City archives tribute to Chandler military heroes The Chandler Arizonan

City archives tribute to Chandler military heroes

City archives tribute to Chandler military heroes
City News
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By Kevin Reagan
Arizonan Staff Writer

Feliciano Ayala died in combat just a couple months before World War II officially ended.

It was May 1945 and the young soldier had been stationed in the Philippines, where thousands of American servicemen were killed during bloody skirmishes against Japan.

Ayala, who attended Chandler High School before enlisting in the military, died on the island of Luzon – the site of several battles that killed thousands of Japanese, American, and Filipino soldiers.

His family in Chandler would have to wait another four years before Ayala’s remains could be transferred back to Arizona and ultimately interred in a Mesa cemetery.

During that time, Ayala’s family received an unexpected letter from a family back in the Philippines.

The family had inquired why Ayala had not been writing to them — apparently unaware of his untimely fate. The Filipino family had befriended Ayala before he was sent into combat by sharing meals with him and offering to do his laundry.

Once Ayala’s relatives informed them of his death, the Filipino family wrote back expressing gratitude for the kindness Ayala had shown them.

“We could never again find a friend as good as your son,” the letter stated. “All I could do to repay him in serving in this war, driving away those cruel Japanese, is pray for him every night.”

Local stories like Ayala’s are what the Chandler Museum is looking as it catalogs the voices of local veterans.

In addition, the city marked Memorial Day by unveiling a special 30-minute video about Chandler’s military history that can be found at YouTube.com/cityofchandler.

The video showcases two Chandler Museum exhibits – “A Million Acts of Kindness” and “Chandler Veterans: DUTY.”

“A Million Acts of Kindness” exhibit showcases the work of the Salvation Army USA and explores its services to the troops and how Salvation Army volunteers provided aid on the home front.

“Chandler Veterans: DUTY” pays tribute to veterans from the Chandler community who have served in the military, featuring the faces of Chandler men and women who have served in every branch of the military.

Both exhibits are on display at the Chandler Museum, which has reopened.

“Chandler Veterans: DUTY” is based on submissions from residents.

Earlier this month, the museum asked for Chandler residents to submit personal stories of their own military service or that of their departed family members.

The photographs, stories, and mementos of Chandler’s veterans will then be saved in a new database the museum’s creating in order to preserve the city’s military history.

James Ryan, a Chandler native, is one of the veterans who has submitted his memories of military service for the museum’s database.

He came of age in the late 1960s, when images of the Vietnam War were constantly being broadcast on the nightly news.

The war was a constant presence in everybody’s life, Ryan said, and nearly everyone knew somebody who had been impacted by it.

After graduating from Seton Catholic High School in 1968, Ryan attended college for a couple years and thought the conflict in Vietnam appeared to be winding down.

Then he got drafted in 1971 – a time when the number of American troops in Vietnam had dropped considerably.

It felt like the war was ending, Ryan said, and yet he was still being asked to potentially go over and fight in combat.

“That’s why I thought I was very unlucky,” he recalled, “but it turned out I was very fortunate.”

Ryan ended up finding a way to avoid being sent to Vietnam. He was recruited into the military’s foreign language program and asked to study Romanian – a language he knew would have little use in Vietnam.

After studying the language, Ryan was assigned to work in the intelligence field at the National Security Agency. He was discharged in 1974 and continued working at the NSA as a civilian for the several years before graduating from law school.

Ryan said his military experience ended up being beneficial as it helped carve out a career path.

Other stories submitted to the museum’s database detail some of the more tragic consequences of serving in the armed forces.

The family of George Pickering offered an anecdote describing how the soldier lost one of his legs during World War II.

After breaking his leg during a training exercise, Pickering’s limb turned gangrenous and had to be amputated. His family claims Pickering snuck a revolver into the hospital and tried using it to threaten the surgeons not to remove his leg.

Jackson Bogle, whose namesake is shared with Chandler’s Bogle Junior High School, is another local veteran to serve in WWII.

According to an anecdote submitted to the museum’s database, Bogle was one of only two soldiers in his entire battalion to come home alive from the war.

Bogle, who died in 2005, had been dispatched to the Republic of China to train the local troops how to deploy artillery tactics against the nearby Japanese forces. 

But the Americans often found themselves abandoned by the Chinese troops and left to ward off the approaching Japanese soldiers on their own.

“There was nothing between us and the Japanese but the river, and the Japanese were starting their crossing now,” Bogle recalled in a 1979 interview.

The city already has a long history of recognizing the service of its local veterans.

In 1949, the American Legion erected a large bronze plaque at A.J. Chandler Park that listed the names of every Chandler resident who had served in the military.

Chandler completed the first phase of a veterans memorial at Oasis Park in 2016 that includes a plaza in the shape of the Arizona state flag. Funding for phase two of the park has been earmarked for the next fiscal year and construction could commence soon.

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