Honoring our own

By Richard Wiens, The Triplicate November 11, 2013 05:46 pm

Warren Barnts, first from left, front row.
Warren Barnts, first from left, front row.
Warren Barnts
Warren Barnts
The organizers of Del Norte’s Veterans Day observances didn’t start out planning to have so many grand marshals in Monday morning’s parade. But once the decision was made to honor veterans of World War II, it just came naturally.

After all, these gents are in their late 80s or early 90s, so why put it off?

The procession that begins at 10 a.m. at the Veterans Memorial Hall, 810 H St., and heads toward Front Street, will honor five WWII vets, as well as Del Norte’s senior-ranking member of the Hmong Army that fought Communist forces in the Vietnam era.

Coffee and cake will be provided by Edward Jones financial advisors, and a special Marine Corps birthday cake will be served at noon at the VFW Canteen inside Memorial Hall.

That will also be the site for a 6 p.m. chicken fried steak dinner. Vets and spouses get in free. Otherwise, admission costs $8.50 for adults, and $3.50 for children, with tickets sold at the door.

The dinner speaker will be Siskiyou County Sheriff Jon Lopey, a combat Marine Corps veteran and a senior officer in the U.S. Army Reserve. His address will begin at 7 p.m.

Frank Richards, second from right, back row.
Frank Richards, second from right, back row.
Frank Richards
Frank Richards
But back to those parade grand marshals. They’re all from Del Norte, and the connections don’t end there.

Take Neil McKinnon and Warren Barnts. They both served in Europe aboard B17 bombers in the 303rd Bomb Group. McKinnon was a belly turret gunner for the 360th Bomb Squadron, Barnts a radio operator for the 359th Bomb Squadron.

They frequently flew on the same missions, McKinnon’s 360th taking off first followed by Barnts’ 359th. McKinnon flew 33 sorties, Barnts 31. They didn’t know each other, however, until Barnts moved to Crescent City after 1948.

Two other parade grand marshals, Les Manosar and Frank McNamara, were already friends when they went to war, and remain so to this day. At one point, they even served near each other in the Pacific.

Les Manosar
Les Manosar
Manosar was in Europe, Africa, Italy and then the Pacific aboard an aircraft carrier. He was a radio operator on a torpedo bomber.

Frank McNamara, first from right, back row.
Frank McNamara, first from right, back row.
Frank McNamara
Frank McNamara
McNamara’s mechanical ability made him a natural for the Navy Seabees, and his signature assignment was to be part of the invasion of Okinawa, the bloodiest of the island-hopping operations Americans engaged in near the end of the war against Japan.

Neil McKinnon, second from right, front row.
Neil McKinnon, second from right, front row.
Neil McKinnon
Neil McKinnon
The other WWII-era serviceman serving as grand marshals in Monday’s parade is Frank Richards, a turret gunner aboard a B-24 that flew missions out of Italy for the 376th Group of the 47th Bomb Wing.

Here’s another connection: The two turret gunners being honored Monday are Native Americans, McKinnon a Yurok and Richards a Tolowa.

Sua Phia Lo as commander of a guerilla unit of the Hmong Army in 1966.
Sua Phia Lo as commander of a guerilla unit of the Hmong Army in 1966.
Lo as a refugee in the 1990s.
Lo as a refugee in the 1990s.
Which brings us to the sixth grand marshal, Sua Phia Lo, who was a captain in the Hmong Army and a natural leader of soldiers throughout a long military career.

The Hmong were allies of the U.S. in WWII, and during the Vietnam War they fought the Communist forces that invaded the Hmong homeland of Laos. When the war ended and Laos fell into Communist control, there was a mass immigration of Hmong to America. There is now a strong and proud Hmong community in Del Norte.

Neil McKinnon and Warren Barnts flew in B-17 bombers like this one.
Neil McKinnon and Warren Barnts flew in B-17 bombers like this one. Wikimedia
Lo will be accompanied in the parade by his grandson, Yeng Lo, Crescent City’s first full-time Hmong police officer.

Reach Richard Wiens at This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it