I will never forget, just the utter destruction for as far as the eye could see. It was heartbreaking.”
While Watt’s carrier was being attacked by Japanese kamikazes, his plane failed to launch, and he ended up floating on a life raft for some time. Watts also served in the Korean War.
The Daughters of the American Revolution is an organization with a rich history and more than 1,000,000 women have joined the organization since it was founded over 125 years ago. They became members to honor their heritage as well as make a difference in their communities across the country and the world. Learn more about the amazing history of the DAR and what members are doing today to continue that legacy at www.dar.org. To learn more about WWII history and especially the end of the war visit www.nationalww2museum.org/war/topics/75th-anniversary-end-world-war-ii.