By Mary O’KEEFE
Veterans came out en masse to support the Bob Hope Airport Veterans’ Day Runway Walk 2009 on Wednesday. The walk was led by war veterans from La Crescenta, Glendale, Burbank and Pasadena.
Veterans Mike Baldwin, Nat Prescott and Jack Maison representing the American Legion Post 288 and Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) 1614 grabbed plastic garbage bags and began the walk down Runway 08/26 to help clear it of “foreign object debris.”
The objects can pose a danger to planes during take off and landing. The event was designed to enhance awareness of airport safety and build a sense of airport community.
“We walk on Veterans’ Day to honor Bob Hope who donated so much of his time and talent to troops,” said Lucy Burghdorf, airport spokeswoman.
Baldwin, Prescott and Maison had all taken time away from the war memorial at Two Strike Park where a vigil was being held throughout the day. Prescott had already taken the first shift at 6 a.m. and returned to the park after the airport walk.
Maison was the veteran who found the neglected plaque for S. Sgt. David S. Demmon, a Missing in Action soldier at Verdugo Hills Hospital. He called Boy Scout Adam Fletcher who was looking for Eagle Scout project and the memorial was saved.
“It was beautiful. It was exactly what Adam said he wanted to happen. He wanted a project that would last in the community,” Maison said.
The day was going to be busy for La Crescenta veterans but the day of recognition is worth it.
“This is a day when veterans are thanked for everything they have done to secure the country,” Maison added.
The camaraderie could be felt as veterans walked the runway and asked each other where and when they served.
Robert Gilliland and Louis Zamperini, World War II veterans, joined the clean up. Now a Burbank resident, during WWII Gilliland served first as a sailor and graduated from the Naval Academy and then was a member of the first class to join the newly formed U.S. Air Force.
“They asked for volunteers,” he said.
After he left the service he worked at Lockheed in Burbank as a civilian test pilot. He was the first man to fly the SR-71 Blackbird.
Zamperini is a bit of WW II history himself. He had won a scholarship to the University of Southern California and remains a life long Trojan supporter. At 18 years old he made the U.S. Olympic track team and competed in the 1936 Olympics in Germany. He joined the fight in WWII and had several successful missions. Then on May 27, 1943 he and his crew crashed in the Pacific. Three men out of an 11-man crew survived but there were injuries and only two, Zamperini and Russell Phillips, made it to land. The problem was the land they drifted to was controlled by the Japanese. He was captured and interrogated again and again.
“I found that one of my interrogators was a Trojan. He was a traitor, he was the worst one,” Zamperini said.
Stories of survival and friends found and lost were the topic as the veterans walked the runway. Those who had served in wars past joined those who just returned home.
Burbank resident Sgt. Paul McKenna returned from a tour in Iraq in August. He was joined by his wife Janet and son Leum. The airport’s Federal Security Director Brian Cahill had also just returned from a U.S. Navy deployment to Iraq.
The runway did not have much debris but that didn’t matter to the three La Crescenta veterans. They just got on the bus to return to their cars and travel back up to Two Strike where they relieved their fellow veterans who stood vigil. The day ended with a ceremony including flag retirement and then on to the Taste of the Foothills where part of the money raised goes toward the Two Strike War Memorial fund.