Veterans carry a unique strength and dignity.
Anyone who knows one, who is related to one, who works with one, or who is one knows this intuitively. They often are the silent glue that binds our communities. They often serve long after their service, lead after they've led, give after they gave.
They also are often forgotten.
There are 24 million veterans in America. They live among us, everywhere, and they share a profound bond only they fully understand.
Today we present to you stories of veterans from throughout the Southland whom we had the privilege of meeting at local VA health care centers.
Theirs are stories we believe need to be told.
And remembered. — Michael A. Anastasi, executive editor
World War II veterans share their stories
Residence: Pacific Palisades
Branch: Marine Corps
Conflict: World War II
Emil Wroblicky was an 18-year-old high school senior when the military drafted him, just more than a year after the attack on Pearl Harbor. He and a few friends chose to join the U.S. Marine Corps.
"We were young and we wanted to see a little excitement," Wroblicky said with a chuckle.
"And we got more excitement than we bargained for."
While making their way across the Pacific to Japan, Wroblicky's unit saw combat in Roi-Namur and Kwajalein in the Marshall Islands, where thousands were killed.
"We had Japanese Zero planes shooting at us," he said. "I could see the bullets going over my head as I hit the ground by the rice paddies."
At the Caroline Islands, Wroblicky witnessed kamikazes - Japanese pilots on suicide missions to crash planes into American warships. He was in Okinawa when the U.S. dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
For Wroblicky, one of his worst memories of the war is looking at the graves of his fellow Devil Dogs.
"We couldn't take them with us," he said. "We had to bury them right there."
"There must have been 400 or 500 crosses for the buried Marines. You just hate to see friends never get to go home."
- Christina Villacorte
Click here or on image to play video of Emil Wroblicky.
Desert Hot Springs
World War II
As a young woman working in Seattle, Millie Saks felt she had to do her part to aid America's war effort. So in 1943, the 21-year-old joined the Coast Guard.
"You get the fever," Saks said of enlisting during World War II.
"Everyone was gung-ho."
She never saw conflict, nor left American soil. A year after enlisting, Saks met her future husband Albert Saks, an Air Force man, and she later became pregnant and left active duty.
Still, Saks is proud of helping her country.
"It's something I treasure," she said. "It was just too short."
World War II
With a razor-short haircut, Dryer looks every bit the Marine he was during World War II. When he landed in Guam, he brought the radar, so he didn't shoot much.
"Little scary. Well, I was with the bigger guns so they didn't shoot at me going in."
Click here on on image to play video of Gene Dryer.
Merchant Marines and Army
World War II and Korean War
Bob Kriesten has a $1 tattoo of New York from his military days on his right forearm.
"The only time I was scared was when the war ended and guys on shore were shooting their guns off and we were loaded with ammunition," he said. "We finally signaled them with ammo."
Military service made him a man, he said.
"I was 16 years old when I joined the Merchant Marines. I found out one thing. You go up the gangplank, put one foot on the deck and you become a man."