By Alicia Doyle

The Writer
Specializing in Good News
Your Subtitle text

Veterans wounded in battle share Purple Heart Stories

November 6, 2014

Having served in World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War, Jim Daniels proudly remembers enlisting in the Navy with the help of his father at age 16 in 1942.

“I talked to my father for two months before he agreed to go down and sign the papers that I was 17,” recalled Daniels, 88, of Port Hueneme.

Born in Willis Branch, West Virginia, Daniels did what came naturally for many young men his age at the time.

“All my friends I ran around with were older than I was — when the war broke out they all enlisted,” he said.

Back then “the only other work was in the coal mines and I said I would never work in the coal mines,” Daniels added. “My dad understood.”

His 26-year military career included serving in the Pacific in World War II, on Guam, in Japan and at Port Hueneme, where he became an equipment operator with the Seabees.

He also wed and had two children — including one son, William, who joined the service in 1967.

On Jan. 31, 1968, Daniels earned a Purple Heart for injuries sustained during a rocket attack while serving in Vietnam.

Just days before Daniels was injured, a rocket propelled grenade hit his son while in a vehicle in Dong Ha.

“He was only 50 miles from me,” Daniels said. “I was hit 11days later.”

Daniels visited his son on a hospital ship while he was recovering from serious injuries that grew worse by the day.

During this time, Daniels earned the rank of Master Chief, but it was conditional upon his returning to Vietnam for another tour.

With his son so sick, Daniels declined and retired with the rank of Senior Chief Petty Officer in 1969.

His son, who also received a Purple Heart for wounds he suffered in combat, died in 1973 from his injuries.


Simon Camarillo, Jim Daniels and Richard Camacho are among approximately 200 veterans
in Ventura County who belong to The Military Order of the Purple Heart.
Photo by: Heber Palayo


“All gave some — some gave all”

Following his Navy career, Daniels earned his GED and worked at the Port Hueneme School District, ultimately retiring as head of maintenance. He was later elected to the City Council in Port Hueneme, where he served for eight years, two of them as Mayor Pro-Tem.

In 2008, he received the designation of Honorary Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy.

To this day, Daniels remains an active member of the community, participating in the Port Hueneme Chamber of Commerce and Rotary Club. He is also an avid supporter of Naval Base Ventura County.

“I really loved my 26 years in the military,” Daniels said. “I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”

Daniels is among approximately 200 veterans in Ventura County who belong to The Military Order of the Purple Heart, a veteran’s group chartered by Congress in 1958 composed solely and entirely of combat veterans who were wounded while engaging enemies of the United States of America.

According to national officials, the order maintains a consistent presence on Capitol Hill voicing its opinion on numerous legislative issues concerning veterans and the military, including the Department of Defense regulation awarding the Purple Heart to POWs who died in captivity.

The Ventura County chapter’s breadth of military experience includes all service branches and spans many eras, major wars and combat operations, from World War II to conflicts that include Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan and Operation Iraqi Freedom.

A veterans’ service organization and an I.R.S.-recognized charity, the order’s motto is “All gave some — some gave all.”

“We are about helping veterans and their families,” said Michael Cook, 68, of Santa Barbara, commander of Chapter 750, the Ventura Chapter of The Military Order of the Purple Heart.

Cook, a Sergeant with the U.S. Army, earned a Purple Heart after he was gravely wounded while guiding men in combat as an infantry squad leader during the Vietnam War in 1970.

Purple Heart recipients and veterans put themselves in harm’s way to safeguard our homeland and our freedoms, Cook said.

“Our country has young men and women willing to step forward to put their lives between the barbarians and your living room,” he said. “We are blessed. Without them, this country is dust.”

Cook further posed the question: “Where do we get young men and women like these who seek out the enemy for the defense of our country? The next time you are in a mall, look around. There is your answer.”

“Liberty is not cheap. Somebody has to pay”

In April of 1965, Simon Camarillo was a machine gun section leader aboard the USS Boxer helicopter assault ship afloat in the Caribbean.

“One Marine Corps rifle company debarked at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, as base security force,” recalled Camarillo, 73, of Oxnard, who served as a sergeant in the U.S. Marine Corps. “One night as civil unrest erupted in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, the president sent the rest of the battalion to land and start evacuating Americans for their safety.”

Four hundred U.S. soldiers worked their way into town, where Camarillo became an interpreter at a roadblock.

“After about five days of being exposed to gunfire, mainly snipers, I was hit one night while talking to one of my troops,” Camarillo said.

Brig. Gen. Omar Simpson later presented Camarillo with a Purple Heart at Womack Army Hospital in Fort Brag, North Carolina.

“After convalescing I volunteered to join the fight in Vietnam from 1966 to 1967,” Camarillo said.

Raised in Ventura in the Tortilla Flats, Camarillo was inspired to join the military by role models who joined before he did.


Simon Camarillo aboard a troop transport assault ship in 1959 traveling to
Hong Kong following an amphibious training assault on the island of Taiwan.



“The younger generation aspired to be like those role models who set the bar level when they came back from the wars,” Camarillo said. “There was somebody in each family that served in the military so we could be called Americans and live the dream. But liberty is not cheap. Somebody has to pay.”

The most important lesson Camarillo learned from his military career is to stay positive and “think that you’re a winner. Think this situation has to get better.”

As a Purple Heart recipient, Camarillo emphasized that the accolade is not an honor a soldier seeks.

“It is truly an honor to have earned one but I have these guilt feelings because I didn’t die in Vietnam … We still have an open wound from Vietnam,” he said. “In combat it’s 5 percent skill, 95 percent luck.”

Looking at today’s American soldiers, Camarillo said he is proud of the country’s men and women in uniform.

“Today they’re smarter, stronger — they volunteered because they love our country.”

“What can you say to somebody who’s willing to give their life for you in your pursuit of happiness?” Camarillo added. “Veterans should not be looked at as second-class citizens. They should get the best treatment not the second class.”

“Life is a gift”

Richard R. Bryan joined the military because of a serious need to mature; he also wanted to finance his education, purchase a home and obtain needed dental work.

“I had sort of been going to college for two and half years and really not accomplishing much,” recalled Bryan, 69, of Oxnard. “The only thing I did achieve was to get a job as a draftsman at the city of Ventura.”

An E2 corpsman in the United States Navy who earned two Purple Hearts during his service, Bryan was first injured by shrapnel wounds from ricocheting bullets at Hai Phon Pass, Vietnam.

“The second Purple Heart was awarded for wounds I received at Chu Lai, Vietnam, on Aug. 2, 1969,” he recalled.

Bryan said he gained invaluable combat experience that later carried him through life.

“I learned the most important thing is that life is a gift to be enjoyed to its fullest each and every day,” he said. “I appreciate how fortunate I am to be here and to be able to tell my stories.”


General Commandant of the Marine Corps presents Richard Bryan’s second Purple Heart
in a Navy Hospital Unit in Da Nang, 1969, after Bryan was injured on a sweep and block mission.


People around the world all really want the same thing, Bryan further emphasized.

“They want to be productive, responsible and happy … to provide for their families and to have leisure time to enjoy their families.”

Today, Bryan is comforted by his remaining connections with a few combat buddies.

“We consider ourselves brothers,” Bryan said. “The marines, or as I call them, my marines, have all just faded away.”

The soldiers serving this country deserve respect and gratitude, he added.

“They make it possible to enjoy what we do and have.” Bryan said. “Think about their daily lives when you drive to work and think about what they do; will I be shot and killed today or will I be blown up beyond recognition by a hidden land mine?”

“A long life is not always guaranteed”

For the last 27 years, Richard Camacho has spoken to students at middle and high schools throughout Ventura County regarding his service in the Vietnam War.

“In 1965 I tried to enlist in the Army; I wanted to be a paratrooper like my World War II uncle; however, due to the fact that I wore glasses, they wouldn’t take me,” recalled Camacho, 67, of Camarillo. “So I waited to be drafted.”

Ultimately earning the rank as corporal E4 in the United States Marine Corps, Camacho earned a Purple Heart after being wounded by a booby trap grenade set off by the marine in front of him during a patrol in August of 1967.

Today he is grateful for what he gained from his combat experience that carried him through life: “the art of survival, always looking for the unknown and trying to be ready to face it. Also the fact that a long life is not always guaranteed.”

Since leaving active duty, Camacho has worked with former Assemblyman Tony Strickland to rename Pacific Coast Highway within Ventura County as Ventura County Vietnam Veterans Memorial Highway.

“It took two years of work and then raising $10,000 for the placement of four memorial signs,” Camacho said.

He also spoke at a reception in September commemorating Oxnard as a Purple Heart City in conjunction with a new program at the Oxnard Public Library, War Comes Home, made possible through a $7,500 grant from Cal Humanities and the California Center for the Book.

As the current president of the Vietnam Veterans of Ventura County, Camacho advocates for local Vietnam Veterans to ensure they receive the benefits due them.

The biggest lesson he learned from the service: “The value of life and the freedom that we have here in the United States that other countries do not have. The pride and fulfilled feeling that I served my country when I was called and didn’t run to Canada.”

“I answered the call of my country; I served and protected their rights and freedoms,” Camacho said. “As for The Military Order of the Purple Heart, most people don’t realize that it is an award that is earned by being wounded in combat; it’s not an award that you are put in for.”

Only 1 percent of today’s population is serving in the military, Camacho added.

“The other 99 percent is at the mall. Today’s military, in my opinion, are the greatest generation.”

For more information about the local chapter of The Military Order of the Purple Heart,
visit http://www.moph-chapter-750.com





Website Builder