“With the average age of 92, World War II veterans are leaving us way too fast,” said Bob Alvis, president of the Friends of the Lancaster Cemetery. “We are so blessed to have them in our presence.”
The original monument was erected in 1947 and is still on the corner of Cedar Avenue and Lancaster Boulevard. Deemed too fragile to move to the Veterans Court of Honor, Friends of the Cemetery began raising funds in 2007 to honor the 709 Antelope Valley service members who served during World War II.
“On behalf of the Boys of the Boulevard, thanks for caring,” said Milt Stark who was an Army Air Corps flight engineer that flew in B-29s. Stark shared of his experiences in the war, speaking of the friends he lost during Pearl Harbor, POW and suicide.
Surviving World War II veterans Walt Primmer, Nolan Price, Charlie Rader, Ken Kennepohl, Paul Wheeler and Kurt Ullman were present and proud to have their names displayed along other “Boys of the Boulevard.”
“It’s nice to honor people while they are alive so they can see how much we truly appreciate their service and sacrifices,” said Marine veteran Jimmy Stone. “It’s good to have the Boy Scouts, ROTC members and Hillview here today. Our youngsters need to know of the sacrifices made so they don’t take so much for granted,” Stone cleared his throat. “I guess we all need to be educated and reminded.”
Barbara Little, former Lancaster mayor and Friends of the Cemetery was given a plaque honoring her brother Donald Ulmanek, 23, who served on the USS Hoel. Rendered speechless during the presentation, Little later shared that her brother was serving on one of three destroyers and a destroyer escort that were sunk and used to fight off the Japanese Navy in order to give the larger ships time to engage. After an amazing all-morning battle, all four ships were sunk, leaving hundreds of sailors floating in the shark-infested waters of Leyte Gulf.
“They knew they were targets and they did it anyway,” said Little.
After three days in the ocean, some survivors were found, unfortunately Ulmanek was not one of them.
“My mother had hope beyond hope when she received Christmas flowers from Donald. When she got the flowers she just knew he was alive but couldn’t find him.” Mrs. Ulmenek went to the florist and discovered her son paid for them before he went out to sea in July.
When enough money is raised to build a new memorial planter box in the Veterans Court of Honor, Ulmanek’s plaque will be permanently displayed along with other members not on the replica or original memorial.
Wreaths across America is a major fund raiser for the Court of Honor, where the community can purchase a wreath for $15.
For more information on Friends of the Lancaster Cemetery, call (661) 942-6110.