The nation’s World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. recognizes the ways Americans served, honors those who fell, and recognizes the victory they achieved to restore freedom and end tyranny around the globe. The memorial accomplishes this through stone architecture and bronze sculptures, according to the National Park Service.
Almost one month before his 97th birthday, Tooele resident Victor Mansanarez completed a journey to Washington, D.C. to see, for the first time, his memorial — the one for the war he and his friends served in; some of those friends didn’t come home. Mansanarez is a World War II veteran.
A thrilled Mansanarez headed to the Salt Lake International Airport on Oct. 4 to join Utah Honor Flight Mission #34 along with 74 other veterans, including two others who served in World War II.
Each year, there are four trips put on by Utah Honor Flight.
Honor Flights are put on all over the country. They began in 2005. So far, over 250,000 veterans have been able to participate. In Utah, over 2,000 veterans have been sent on an Honor Flight. Mansanarez’s flight was sponsored by Nucor Steel. Nucor Steel sponsors one flight in Utah per year.
Mansanarez’s daughter-in-law sent in his application to be considered for the flight earlier this year. His selection was a surprise to him. His son, Vince, was his chaperone for the trip.
World War II veterans are given priority when selections are made for honor flights, enabling Mansanarez’s application to skip over 500 people on a waiting list.
At the airport, employees, staff, and fliers stopped to clap and cheer for the veterans while they created a clear path to the terminal. As they boarded their flight, The Utah Pipe Band played bagpipes welcoming them.
After boarding their flight, “mail call” was held. Sacks of letters were distributed to the veterans. They held letters from friends and family, as well as school children thanking them for their service.
“They gave them the letters, because when the service men and women were overseas, that was their only connection to home, because there weren’t any cell phones or any other type of communication,” Mansanarez’s daughter-in-law Bev explained. “The service men and women looked forward to getting their mail from their loved ones, so they wanted to recreate that on the flight.”
After the veterans and their chaperones landed, the first stop on the tour was the Fort McHenry Monument in Baltimore, Maryland. After that they were bussed to Washington, D.C. where a banquet was held.
At the banquet, the three World War II veterans were given service medals that they had never received.
“A lot of the soldiers never got their World War II service medals,” Vince explained. “I think after the war, they only gave out about 20,000.”
The next day, veterans visited the service memorials for the Navy, Marines, Air Force, and Army. They also visited the memorials for World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War.
While visiting the World War II Memorial, a band played for those who had served in the war.
A highlight of the trip was when Mansanarez and the two other World War II veterans were able to place a special wreath on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington, Virginia.
The group also visited the Lincoln Memorial.
“It was a lot of fun,” Mansanarez said. “We went to the Lincoln Memorial and I walked up the steps.”
Mansanarez walked up the more than 50 steps unassisted, refusing a ride on the elevator.
The next day during the flight home, the veterans were given a photo blanket, so they could remember their trip for years to come.
When they landed, they were greeted at the Salt Lake City Airport by friends, family members, and the Patriot Riders, a biker group consisting of veterans.
“It was quite a homecoming,” Mansanarez said.
Mansanarez was born on Nov. 14, 1925 in Fruita, Colorado.
He was drafted into the Navy in 1944, where he served as a gunner on the SS New Zealand, a cargo ship that transported relief supplies to Milne Bay, Papua New Guinea during the New Guinea Campaign when Japanese forces were trying to take over the Australian-owned island.
“We had to take care of the gun that we had and clean it twice a day, so it wouldn’t get rusty,” Mansanarez said.
During the New Guinea Campaign, American and Australian forces relied on native New Guineans to achieve victory. New Guinea is known as one of the most horrific battlegrounds of World War II.
During Mansanarez’s time on the ship, radar had yet to be invented, so crew members relied on radio signals to avoid enemy submarines, which proved to be a difficult task.
At the same time, Mansanarez’s brother, Joe A. Mansanarez, was serving in the Army’s 182nd Infantry.
Mansanarez’s brother was killed in action on Cebu Island, in the Philippines in March 1945. Prior to this, he and Victor were unknowingly on the same island in New Guinea.
Mansanarez was honorably discharged from the Navy in late 1945 due to a thyroid condition requiring surgery. He recovered in Sun Valley, Idaho.
After meeting in Price, Utah, Mansanarez married his wife in 1949. They had five sons.
After marrying, Mansanarez worked as a coal miner in Price. He later moved his family to Tooele in 1962, where he worked at the Tooele Army Depot as a welder.
Mansanarez was diagnosed with leukemia in 1973. He was given less than six months to live.
“I spent a lot of time in the VA hospital,” Mansanarez said.
He went into remission, but the leukemia returned in 1975 and he beat it again. Today, Mansanarez is healthy.
“They said he wouldn’t be able to leave the hospital, but he beat it and was able to go back to work after that,” Bev said.
Mansanarez retired from the Army Depot in 1977. He took a part time job at Gibson Tire Shop in Tooele. He officially retired from all work in the mid 80’s.
Today Mansanarez enjoys spending time with his sons, 20 grandchildren, and 30 great-grandchildren. He enjoys playing golf and taking walks around his assisted living facility. On Saturday afternoons, the kids and grandkids visit and they play dominoes.
Mansanarez is a pool shark and has been known to collect quarters from everyone at the senior center each time he wins.
“I always had a bag full of quarters,” Mansanarez said.
If Mansanarez could change one thing in the world, he would create more friendship.