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Veterans Profiled in San Diego's DNA

The veterans featured below were interviewed as part of the KPBS television program, San Diego's DNA: Military Roots. They represent just a few of the many who are part of the military strand of San Diego's DNA.

Wallace Peck is a second-generation Army veteran.  His father, a Sergeant in the Army Air Corps and World War I veteran, was stationed at Rockwell Field which occupied half of North Island (now Naval Air Station North Island) when Peck was born in 1930.  Sergeant Peck made an prediction for his son which was recorded in an article in the San Diego Union, a week after his birth.  The article said, "Twenty years hence, Wallace Russell will appear at Kelly Field, Texas, for instruction as an Army pilot."   According to Peck, he wasn't interested in joining the military and was about to begin law school at the University of California, Berkeley when he said,  "along came the Korean War and the Congress reinstated the draft, and I didn't want to get drafted so I immediately signed up for the air cadet program and as the article says it was exactly 20 years later that I appeared in Texas for flight training."  Peck flew for the U.S. Air Force, enlisting in 1950 just two months after his father retired after 30 years of service.

Wallace Peck is a second-generation Army veteran. His father, a Sergeant in the Army Air Corps and World War I veteran, was stationed at Rockwell Field which occupied half of North Island (now Naval Air Station North Island) when Peck was born in 1930. Sergeant Peck made an prediction for his son which was recorded in an article in the San Diego Union, a week after his birth. The article said, "Twenty years hence, Wallace Russell will appear at Kelly Field, Texas, for instruction as an Army pilot." According to Peck, he wasn't interested in joining the military and was about to begin law school at the University of California, Berkeley when he said, "along came the Korean War and the Congress reinstated the draft, and I didn't want to get drafted so I immediately signed up for the air cadet program and as the article says it was exactly 20 years later that I appeared in Texas for flight training." Peck flew for the U.S. Air Force, enlisting in 1950 just two months after his father retired after 30 years of service.

Photo by Rebecca Kumar

Ramón Ruiz graduated from San Diego State College (now University), received his master’s degree from Claremont Graduate School, and his Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley. He served in the Pacific as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army Air Force during World War II. Ruiz began his teaching career in 1955 at the University of Oregon at Eugene and has also taught at Southern Methodist University and Smith College.  In 1970, he joined the University of California, San Diego and in 1991 became professor emeritus. There, he has worked to build a strong Hispanic studies program. Ruiz has held visiting professorships at numerous colleges and universities in the United States and Mexico and is a National Humanities Medalist.

Ramón Ruiz graduated from San Diego State College (now University), received his master’s degree from Claremont Graduate School, and his Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley. He served in the Pacific as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army Air Force during World War II. Ruiz began his teaching career in 1955 at the University of Oregon at Eugene and has also taught at Southern Methodist University and Smith College. In 1970, he joined the University of California, San Diego and in 1991 became professor emeritus. There, he has worked to build a strong Hispanic studies program. Ruiz has held visiting professorships at numerous colleges and universities in the United States and Mexico and is a National Humanities Medalist.

Photo by Rebecca Kumar

Frank Burger is a World War II veteran.  He was drafted into the U.S. Army and went to boot camp at Camp Callan which was located in La Jolla, Calif.  He was transferred to a base in the Pacific Northwest after the attack on Pearl Harbor, in December 1941, and later joined the Army Air Corps.  As part of the 15th Air Force, he flew combat missions from Italy into Germany during the war.  On his ninth mission, Burger's plane was shot down over Vienna and he suffered shrapnel wounds in his legs.  He escaped capture for three days, was jailed by the local authorities, and later turned over to members of an underground group who opposed the Axis.  The Gestapo caught up to Burger in Budapest, Hungary, interrogated him and later sent him to a prisoner-of-war camp in Poland.  He was later moved to a second camp because of his injuries.  After eight months as a POW he was liberated by Russian troops on May 1, 1945.  After retiring to San Diego, Burger became a National Service Officer for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, working with other former POWs.  He has served more than 500 former POWs obtaining compensation and providing counseling for them.

Frank Burger is a World War II veteran. He was drafted into the U.S. Army and went to boot camp at Camp Callan which was located in La Jolla, Calif. He was transferred to a base in the Pacific Northwest after the attack on Pearl Harbor, in December 1941, and later joined the Army Air Corps. As part of the 15th Air Force, he flew combat missions from Italy into Germany during the war. On his ninth mission, Burger's plane was shot down over Vienna and he suffered shrapnel wounds in his legs. He escaped capture for three days, was jailed by the local authorities, and later turned over to members of an underground group who opposed the Axis. The Gestapo caught up to Burger in Budapest, Hungary, interrogated him and later sent him to a prisoner-of-war camp in Poland. He was later moved to a second camp because of his injuries. After eight months as a POW he was liberated by Russian troops on May 1, 1945. After retiring to San Diego, Burger became a National Service Officer for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, working with other former POWs. He has served more than 500 former POWs obtaining compensation and providing counseling for them.

Photo by Rebecca Kumar

Murray Lee is a World War II veteran.  He enlisted in the Merchant Marines in 1945 after graduating from high school in Virginia.  He served on the SS Thomas Sumter, a Liberty ship, as an able-bodied seamen.  Since retiring to San Diego in 1983 he became a board member for the Chinese Historical Society which later became the San Diego Chinese Historical Society and Museum.  Lee serves as the curator for the museum.  In 1996 he began collecting the stories of San Diego County Chinese-American veterans from World War I through the first Gulf War.  Since then, Lee has registered more than 50 veterans, most of whom served during World War II.

Murray Lee is a World War II veteran. He enlisted in the Merchant Marines in 1945 after graduating from high school in Virginia. He served on the SS Thomas Sumter, a Liberty ship, as an able-bodied seamen. Since retiring to San Diego in 1983 he became a board member for the Chinese Historical Society which later became the San Diego Chinese Historical Society and Museum. Lee serves as the curator for the museum. In 1996 he began collecting the stories of San Diego County Chinese-American veterans from World War I through the first Gulf War. Since then, Lee has registered more than 50 veterans, most of whom served during World War II.

Photo by Rebecca Kumar

Vicente Rodriguez was born in the Philippines and after graduating from college in Manila, he was recruited by the United States Navy.  He came to San Diego 1974 and went through boot camp at the Naval Training Center.  Rodriguez's experience in the Navy took him to the Middle East during the Iranian hostage crisis in 1979 and back ten years later during the Persian Gulf War.  His enlistment expired on January 21, 1991, the first day of the ground war but he said he felt it was his duty to re-enlist during a wartime condition, "[My enlistment] expired at midnight, so I was discharged by my commanding officer, but after breakfast I re-enlisted," he said.   Rodriguez retired in 1996 after attaining the rank of chief petty officer and 22 years of service.

Vicente Rodriguez was born in the Philippines and after graduating from college in Manila, he was recruited by the United States Navy. He came to San Diego 1974 and went through boot camp at the Naval Training Center. Rodriguez's experience in the Navy took him to the Middle East during the Iranian hostage crisis in 1979 and back ten years later during the Persian Gulf War. His enlistment expired on January 21, 1991, the first day of the ground war but he said he felt it was his duty to re-enlist during a wartime condition, "[My enlistment] expired at midnight, so I was discharged by my commanding officer, but after breakfast I re-enlisted," he said. Rodriguez retired in 1996 after attaining the rank of chief petty officer and 22 years of service.

Photo by Rebecca Kumar

William Orcutt is a veteran of World War II and the Korean War.  During World War II he was a sergeant in the Army Air Corps in Belgium.  He returned to San Diego, married, and was recalled to service in 1952.  As a second lieutenant in the Army Signal Corps he photographed enemy territory in Korea for military intelligence.  A photograph of Orcutt was found in a collection of portraits lent to KPBS by San Diego photographer, Ken Petsch.  A log book listed the address of the home his family has owned in San Diego since about 1950.  In San Diego's DNA: Military Roots, Orcutt shares his extensive collection of photographs from the Korean War.

William Orcutt is a veteran of World War II and the Korean War. During World War II he was a sergeant in the Army Air Corps in Belgium. He returned to San Diego, married, and was recalled to service in 1952. As a second lieutenant in the Army Signal Corps he photographed enemy territory in Korea for military intelligence. A photograph of Orcutt was found in a collection of portraits lent to KPBS by San Diego photographer, Ken Petsch. A log book listed the address of the home his family has owned in San Diego since about 1950. In San Diego's DNA: Military Roots, Orcutt shares his extensive collection of photographs from the Korean War.

Photo by From the collection of Ken Petsch

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