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Veterans Day War Stories

U.S. Navy veteran John Monjar was the lone WWII star of the City of Santa Clara’s traditional Veterans Day ceremony on Nov. 11 at the Central Park Veterans Memorial. Uncommonly, the WWII veteran served in two military theatres.

In the European Theatre, Monjar was at Normandy when Allied forces stormed the beaches on D-Day, June 6, 1944. In the Pacific Theatre at Okinawa, his ship was bombarded by Japanese kamikaze (suicide) pilots.

“It was like being attacked by a swarm of bees,” said Monjar, who was blown off his ship but survived, spending three months recuperating in Guam.

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“I did what I had to. Nobody wants to, but it’s your duty,” said the 97-year-old Purple Heart recipient, a resident of Saratoga. “I’m thankful I survived and helped people out…I’m living day by day and enjoying life.”

Army veteran Gil White, Monjar’s personal assistant, mentioned that Monjar still has nightmares about the war.

“War changes people in ways you can’t understand,” continued White, a Union City resident who was stationed at Ft. Lee, VA, as a medic specialist for two years (1965 to 1967).

“People who were in combat can’t or won’t talk about it. My brother-in-law was a Vietnam War veteran. He came back to Detroit and [took his own life],” said White.

“Guys come back and we pat them on the back and cheer, but they carry the burden of war,” continued White.

Vietnam War Navy veteran Bill Gagnon, a San Jose resident, used to live in Santa Clara.

“It’s nice to observe Veterans Day, but it brings back bad memories,” he said. “Veterans have things in the backs of their heads; things they don’t want to see or remember.”

Gagnon appreciates when people pay respect to veterans.

“I enjoy it when people say, ‘Thank you for your service,'” he said. “I appreciate it because when I came back, all they did is spit on us and call us crappy names.

“I’m still not over the treatment when I came back,” said Gagnon, who went to Vietnam twice during his four-year stint as an E-3 Data Processing Technician.

Santa Clara’s afternoon tribute to America’s military men and women was organized by the Santa Clara Veterans Committee. Ceremony emcee Larry Wolfe presented flowers to Marlys Lee, widow of James Lee, who died in 2020. He spearheaded the community project to build the Veterans Memorial, dedicated in 2002.

Santa Clara councilmembers and Mayor Lisa Gillmor, who made remarks, represented the City. Councilmember Anthony Becker searched the engraved bricks paving the memorial for the bricks donated to the memory of his late grandfathers and father.

Councilmember Kevin Park shared privately that his Korean father was 13 when he was forced to fight for Japan during WWII.

Santa Clara resident and Gold Star Mom Dolores Kesterson lost her 29-year-old son, Army CWO 1 Erik C. Kesterson, in a 2003 helicopter crash in Iraq. He had previously served eight years in the Marines and been awarded the Marine Corps Medal for Heroism for saving seven Marines from a crashed and burning helicopter.

“We will always wonder what [my son] and his fallen brothers and sisters might have become,” said Kesterson.

The free 24/7 Veterans Crisis Line for suicide prevention is 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Visit https://www.veteranscrisisline.net for live chats.

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