Loren Jutkins receives a round of applause from his friends after finally… (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles…)
World War II veteran Loren Jutkins observes each Veterans Day with a few moments of contemplation.
"I lost my cousin and my best friend in the war," said the 89-year-old West Hollywood man — who spent five years in the Navy and took part in amphibious assault missions on Iwo Jima and Okinawa. He also took part in the liberation of the Philippines.
But this will be the most memorable Veterans Day ever for Jutkins. That's because on Thursday he was belatedly awarded the wartime service medals he was denied 65 years ago.
A crowd of Jutkins' friends filled Rep. Henry Waxman's West 3rd Street office to watch the congressman present the Liberation of the Philippines medal and the Bronze Star with Oak Leaf Cluster medal for the Iwo Jima and Okinawa landings.
"Your country owes you a great debt of gratitude," Waxman told Jutkins.
Jutkins' friends were responsible for the unusual ceremony. They encouraged the retired former principal clerk at UCLA's Institute for Social Science Research to appeal the Navy's 1946 bad-conduct discharge that had blocked the presentation of the medals when he left the service.
He was new aboard the amphibious command ship Eldorado, serving as a bridge signalman, when it sailed through the Caribbean. At the first port of call, a group of 20-year-old sailors took Jutkins on shore leave.
"They took me ashore and got me drunk and got me tattooed," he explained, rolling up his right sleeve to show a dagger and the words "Death before Dishonor."
For the isolated Jutkins, it was an initiation into a social life: "I'd grown up in the Mojave Desert, in an area where I was by myself. There were no other kids. In the service I finally met guys my own age. They became my friends," Jutkins said.
"One glass of beer was enough to get me drunk. And I got back to the ship late several times. That was considered being AWOL. Once I was drunk and got thrown in the brig," he said. "I wasn't that upset with the bad conduct discharge. I was just happy to be getting out and going home."
Joe Carafello, a 68-year-old semi-retired actor who has known Jutkins for 18 years, said he was stunned when he looked up his friend's wartime records. "Loren had always been so modest about it," he said.
Carafello helped Jutkins draft an appeal to the Naval Review Board, citing the medals he had earned, his participation in a high school ROTC program in 1940, and the fact that he had sworn off alcohol 47 years ago. He also enlisted help from Waxman's staff.
When word arrived that the military record was being upgraded to reflect a general discharge. Carafello went to an Army-Navy store in Hollywood to buy the Philippine and Bronze Star medals to award Jutkins. "If it's been over 50 years, you have to buy them yourself," he said.
Another friend, Jim Dowd, constructed a hand-made, velvet-lined, polished display box for the medals. A third buddy, Jonathan Terry, had a metal plaque engraved for it.
"This Veterans Day will be different, that's for sure," Jutkins told his friends.