Veterans remember fallen comrades
Author(s): James Steinberg STAFF WRITER Date: May 26, 1998 Section: LOCALThere were the usual speeches, along with the usual military pomp and circumstance.
Even Abraham Lincoln -- actually retired Superior Court clerk Bill Peck -- was there to deliver his Gettysburg Address, flanked by an honor guard from G Company, Sixth Infantry, Civil War re-enactors in Union blue.
But the two-dozen or so roses placed one by one atop an American flag draped over a symbolic casket expressed it best -- Memorial Day 1998, a time to remember those who died in the service of their country.
The third rose was set in place by Arnold Fluster, 69, a retired Air Force veteran who began his quarter-century of military service in the Navy in 1948.
That was three years after the end of World War II and two years before the outbreak of the Korean conflict. It was a time, Fluster said, when the spirit of patriotism was in the air.
Times change. Of the 800 or so people who turned out to witness yesterday's Memorial Day ceremonies at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery on Point Loma, few could be called young.
Many were veterans, the graying survivors of World War II sitting proudly in the front ranks, their middle-aged Vietnam-era counterparts watching mostly from the fringes of the crowd, many of them recognizable by their jungle fatigues.
But for the men who fought in Korea from 1950 to 1953, recognition is an iffy thing, even though the toll was terrible, with more than 33,000 killed and over 100,000 wounded.
"We're the forgotten few, possibly because Congress never declared it a war," Fluster said.
Fluster, a crewman on the destroyer Jenkins, experienced the Korean War from a closer vantage point than many of his fellow sailors -- on an island in Wonsan harbor. He was a member of a fire control party, three sailors and four Marines. They directed naval gunfire and airstrikes.
"One day they (the North Koreans) surprised us and started shooting at us," he recalled. "Our observation post was in a bunker the Japanese built in 1937, in a leper colony."
Fluster left the Navy in 1955 -- "seven years of sea duty on a destroyer was enough," he said with a smile -- and enlisted in the Air Force. His last assignment was a missile battery in West Germany, where "our weapons were trained on East Germany."
He left the service in 1973 and retired to Mira Mesa, where he lives with his wife of 40 years, Rose. And in nearly seven decades, he's witnessed the public's changing views of the military, and of the meaning of patriotism.
"I was 12 when World War II started," he said. The country was united then, "because we felt threatened. Even Hollywood was out there selling (war) bonds."
Some of that carried over to the Korean years, he said. "When we went a ashore people couldn't resist buying us a drink."
The Vietnam War was unpopular at home, but Fluster was stationed in Europe as part of the NATO forces at the time, and never experienced the backlash. Yet he recalls the tarnish the era left on patriotism and the military.
"Now, the pendulum is swinging back," he said.
As for this Memorial Day, on which ceremonies were held around the county and the country, "I think it's good for the nation to recognize the people that have fallen," he said. "But it's sad to see that mainly the older generation comes to this service."
If Fluster is any indication, though, the older generation still has some fight in it. Asked if he would answer his country's call, he said without hesitation: "Oh, absolutely!"
Copyright 1998, 2007 Union-Tribune Publishing Co.