San Diego's DNA: Military Roots
Service and Honor
San Diego's military history goes back to its beginning. Veterans Frank Burger, Vicente Rodriguez and Wallace Peck are just a few of the many who are part of the military strand of San Diego's DNA.
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.
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.
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.