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Auburn seniors mobilehome park honors its veterans

By: By Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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AUBURN CA - Elmer Washman’s tears well up when his eyes turn inward to his mind’s eye and he remembers.

Interviewed Friday, Washman was an Army combat rifleman during World War II who was left for dead on the battlefield but miraculously walked back to safety during fighting in November 1944 in Metz, France.

Asked to explain why he served, he will tell you that he wanted to fight when he left his job  as a fry cook in El Monte.

“Why?” Washman said. “I honestly believed Hitler had to be stopped. I fought from the invasion of Normandy to the Battle of the Bulge.”

But the eyes grew red as Washman brushed something away when he spoke about the image that’s burned into his mind’s eye from those days in the 1940s.

“The biggest thing is the flag,” Washman said. “I’m very emotional about it. I realize the American flag isn’t respected the way I respect it. And I didn’t talk about the war for 50 years. Now I do and I find that people want to hear about it.”

Washman and other veterans who are living at the Rock Creek Mobilehome Community in North Auburn – or who have passed away over the years – are honored with a plaque below an American flag that is located in one of the meeting rooms. This weekend, 17 more names have been added, to bring the total to 104.

Like Washman, Everett “Buzz” King is 87 and a former combat infantryman. But he served in the fight against Japan, taking part in battles as U.S. forces traveled north toward Tokyo. He has two Purple Heart medals and an Associated Press photo published in his hometown showing a 19-year-old “Buzz” King holding a helmet with a bullet hole through it. King’s head wound was patched up and he kept on fighting.

“I had headaches for a long time after that,” King said. “You’ve gotta go and do what you’ve gotta do. I won’t say I wasn’t scared. I was.”

King grew up in Grass Valley and left high school to join the Army as an 18-year-old. He served from April 1943 to October 1945, much of that time in the South Pacific.

He too has his name on the Rock Creek Mobilehome Community plaque to go with the medals, the wounds and the memories.

“I went through some clippings the other day and saw the faces of friends, some who got killed, some who didn’t,” King said. ““I’m glad I went through it but I wouldn’t want to do it again.”

George Kitagawa, another Rock Creek Mobilehome Community resident, looks back on the four years out of his 97 that he served as a combat engineer with the Army. And he sees them as a time of survival as well as war.

In retrospect, Kitagawa said he felt more protected than some because other soldiers and officers saw him as a mechanic who could fix things. Nonetheless, he had his helmet blown off by shrapnel as he moved with the Army through Italy, France and Germany.

Kitagawa left behind the family farm in what is now Rancho Cordova. Three other brothers served.

“War is terrible,” Kitagawa said. “I’m lucky. My officers were very good. They said ‘Take care of yourself and don’t get killed.’”

For a North Auburn mobilehome park with 216 households, Rock Creek has its fair share of veterans, but has taken the extra step of honoring them around Veterans Day.

Steve and Darlene Kovach have helped organize this year’s addition of more veteran names this weekend. The ceremony was on Saturday.

“It gets a little nostalgic,” Kovach said.

A Marine, who served from 1954 to 1957, Kovach’s voice cracked as he described the emotions that flood over participants.

“Everybody cries,” Kovach said. “You may know the veterans but you don’t see them too much, maybe wave to them as they pass in their cars. This gives us an opportunity to thank them for their service.”