Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly listed the title of U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. David J. Buck. Buck is Commander, 14th Air Force (Air Forces Strategic), Air Force Space Command; and Commander, Joint Functional Component Command for Space, U.S. Strategic Command, Vandenberg Air Force Base, California.
Japanese-American Harry Masatani, 89, was a detention center inmate at the Santa Anita racetrack on his way to an internment camp during World War II. Bindo Grasso, 98, was a U.S. Army soldier guarding the same center.
The pair, both from Guadalupe, sat next to each other and laughed Thursday as they ate sandwiches during a World War II and Korean War Veterans Tribute luncheon at the Alex Madonna Expo Center.
“We’ve been friends for forever,” Grasso said. When asked to specify how long forever was, Grasso began, “Well, the war’s been over 70 years now…”
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Grasso and Masatani were among 264 veterans at the lunch, which was also attended by about 340 non-veterans who came to honor them.
Many World War II and Korean War veterans didn’t receive victory parades when they returned home from service, and the annual event is meant to honor them, host and U.S. Navy Lt. Joseph E. Brocato said.
Keynote speaker U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. David J. Buck told the gathering that strangers often thank him for his service when he wears his uniform in public.
“I don’t feel worthy, especially when I think of all the battles that some of you endured … and reflect on how poorly some of the veterans were treated when they returned home from the war,” he said.
Buck urged his audience — particularly those who haven’t served in the military — to appreciate their freedom and way of life, adding that failure to do so is a failure to honor those who have served and those who made the ultimate sacrifice.
“If I get a flat tire in my car, or if cable TV goes out right before a big game, I think I’m having a bad day. But truth be told, I don’t know the definition of a bad day,” Buck said. “We have here those among us today that really know what a bad day is, and we’re humbled to be in your presence.”
Buck is commander of the 14th Air Force (Air Forces Strategic), Air Force Space Command; and Commander, Joint Functional Component Command for Space, U.S. Strategic Command, Vandenberg Air Force Base. The luncheon was sponsored by The Hoyt S. Vandenberg Chapter of The Military Order of The World Wars.
I want to thank you for leaving us such a proud heritage, a tradition of honor and a legacy of valor.
U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. David J. Buck
Grasso and Masatani, members of American Legion Post 371, said they were excited to be attending the luncheon and eager to share their World War II stories.
Masatani, owner of Masatani Market, Inc. in Guadalupe, said that when he was able to leave an internment camp in Colorado he joined the U.S. Army, finishing his military service in Hawaii.
“When I was doing basic training at Fort Knox (Kentucky), I got scarlet fever. Knocked me out for three days,” he said. “At that time penicillin was a new drug, the civilian population didn’t have it. They shot me full of penicillin — I had about 72 shots of penicillin, that’s what made me come back.”
After serving as a guard at the Santa Anita racetrack detention center near Pasadena, Grasso became a U.S. Army paratrooper and then a pathfinder. He was among the group that parachuted into France ahead of the Normandy invasion that turned the tide of the war.
The night before D-Day, Grasso said he and four other men flew across the English Channel and jumped behind the town of Sainte-Mère-Église. “You could say I was maybe the first guy from the United States that ever jumped,” on D-Day, he said.
“In the morning, we set up the beacons for the planes to come in and the gliders and the troops … and then after we did that, we headed back toward the beach to meet the guys coming in.”
Danielle Ames: 805-781-7902