By Ms. Catherine Pauley (USAREC)July 2, 2013
MANTECA, Calif. -- Earl "The Pearl" Watson, Chaplain Neil Capon, Allen Clark, and Mark Forester are names that most Americans will not recognize. They are war heroes recognized at Manteca, Calif., Memorial Day "Welcome Home Heroes" event May 26.
Vietnam War veteran and Pastor Mike Dillman is the force behind the largest Memorial Day event in the California Central Valley. The theme, "Not Forgotten, Honoring All Who Served, and Remembering All Who Have Fallen" has a deep and personal meaning for Dillman. He enlisted in 1968 as a chaplain's assistant, just days before his draft number was called.
Sacramento Recruiting Battalion Commander Lt. Col. William C. Nagel was one of the keynote speakers for the event and talked about some of these heroes. He shared that Capon was a chaplain who served in the Korean War. He risked his life to save and care for hundreds of POWs in the same compound he was sentenced. He died just days before release because he gave his food to the wounded. President Obama presented the Medal of Honor posthumously to his family in April 2013.
Watson, who attended the event, is a World War II hero who served with an all-Black unit. When he returned home from the war, he landed a job cleaning a men's bathroom at Hollywood's prestigious Knickerbocker Hotel. He was "discovered" by Ronald Reagan, who quickly told Watson that he was a hero and should not be cleaning up after him and other hotel patrons. Reagan, Gene Autry and John Wayne told the hotel owner that Watson deserved a more dignified job. Watson asked to be the doorman, and he worked for the hotel for 17 years, later penning his autobiography, "Earl, The Hollywood Knickerbocker's Doorman to the Stars."
Clark spoke at the dedication of the "Welcome Home Heroes" display. A Vietnam War veteran, he "sacrificed" both legs in an early-morning mortar attack at the Dak To Special Forces camp on June 17, 1967. When being fitted for his new legs, they asked Clark how tall he was. He said 5 feet 9 inches. Then they asked how tall he wanted to be and he told them, 6 feet 1 inch. Clark, author of "Wounded Soldier, Healing Warrior," is now 6-foot-1, thanks to his prosthetic legs.
Forester, a Senior Airman from Alabama, died Sept. 29, 2010, in Afghanistan while attempting to save a fallen comrade. When the morgue attendants were preparing his body, they found him wrapped in an American flag underneath his battle gear. Comrades told the family that he dressed this way daily. Dillman met the family in March 2013, and held the flag with the fragments of the bullets still intertwined in the fabric.
Dillman was a war hero himself. He witnessed the horrors of war, when he and his chaplain went from body bag to body bag, offering a final blessing before the dead went home. The chaplain insisted that they opened each bag so he could touch their flesh and ask God to receive the warrior's spirit and soul. Following the chaplain's blessing, Dillman's job was to go back to the field office and write letters to each of the fallen hero's family to tell them the chaplain had been there and committed their loved one into the hands of God.
"Today is the day of spring's renewal in the shadow of winter's mortality," concluded Nagel. "But most of all today is the days to tell the stories of soldiers on battlefields in days past so the soldiers of yesterday and today are never forgotten by the children of tomorrow."