Browse through the photos below to get a glimpse of the veterans featured in Stoneridge Creek's legacy project, a massive undertaking that has united more than 93 veterans who live in the Pleasanton retirement community.
Jim Suzuki pours over one of the many collections of war stories at Stoneridge Creek. The stories are the personal accounts of veterans who live in the Pleasanton retirement community. (May 29, 2017.)
Jim Suzuki, who went to war after being held at one of the U.S. internment camps for Japanese Americans, served as a military rifleman from 1943 to 1945. He has countless war stories, but perhaps his favorite involves an Italian farmer who saved his life. During a night recon gone bad in Pisa, the farmer offered refuge to Suzuki and his fellow soldiers from the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. The soldiers hid upstairs in an apartment while German troops interrogated the farmer, who never wavered or divulged the whereabouts of the soldiers hiding upstairs. Suzuki never got the name of the brave Italian man, but he memorized the farmhouse and its surroundings, hoping one day to return and give the man a proper "thank you." He got the chance in the 1990s. A vacation to Italy led him back to Pisa, where he combed the streets for the farmhouse he remembered so vividly. He talked to passersby, and, after considerable effort, he was able to track down the farmer who owned the house. The two exchanged warm greetings, a memory that Suzuki says will last a lifetime.
Gordon Pappas served in the U.S. Army from 1942 until 1945 with the 12th Armored Division. A talented trumpeter, the nonagenarian has long held an appreciation for music. His favorite scores came in handy when German troops held him as a prisoner of war. Despite language barriers and considerable odds, he was able to bond with his captors over a shared love of Beethoven's 9th Symphony. The rivals laughed and discussed the finer points of the legendary piece of composition, making time pass by faster, Pappas said. After being released as a prisoner, Pappas devoted himself to education, eventually enrolling in the University of Southern California’s prestigious School of Music. Though he enjoyed the curriculum, he found that the school catered toward aspiring professional musicians. But all Pappas wanted to do was teach a music program at a public school. Eventually, those dreams came true. He retired having taught thousands of students in music, mathematics, and social sciences over the course of 36 years. Pappas still fits in his army uniform and dons it for special occasions.
Don Devlin is a native San Franciscan who served in the 6th Army Dental Corps. He received his draft notice in 1944, but the academically-inclined student was granted educational deferment. He enlisted in 1952 after having received the qualifications necessary to become an oral surgeon, feeling as if he "owed a debt to the government" for allowing him to complete his degrees. He went on to treat thousands of veterans at Fort Ord, extracting upwards of 60 teeth a day. He would anesthetize up to five patients at a time. He returned to San Francisco after the war and opened a private dental practice with his uncle — the dental profession runs in his family. The pair treated neighborhood children, as well as former President Herbert Hoover. Devlin's friendships from his time in the military have lasted a lifetime. He still plays chess with Nate Martin, another officer he met at the Army post, through mail. The two are gunning for a spot in the Guinness book of World Records for having played consecutive games for the past 63 years.
Milton Feldman, who served in the 423rd Infantry Combat Team from 1943 to 1945, left the war with severe frostbite on his feet, a Purple Heart, a Bronze Star, and a Good Conduct medal, along with other distinctions. He was also a prisoner of war. He credits a quick-thinking soldier with saving his life in Germany. While marching to a prison camp, he and other captives formed the letters "P" and "W" with their bodies so allied planes that controlled the skies above Schonberg would know to grant them a reprieve. It worked. To this day, the Brooklyn native remains fiercely patriotic. "You should that about me," Feldman says, a kind smile stretching across his face. The man is a veritable wealth of humorous anecdotes, and he relays them with a sharp wit and booming laugh that makes him a favorite among other residents at Stoneridge Creek. His smile only falters when he speaks, rather passionately, about current-day politics. "I can't stand anybody who says they're going to make America great again," he says, furrowing his brow and shaking his head. "America is great right now; it's not going in the right direction, but it's still great. Anybody who says otherwise doesn't know what he's talking about."In Feldman's view, America is, by definition, a country that champions the disadvantaged and the poor. He would like to see it return to those values — values that he is proud to have defended.
Kate Kelly is 66, making her one of the younger residents at Stoneridge Creek. Organizing the legacy project isn't her first foray into community activism. She also brought together a group of quilters who worked for months in secret to create elaborate, beautiful quilts to commemorate each veterans' service.