San Diego Union Tribune

May 30, 2004

3 local WWII vets among those at memorial dedication


WASHINGTON Ken Hill of Vista survived the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the monumental Battle of Midway and 13 crossings of the German submarine-infested North Atlantic.

Clarence Lanier of Warner Springs Ranch fought through Europe with Lt. Gen. George S. Patton's 3rd Army and witnessed the horror of the Holocaust when it liberated the Dachau death camp near Munich.

Robert Rice of Spring Valley was an Army combat engineer who cleared land mines and helped build bridges through France and Germany before earning a commission at age 20 and serving in the occupation forces.

The three San Diego County residents were among thousands from what is frequently called "the greatest generation" who attended the dedication yesterday of the National World War II Memorial.

The three seemed quietly pleased with the granite memorial and all the activities surrounding the ceremony. They and their fellow World War II veterans seemed equally gratified by the chance to share their experiences with younger generations, for whom the war is dusty history.

Hill had already spent five years in the Navy when his battleship, the Maryland, was hit during the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.

"The Oklahoma saved us," Hill said, referring to the battleship anchored next to the Maryland that took multiple torpedo strikes and capsized.

The Maryland was hit by several bombs, one of which blew Hill down a hatch, injuring his shoulder and head.

"I put my hand up to my head and came away with a handful of blood," he said.

Hill retired from the Navy in 1959 and moved to San Diego, working first for General Dynamics and then as a salesman for Standard Brand paints.

A classic Rosie the Riveter, Della Levenelm of Whittier went to San Diego straight out of high school to train to work on the aircraft assembly lines. She worked at the Consolidated plant in San Diego and the Douglas factory in Long Beach, mainly on B-24 Liberator bombers.

Levenelm's late husband was a sailor who served in the Pacific.

"When I saw the World War II memorial, I saw all the places he told me about," she said, referring to the names of battles inscribed on the memorial.

Lanier entered the Army after Pearl Harbor and served with the 546th Anti-Aircraft Regiment. He landed at Normandy more than a month after D-Day and was with Patton's 3rd Army in its race across Europe and its relief of the 101st Airborne Division, surrounded at Bastogne, Belgium, during the Battle of the Bulge.

After the war, Lanier went to college in California. He later worked for Standard Oil of California and then was in banking in Colorado until he retired in 1971 and moved back to California.

Rice enlisted in the Army shortly before he graduated from high school in 1943 and went to basic training that November.

Although trained as an infantryman, he was assigned to the 1271st Combat Engineer Battalion, which was attached to the 100th Infantry Division. The unit landed at Marseille in October 1944 and fought its way north through France and ultimately into Germany.

Rice's unit was responsible mainly for removing enemy obstacles, including the dangerous work of clearing German land mines and booby traps, he said. But the battalion also repaired or replaced damaged roads and bridges.

"We must have built over a hundred bridges," Rice said.

After the war, he remained in Germany as part of the occupation force before returning home to California in August 1946.

Once released from active duty, Rice used the GI Bill to attend the University of California Berkeley, San Diego State University and then UCLA, graduating with a doctorate in education. He worked as a teacher and principal at San Diego schools.

Although the veterans were mostly impressed with the memorial, Lanier's wife, Mary, said it fell short in some ways.

Having watched her two brothers and numerous neighbors and friends go off to fight many of whom did not return Mary Lanier said: "It's pretty. I'm glad it's there. But I feel something's missing. . . . It didn't say anything about what they gave up."