Local Veterans Stories

Magda with Former President George W. Bush

Magda’s Story

Magda was born in New Orleans, LA before moving out to California in the city of Covina. While her idea of wanting to go to college on a basketball scholarship didn’t turn out how she wanted, she came face to face with a female recruiter. Seeing how sharp she looked in her uniform, it was from that point that she enlisted into the army right out of high school in 1983. She found it easy to adapt to the army because of her ability to thrive under challenges (due to the athlete background), enjoying structure, and having experience with being coached. Although those were easy for her, it was difficult for her to leave her family behind at home since this would be the first time without them and with new scary obstacles that she would be faced with. She loved basic training including the physical aspect of it and weapon training. It wasn’t until after this that she was sent to her first assignment in Hanau, Germany.

The skill that she was trained in for this assignment was being a wheel vehicle mechanic. She had never worked on cars before but found it easy to learn new information and adapt. Magda had served in a multitude of areas but ended up only serving from 1983-91 and during that time also served as a combat service support. She left for 11 years to attend school and do some other things in her life before returning in 2001 to the California National Guard. When she was at school, she studied human resources which led to her role as a human resources technician. While serving in this field, she was stationed in Qatar which is where one of her most memorable memories took place.

While in Qatar, Magda got the opportunity to debrief President Bush and the first lady (pictured below) on her recuperation program for all of the service members in Iraq and Afghanistan at the time (06-07). This program allowed service members to have a break by coming to Qatar where they would be able to relax in a warehouse that held things such as TVs, pool tables, computers, etc. She reflects on this very fondly and keeps it as one of the best parts of her service.

Magda eventually retired in 2014, serving a total of 20 years in the U.S. Army. She retired as a Chief Warrant Officer 2 and finished her career out as she wanted. She made lifelong friends along the way and thanks her husband for all of the sacrifices he made for her. One piece of advice that she has for any women that want to join the army is this: the military isn’t for everybody. Women do however have a place in the military and bring a lot of value to it. The army may have its rocky patches but it has overall become a better environment since she was in it. Having good leadership is important while serving, surrounding yourself with people who want the best to come out of you and your best qualities to shine is something you need to look for. If you feel called to join the army, do it. Protect yourself, stand up for yourself, don’t let anybody tell you you can't do it, and have an open mind.

James’ Story

James joined the army when the Vietnam war was ending. He followed in the footsteps of his two older brothers and father. James’ older brothers were stationed in Germany, and his father was stationed in the Pacific during World War II. He did basic training in Fort Ord in California as well as Fort Hood in Texas. He worked on missile systems in Colorado before being honorably discharged in December 1977.

James was very proud to fight for his country and enjoyed his time in the army. He worked maintenance for the Azusa unified school district for over 30 years, but retired in 2019. At 67 He still lives in Azusa, and enjoys working in his backyard and coming to the American Legion post in Azusa. James also loves to donate to veterans causes, such as the veterans memorial wall in Washington DC, the national museum of the United States Army, and is a member of the army historical foundation.

Paul’s Story

Paul joined the army in 1980. Specifically, Paul joined the military police. He did his basic training at Fort McClellen in Anniston, Alabama, which was one of the newest facilities at the time. As a part of the military police, Paul worked with both the army and marine corps and he enforced military laws and regulations, prevented crime, and responded to emergencies.

Paul stayed in the army for 4 years before being honorably discharged. Paul really enjoyed his time in the army, especially meeting new friends from all over, the training, being in shape, and the discipline that he learned through his time serving his country. Paul also shared that, “The army is what you make of it,” showing how his attitude toward the army made his entire experience better. He applied this mentality after his time in the army, which helped him throughout the rest of his life. The now 60 year old Paul lives in the Azusa area and makes designs for clothing and hats.

Darrin’s Story

Darrin was born in West Covina California on August 19th, 1967.

Upon high school, he was tired of school and wanted to stay off the streets so he decided that joining the military would be the best option for him at the time being. He graduated high school in June 1985 then enlisted later that year. Although his dad was in the Air Force, he did not have an influence on Darrin.

His MOS turned out to be in Administration. Originally, after taking the ASVAB, he was supposed to be involved in legal services, however, after boot camp, he got to choose his MOS.

He walked across the parade deck and talked to the first guy he saw in the building. Once the man asked Darrin what he wanted to join, he said, “Whatever you are.” An 1051, which is an administrative clerk. Outside of basic physical training, the job called for typing skills and being able to sort through paperwork.

After the MOS assignment, he went to bootcamp in San Diego and did schooling in Del Mar. His first duty was at Camp Pendleton. There, he did a lot of typing, so he was the scribe for whatever needed to be typed up.

Two and a half years later (September 1988), he went to Okinawa, Japan and that was an adjustment. He described Japan as an opportunity to mentor the younger guys after being in the program for 3 years. There, he worked on a small air strip with a bunch of helicopters

He said working on that air strip taught him how to work with different people at different levels of experience and skills as well.

Darrin explained his transition from high school straight into the Marine Corp. He already knew how to be independent from playing sports in high school so fortunately, he already had discipline and drive going into the military. He said the discipline and physical aspect came easy but the rules and regulations/ the academic part was more difficult. He said he also thought it was interesting to deal with people from all different spheres of life and different personalities.

This was one of his biggest takeaways in his opinion; “You can’t treat everyone the same because people don’t respond in the same ways.”

He spent an extra year in Japan despite a four-year term in the military so he spent two years in Okinawa before returning to Camp Pendleton to process his departure from the military. At the time, we were at war with Iraq (1990).

He didn’t think he could get out because he saw guys before him get processed back through for the war. It was dependent on your MOS so if you were heavily needed, they would keep you. Fortunately, he was able to get out in late 1990.

He said after coming back, he was ready to just move on and start his new life. Although, he did miss the rules and structure of being in the military. There’s no one in the real world to tell you what to do.

He said he adapted well due to the discipline he mentioned earlier which helped him significantly to readjust.

He left Japan a few months earlier than he planned and his next move was going to be to be a firefighter but he missed his chance to go through the Fire Academy which he felt like God was closing one door to open another.

After that, he took a few different jobs until ended up at SJV in 1997.

Reflecting on his time in the military he said his biggest accomplishments included being a fifth award expert shooter, receiving a good conduct medal (twice), receiving stars for overseas endeavors, and was awarded a Navy achievement medal in Japan. He described himself as the “Library of the rules and regulations.” He finished out as a declared E-5 Sergeant.

His advice for young kids getting away from home for the first time is “Don't get caught up in the idea of all the flashy things like drinking and partying. Don’t get lost in all the freedom of being away from home. Stay focused

Nikki's Story

Nikki was born in West Covina, CA and enlisted into the U.S. Army at the age of 21. She went in not for the benefits, but because she felt a moral obligation to serve her country. Her grandpa served in WWII, but she was the only one in her immediate family to serve. She had two brothers, and as the only daughter her mother did not want to see her go. She was stationed at Ft. Leonard Wood in Missouri and spent a lot of time on the east coast. Her biggest regret while serving was that she wished she would have travelled more places.

She did not mind the change in lifestyle, and instead saw it as an opportunity to push her self. Nikki was a communication specialist and said that she was constantly working and striving to make herself a better person for the army to accomplish its daily tasks. She explained that the most enjoyable part about working is getting to know the people on your team and becoming a family. Nikki said the hardest part of the military lifestyle was maintaining relationships, and subsequently her marriage failed.

Nikki was discharged on September 24, 2014 and she confided that as a female it was difficult to adjust to civilian life. She has a hard time relating to other people, especially other females, and feels as if she can only be comfortable around fellow veterans. For this reason, she likes to hang out at the same military affiliated bars where she is familiar with the crowd.

Nikki is currently using her GI bill for an education at the University of La Verne, where she is studying Kinesiology. She said the military really affected her life because she has a different perspective. She said she knows what she wants, sees a lot clearer, and values the people that have stuck around a lot more.

She concluded with some final thoughts about her time in the military. When asked about the life lessons learned while in the service, her response was, "If you cannot handle your alcohol, do not drink with the veterans." She also stated that she wishes more people could see that veterans are not scary, and are just humans. As humans they deserve to be treated with the same compassion, dignity, and respect as everyone else. Nikki concluded her interview by saying "if you want to do it, do it." Meaning if you feel even the slightest urge to serve your country, just do it.

#Army #women #empowerment


Richard's Story

Richard was born in Los Angeles, CA. His father had served in the WWII Army, his brother in the Panama Army, and his other brother in the Vietnam Navy. His mother was not happy with his decision to enlist in the military, because she already had two sons that had been drafted. At 17 years old, and with a lotto number of 312, he decided he was not going to wait to be drafted, and he took it upon himself to enlist. He chose the Navy because he said it had more of a "whole feeling." He stated that at that time, he did not believe he had any other options because at his senior night in high school, the only four booths that were there were: the Navy, Marines, Army, and Air Force.

He stated that the hardest part of the military lifestyle to adapt to was being away from home. Richard was uncertain about what to expect in the military, for it was a whole new game to him. He also stated that it took some adjustment to take orders and travel to other countries. During Richard's service in the navy, he served mostly in Vietnam. He did, however, travel to Japan, New Zealand, Australia, Hawaii, Samoan Islands, Hong Kong, and his home port in the Philippines. He recollected watching different cultures and seeing how other countries hated the U.S. because of how powerful we are. He said other countries often shouted, "Go Home America!"

Richard described how combat experience changed him because he had to learn with being okay not knowing what is going on around him. He said the best birthday gift he had ever received was being discharged on November 4, 1970. The day he turned 20. After being discharged, he returned home to Los Angeles. He adjusted pretty quickly to civilian life and used his GI bill to pursue an education in retail marketing at Citrus Jr. College. Although he was aware of his GI bill for housing and education, he was not aware of his benefits at VA Hospital until 10 years ago.

He said serving in the Navy did not affect his life, and he said that if he knew then what he knows now about the military, he would have made a career out of it. Richard stated that a couple things he wishes people knew about veterans is that they are just doing their job serving the country and that is difficult with the other sides looking down on them. He said that the military now is all voluntary and so soldiers are doing this on their own free will. Richard concluded his interview by stating that the message he would like to leave for future generations who read his interview is that a big part of the military is defending our country and if millenials do not see the whole picture we could be overtaken by another powerful country and lose our democracy.

#Vietnam #soldier


Greg's Story

Greg was born in Glendale, CA. His father, grandfather, and great-grandfather had all served in the Navy. Subsequently when Greg turned 18, against his mother's wishes, he joined the Navy as well. He served in the Persian Gulf during Desert Storm. He recollects seeing death (a lot) and ships going down, followed by him going in after and getting the soldiers out.

He was discharged on May 14, 1992 and he went back home where he had a job waiting. Greg said he adjusted perfectly, but about 7 years after being out he began to have difficulty sleeping and nightmares. Shortly later, he learned he had developed PTSD. Had it not been for a buddy of his at the American Legion 20 years later, he would not be aware of the benefits he had earned from his service.

Richard said that his military service experiences made him a man. He also learned how to be a better person, as well as honor. When Richard was asked what he wished more people knew about veterans he simply replied "the struggle." He expanded on this thought and explained that civilians do not realize what veterans go through to ensure others' freedom. In conclusion, the message Greg wanted to leave for future generations was to "serve your country."

#DesertStorm #Navy #bravery

These interviews were conducted by Brianna Thrasher, an intern with Azusa City Library.