Tuesday, May 26, 2009
He Planted the Trees and has never forgotten
Sunday, May 24, 2009
Era ends for a Memorial Day veteran
Harold 'Bud' Hohl has been the driving force behind decades of ceremonies in Costa Mesa.
By SAM MILLER
The Orange County Register
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There's a picture that Bud Hohl likes to show off, of a flagpole in a Costa Mesa cemetery. The expanse of empty land behind it stretches to Tustin.
In 1954, when the photo was taken, Harbor Rest Memorial Park asked the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 3536 to dedicate the flagpole. Hohl, then a 34-year-old Marine pilot, agreed. One of Orange County's longest stage careers was born.
For five and a half decades, Hohl has been the organizer and MC of Post 3536's annual Memorial Day ceremony. But now, with his health failing, Hohl has stepped down and today's ceremony will be the first he's sitting out since 1978, when he attended a friend's funeral.
"I was told to keep my mouth shut," joked Hohl, 89. "This is the first year I really haven't said something."
He'll be succeeded by Jack Hammett, a former Costa Mesa mayor who spent 22 years in the Navy.
"It's an attitude that all military men accept," Hammett said. "We all learn and accept stepping back and letting the young person take over once you've done your duty. Very well done, thank you, next."
Harold 'Bud' Hohl was mining hard rock in Arizona and caring for his widowed mother before he enlisted in 1942. He joined the Marines as a pilot, thinking that he might be stationed with his brother, also a Marine. (He wasn't.)
During World War II, he flew with the squadron known as the Death Rattlers, shooting down Japanese kamikaze pilots before they could attack the ring of American ships that surrounded the islands of Okinawa. The Death Rattlers were the most decorated squadron of the war, developing sophisticated analytical methods to shoot down 124 Japanese planes. Hohl – known by his fellow pilots as "Loophole" – shot down one of them on his first day.
Over the next 22 years, he spent 7,000 hours flying for the Marines. He flew supplies in the Korean War, and shuttled generals to their golf games during peacetime. He was stationed at El Toro for much of the 1950s, and Orange County became his home.
Whenever somebody asked the local VFW for something, Hohl stepped up.
"He is a person that did everything himself, because he couldn't get anybody else to help him," said Ted Marinos, who has volunteered alongside Hohl for 50 years. "You know how volunteers are."
"Semper Fi," Hohl's son, Bud Jr., explains.
Hohl chuckles. "Yeah, Semper Fi. It was the Marine Corps way of doing things you're asked. I believed in the Marine Corps. And I believed in the VFW. So whatever came along, I took an active role in it. If somebody wanted it done, all they had to do was yell out, 'Hey Loop!'"
He built a replica of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier for one Memorial Day ceremony. He built a replica of the Iwo Jima flag raising out of lava rocks. He planted trees in memory of the Marines killed by a terrorist blast in Beirut.
He'd love to still be leading the ceremony. "I'm down to a point where I just have a hard time finding the words," he said. He speaks with long pauses and his eyes closed, and a breathing tube in his nose.
He has dreamed for more than a decade of a large eagle monument in the cemetery. A few years ago, he found the right eagle in an antique store in Spokane, Wash. – a brass-colored statue, 6 feet tall, salvaged from the front of an Argentine bank. The monument is ready for installation once he gets the right text to have printed on its sides. He expects to dedicate it this year.
"That's his ace in the hole, before he leaves his country," Marinos says.
The Costa Mesa Memorial Day ceremony is at 11 a.m. Monday at Harbor Lawn-Mt. Olive Memorial Park, 1625 Gisler Ave.
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