Two Huntington Beach veterans will be waving to thousands of onlookers on New Year’s Day during the 129th annual Rose Parade in Pasadena.
Alongside five other Purple Heart recipients, Bob Laizure and Norm Sumner, both members of American Legion Post 133, will be riding aboard the Odd Fellows and Rebekahs float.
The float, called “Sacrifice to Serve,” features a bald eagle and a large Purple Heart medal.
Laizure, 93, served in the Navy in World War II. He enlisted in 1943 after graduating from high school in Kansas.
Laizure was trained as a radioman but ended up manning an anti-aircraft gun aboard the USS Maryland, a Colorado-class battleship that survived Pearl Harbor.
Laizure recently recounted the day a kamikaze hit his ship. It was a traumatic experience he didn’t publicly discuss until about five years ago.
Laizure saw the plane flying through the clouds and watched the anti-aircraft crew unsuccessfully trying to shoot it down as it appeared to head directly toward them.
“I can still see the bore of the propeller and the fuselage and the opening in the fuselage,” Laizure said.
The kamikaze — one of two that hit the Maryland during its campaign in the Pacific — struck the ship about 15 feet from Laizure’s position.
As he watched, Laizure expected he would be killed. He wondered what his parents would do with the military’s $10,000 insurance policy.
The impact of the kamikaze and its internal bomb that exploded tipped him over; his helmet flew off. The moments were a blur, but he survived. Some of his gunner crew did not.
“I’m convinced that I had to be unconscious for a while,” Laizure said. “I have no memory of the plane hitting the ship or the bomb going off.”
What wounded him and earned him the Purple Heart, he said, were the fires.
Laizure left the Navy in 1946 as a radioman third class. He later worked as a television technician and eventually started a janitorial supply company, which he sold when he turned 87.
Laizure and his wife, who died in 2004, raised three daughters. He has five grandchildren, two great-grandchildren and a third great-grandchild on the way.
“I consider it an honor and privilege to be selected for this particular parade,” Laizure said. “I want to be as humble about this as I can. I don’t want to get around and do a lot of bragging.”
Sumner, 77, joined the Marine Corps in 1958. He trained in San Diego and served on Okinawa. After reenlisting, he became a helicopter crew chief and was sent to Vietnam in 1964.
During a rescue mission his helicopter was fired on. The bullets caused the chopper to fail and ultimately roll down the side of a hill with its crew, including Sumner, still onboard.
Sumner received his Purple Heart afterward, but he said his injuries were much less serious than what many others suffered during the war.
“The Purple Heart, to me, wasn’t that important of a medal that I got,” he said. “People have died for that medal.”
Sumner served two years in Vietnam and left the Marines in 1968 as a staff sergeant with a Silver Star, Bronze Star and a host of air medals.
Once home, Sumner joined the U.S. Postal Service as a clerk and then a mechanic and supervisor. He retired in 1992.
Both Laizure and Sumner have participated in Huntington Beach’s Fourth of July Parade.
When talking about his upcoming Rose Parade appearance, Sumner said it’s simple.
“We’re just a couple of tired old veterans,” he said with a laugh.
© 2017 the Daily Pilot (Costa Mesa, Calif.)
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