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The honoring of a man of mettle

A quick quiz: When was the last time you met someone of Hall of Fame stature? Someone who’s led an exemplary life, served his country with valor and self-effacing dignity, and raised a family of solid citizens?

Of course, individuals of such mettle walk among us each day, but it’s one of the singular rewards of this job that I get to talk with these folks from time to time.

For instance, my most recent encounter took place in the Arroyo Grande home of Marie and Alfonso “Ozzie” Oseguera, Col. USMC (Ret.). This is his story.

Born April 20, 1930, in the Southern California community of Montrose to a father who worked as a gardener in La Cañada, Ozzie was one of 11 children. He was — and is — a puckish prankster, with a love for learning and achievement, beginning with earning the rank of Eagle Scout.

His military career began while still attending John Muir High School in Pasadena, when he enlisted in the U.S. Naval Reserve as a seaman recruit in 1947.

When the Korean War broke out a few years later, Ozzie was a Seabee stationed at Port Hueneme Naval Base in Oxnard. He was chosen to become a Navy flier and was told to report for flight training at Pensacola, Fla.

So, with $12 in his pocket, he started hitchhiking from the West to East Coast, where travelers who picked him up along the way paid for his meals and lodging as he made his way across the country. He got to the Naval Flight School with $8 remaining in his wallet.

While earning his wings at Pensacola in 1955, he also established a gunnery record that stood up for years for hitting 19 out of 20 aerial targets. It turned out that he was a naturally cool, calm and collected combat flier.

Over the next half dozen years, he flew everything from “flying boxcar” Marine transports to the heavily armed Skyraider as he transferred from one assignment to the next, spending 15 months in Japan on one assignment, and finally ending up back at Pensacola as a flight instructor. He even found time to earn a BA in geology from UCLA in the early ’60s.

Next up were two tours of duty in Vietnam, where he not only was executive officer in various capacities, he also flew 407 sorties as a pilot, earning the Legion of Merit, Distinguished Flying Cross, two Bronze Star Medals with Combat V device, 27 awards of the Air Medal and the Purple Heart.

On his return to the states, he served as executive or commanding officer of various Marine Attack Squadrons, while once again carving out time to pursue his education, this time a masters in education from Pepperdine University.

He also found time in the early ’70s to woo his future wife, Marie, by walking down to the end of a bar where she was talking with a friend and laying this surefire line on her: “Hi, I’m Al. You’re gonna like me.” She did and they’ve been married ever since.

Ozzie went on to oversee high-level operations within the Corps and retired as a colonel in 1980, went into real estate before moving to Arroyo Grande in 1987. He taught in the Santa Maria school system before calling it a day. Marie retired as a Marine Corps Reserve colonel in 1999.

(Question: With two colonels in the family, who gives the marching orders? Answer: Their cats.)

Perhaps befitting the nomadic life of a professional military family, the Osegueras’ three daughters all live in far-flung locales.

Kristie is a geologist at Environmental Resources Management in Cape Town, South Africa; Michelle and husband Butch live in Iceland, where they oversee vacation rentals they’ve built in the scenic West Fjord area of the country; and Lori is an award-winning songwriter. She and husband Brian live in Virginia.

With equal amounts of pride and restraint, Ozzie simply says, “They’ve all done well.”

Last month, on the nomination of their friend Ralph Bush, Ozzie was inducted into the John Muir College Hall of Fame, an honor bestowed on very few but includes baseball legend Jackie Robinson and rocker David Lee Roth.

While accepting the honor Nov. 13, seven of Ozzie’s kindergarten friends were on hand — an amazing feat in its own right, but no more remarkable than the well-lived life of Alfonso “Ozzie” Oseguera.

Bill Morem can be reached at bmorem@thetribunenews.com or at 781-7852.