California is home to 2 million military veterans. More than one out of every 20 people in the state has served in the military, and California's veteran population is greater than the total population of 12 states and the District of Columbia.
Last weekend, in advance of Veterans Day, KQED and KPCC in Los Angeles used Facebook and Twitter to ask California’s veterans, their friends and their families to share stories of military service. We heard from the families of veterans like Salvator James Costanza of San Jose, who was drafted into the Army during World War II. Costanza’s daughter, Anne Coldren, wrote that Costanza served in Europe with the 407th Anti-Aircraft Artillery, a unit known as the “Buzz Bomb Kings” for shooting down German V-1 flying bombs.
“Crossed the English Channel on June 22, 1944,” Coldren wrote of her father. “Shot at Buzz Bombs with shells that had ‘proximity fuses’ that would knock the rockets off course just enough that they expended their fuel over the Channel and fell harmlessly from the sky into the water.”
We also heard stories from more recent conflicts. Rebekah Donaldson wrote to tell us about her fiance, Aaron Crowell of Davis.
Aaron was Second Division 5th Marines - a Corporal and Scout Sniper. He remembers being dropped by heli into an airfield in Mogadishu (Somalia) in the second year of Operation Restore Hope.As Marines ran down the heli ramp with 100+ pound packs they started taking fire from more than one direction. There was no immediate cover but a small steel dumpster.
Aaron hit the dirt and crawled behind it, dragging his pack. All the Marines were looking for the sources of fire. Aaron could hear the distant crack of firing and see incoming bullets throwing up dirt and sand but no one could Immediately pinpoint the shooters -- they were perhaps 1/2 mi away or more, hidden, and nearly 360 degrees around the airfield.
While hunkered down behind the dumpster he noticed a beautiful Zippo lighter in the sand beside him - embossed leather case and engraved steel etc - very distinctive. He thought it was a strange thing to notice in the middle of getting shot at.
A bunch of hummers zoomed onto the airfield to pick up the Marines... Aaron dove into one with relief. The guy he was next to said he needed a smoke - since Aaron was just off the carrier that brought them to the Somali coast, the guy figured he might have some. Aaron offered him one and got out the lighter... Turns out it was that guy's lighter. He said, 'That dumpster is good cover, huh?'
You can read more stories about California's veterans by clicking on the markers in the map below.