Airborne Veterans Dedicate Monument to
Paratroopers at Miramar National Cemetery
The rainy weather, March 17, didn’t keep some 70 veterans and members of the public from attending the dedication of a monument at Miramar National Cemetery honoring members of the Armed Forces who have earned the Parachutist Badge – Silver Wings – of the American paratrooper.
Members of the San Diego All Airborne Chapter of the 82nd Airborne Division Association – wearing maroon berets and Army dress green uniforms with trouser legs tucked into their jump boots – marched the nation’s colors into the Memorial Walkway, where the new Airborne monument stands alongside six others dedicated to veterans’ groups.
Watching the ceremony were men who had made dozens of parachute jumps in all kinds of weather conditions, and into territory both hostile and friendly. And most wore their medals, ribbons, and – especially – their silver wings on their civilian jackets.
“This monument commemorates all those who have graduated from jump school and earned the silver wings of a U.S. Paratrooper,” said Jon Hutchens, president of Chapter 28 of the 173rd Airborne Brigade Association. “That includes members of any service – Army, Marines, Navy, or Air Force.”
Al Gonzalez, who fought with the 82nd during the Korean War, served as master of ceremonies during the dedication. “We wanted the memorial to be a legacy for the younger people,” Gonzalez told the San Diego Union-Tribune. “We wanted them to see who we are and what we do, what risks we take to protect the freedoms of our country.”
A decorated veteran
Retired Army Staff Sergeant Miguel Alatorre, a decorated veteran of the 101st Airborne Division with multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, was the featured speaker. Alatorre also is Past Commander of VFW Don Diego Post 7420 in San Diego.
One veteran given special recognition at the ceremony was John A. Short of Rancho Bernardo, a member of the 173rd Airborne Brigade Association. A “smokejumper” who fought forest fires in Idaho before WWII, Short – now in his 90s – was drafted by the U.S. Army along with members of his firefighting team to teach soldiers how to jump from airplanes. He and the team – nicknamed the “Thunderbirds” – were designated the 501st Parachute Test Battalion in 1941.
The inscription on the three-foot-tall granite monument states, “Dedicated to the men and women of the Armed Forces that earned the parachute wings from 1941 to present. Silver Wings. Airborne all the way!” The Airborne shoulder tab also is depicted on the monument.
Members of the two veterans’ organizations raised almost $5,000 over a two-year period to design, build and erect the monument. It is made of San Marcos Blue and San Marcos Red granite, both quarried in San Diego County.
“The Miramar National Cemetery Support Foundation coordinated closely with our two organizations during the monument project,” Hutchens said. “On behalf of the project team, we appreciate the efforts of the Foundation, without which we would have had a very difficult time.”
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By Bill Heard
Public Information Officer
Photos by Charlie Inot