Mutual Army Service
Discussing Anthony P. Alba’s military story was amazingly familiar since he and I served in the same infantry division at the same time. Interestingly, Tony lives just a few streets over from me. Tony was born December 25, 1944 in San Bernadino’s St. Bernadine Hospital and grew up in nearby Chino where he graduated high school in June 1963. Afterwards, Tony attended Mount San Antonio Junior College graduating April 1967 with an Associates Degree in Police Science. Tony had a draft board rating of 1A so he volunteered for the U.S. Army on April 26, 1967.
Bataan Death March
Tony’s first day reporting to Los Angeles’ induction station was memorable as he somberly recalled his bus trip to LA’s induction station while peering out a small window his forlorn mother ran beside him waving and crying. His mother’s brother-in-law, Lalo Ramos, served during WWII and he suffered the Bataan Death March which led to him to returning home a broken man and committing suicide. Bataan’s death march caused thousands of Filipino deaths and 500 to 650 American deaths. The Japanese inflicted severe physical abuse and wanton killings, which an Allied military commission declared it a war crime. Tony vowed that he would never get captured in Vietnam.
Tragic Traffic Accident
On Tony’s induction day, he had his very first airplane flight from Los Angeles to Fort Bliss, Texas, though no one even asked if he wanted to fly. At Fort Bliss, Tony received a military haircut, new olive drab clothing and combat boots. One week later, his unit flew to Kansas City and then bussed to Custer Hill at Fort Riley, Kansas. They arrived late at night tired and disoriented which made them easy pickings for aggressive drill sergeants. Tony was assigned to Alpha Company, 4th/39th Regiment as the 9th Infantry Division reactivated for combat in South Vietnam’s treacherous Mekong Delta. During Basic Training, Tony received heartbreaking news that his mother Stella was killed in a horrific traffic accident while visiting relatives in Mexico. Tony received a short leave of absence for his mother’s funeral service and learned Mexico does not allow the deceased to leave their country. Tony’s family was traumatized as they conducted a private service at his brother’s home.
Operation Junction City
After six months of infantry training, Tony’s unit departed Fort Riley via troop train to Oakland, California, and then to Vung Tau, South Vietnam aboard a crowded WWII troop ship, the USNS General Alexander M. Patch. Upon arrival on News Years Day 1967, Tony’s unit was immediately convoyed to Camp Bearcat near Saigon and began patrolling Bearcat’s perimeter seeking Viet Cong insurgents. On February 22, 1967, they launched Operation Junction City, a major search and destroy mission that lasted 82 days that severely damaged VC forces. The VC suffered 2,728 killed, 34 captured and 139 deserters. 100 crew-served weapons and 491 individual weapons were captured, along with large amounts of material captured: 810 tons of rice, 600 tons of small arms, 500,000 pages of documents. However, American losses were nearly 300 dead and over 1,500 injured.
Viet Cong Ambush and Snipers
Tony still laments losing several buddies. His unit received replacement trooper, Pfc Paulino Lopez and Tony had barely befriended him when on July 22, 1967, Lopez was killed by a Viet Cong sniper. Tragically, Lopez had just received a telegram announcing his son’s birth. On July 29, 1967, Tony’s Company Executive Officer, Lt. George New, Jr. was also killed by a Viet Cong sniper. It was Lt. New who notified Tony his mother had died. During a Viet Cong ambush on September 15, 1967, Tony’s close friend William Cherry was killed in action and Tony cautioned William as his squad went on patrol, “Be careful out there”. Six U.S. soldiers perished that day, so Tony’s platoon retaliated by chasing down and killing those VC while retrieving their buddies bodies, weapons and gear.
Hitting the Dirt
Tony’s Vietnam service ended at Christmas 1967 so he returned home via Oakland where he kissed the ground upon disembarking his aircraft. After a 30 day leave of absence, Tony completed his service at Fort Riley and was honorably discharged as Sergeant E5 April 25, 1968. Tony’s decorations: the Vietnam Service Medal, Vietnam Campaign Medal, National Defense Medal, and his prized Combat Infantryman Badge. While on leave of absence, Tony applied with the Los Angeles Police Department and was accepted to the Police Academy May 19, 1968. Tony recalls his orientation day when wearing suits they were standing in a bushy arroyo near their shooting range and when recruits began firing, they instantly hit the dirt. Their training Sergeant reacted, “Well, I see we have Vietnam Veterans in our class”.
North Hollywood Shootout
Tony’s first assignment was at North Hollywood’s Division and the very first officer who greeted him was our very own City Councilman, Bob Kellar. Tony worked there 15 years and later became Chief of School Police at Compton’s School District before becoming the City of San Fernando’s Police Chief. After 39 years, Tony retired at age 65 in 2007. Tony’s most memorable incident was the “North Hollywood Bank of America Shootout” on February 27, 1997. Two heavily armored bank robbers with AK47’s and thousands of rounds brazenly attempted a bank robbery. 300 law enforcement and fire department personnel promptly engaged in LAPD’s longest active shoot out resulting in injuries to 11 civilians and 8 officers while both bank robbers were fatally shot.
In 1983, Tony met his wife Carol Foster who was a bank teller and a weekend softball player. They were on opposing teams when they met. Tony was struck by Carol’s startling beauty and outgoing personality so they began dating and subsequently married May 19, 1994. Together they have 4 sons, a daughter and six grandchildren. These days, Tony thoroughly enjoys life, his family, fellow Veterans, bicycling, and golf. Tony remains a proud Vietnam Veteran who achieved the American Dream and continues to dearly love his country.