Recently, I received a phone call from Jennifer Alvarado of Canyon Country asking me if her Uncle Henry Acuna’s name would be engraved on our Fallen Warriors Monument that’s in construction at Newhall’s Veterans Historical Plaza.
I informed Jennifer that we had no knowledge of Henry so she promptly sent a War Department death notice document reporting that Private First Class Henry Acuna of Saugus was killed in action at age 21 in the Korean War July 31, 1950.
With this document, I promised her that Henry’s name would be included.
During a second phone conversation, Jennifer informed me that her father, Daniel Acuna, was a U.S. Army Veteran and that led to the three of us meeting at her home on Sept. 18th.
I figured here’s a perfect opportunity to interview another local Veteran and to also address Uncle Henry paying the ultimate sacrifice for our Country.
Home Grown Veteran
Daniel Acuna was born in his parent’s Saugus, California home, delivered by Dr. Innis of Newhall on Aug. 13, 1940.
Since Dan’s father worked for the Southern Pacific Railroad, they lived in the railroad’s housing community which was located near our present day Saugus Café.
Dan attended Saugus Elementary School (which was near present day IHOP on San Fernando Road), and he then attended Hart High School for both Junior High School and High School, graduating June 19, 1959.
During high school, Dan worked part time in SCV’s immense agricultural fields that were located near Saugus Café.
After high school, Dan wondered what the future held for him while fully acknowledging that earning an income was paramount.
It’s noted that Dan continued his education in the mid-1970’s at Pierce Junior College in Woodland Hills.
The Ultimate Sacrifice
The Acuna family was unaware that Dan’s older brother Henry had joined the U.S. Army at age 20, until Dan shocked them by enlisting Feb. 10, 1949.
Following Basic and Advanced Infantry Training Henry was deployed into the Korean War and, tragically, after only18 days in-country he was killed in action on July 31, 1950.
Dan was but nine years old when Southern Pacific Railroad employee, Mr. Wright appeared at the family’s front door. Mr. Wright was clearly shaken and said not one word as he handed Dan’s father a telegram.
Dan’s father instinctively realized that it was horrid news and he could not bring himself to open that telegram so he handed it to Dan to read.
Trembling, young Dan read that the Army was notifying the family that Henry was missing in action.
By Oct. 14, 1950, Henry’s death had been confirmed and another devastating telegram was received.
The news of Henry’s death overwhelmed his entire family with immense grief. To this very day they mourn his loss.
About the time Dan graduated from high school, he and three buddies met a very friendly Army Recruiter who even provided them beer. The next thing they knew the four of them were bussed for Basic Training at Fort Ord, California.
Dan enlisted July 21, 1959, just one month after completing high school.
During Advanced Infantry Training, Dan decided he wanted to become a paratrooper so after his Fort Ord training he volunteered for Jump School at Fort Campbell, Kentucky.
Upon arriving there, he immediately noticed the unpleasantness of snow and coal smoke was spewing everywhere. Coal was used to heat Fort Campbell’s barracks and office facilities.
“I couldn’t believe how cold it was and that choking blackish air was just downright nasty,” Dan said.
Trained by War Heroes
During jump school, Dan was impressed with his training Non-Commissioned Officers as almost all of them fought in WWII and the Korean War.
“The only time I ever heard any of them speak of their combat experiences was after several beers at our beer hall,” Dan said. “These men were so humble and they remain my heroes to this very day.”
Dan served two years with the 101st Airborne Division, nicknamed the Screaming Eagles, at Fort Campbell. The 101st is famous for parachuting in behind enemy lines during the massive D-Day invasion at Normandy on June 6, 1944.
Next, and out of the clear blue, Dan was abruptly assigned to Germany for the last year of his three year Army stint. He completed the Noncommissioned Officer Academy Candidate Course in Baumholder, Germany from Sept. 16, 1961 to Oct. 21, 1961.
While in Germany, his unit lived in former Nazi barracks which was rather unsettling and, while there, the USSR began constructing the Berlin Wall which obviously resulted in tremendous turmoil among Germany’s population. U.S. troops were immediately placed on high alert.
Back in the USA
As Dan’s service came to a close, he was sent to Fort Hamilton, New York, for his Honorable Discharge on July 6, 1962.
He returned to his parent’s home, who were now living in San Fernando, and he lived there for two years.
Dan moved to Van Nuys after landing a job with The U.S. Postal Service where he worked for 20 years.
Through a friend, who was nervously seeking a double date, Dan was introduced to Sherry Edsall, coincidentally, when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in November 1963.
“Sherry was drop dead gorgeous and I instantly fell for her and it was mutual,” Dan said.
After dating nine months they were married Aug. 20, 1964 in Las Vegas. Dan proudly reported that they had three wonderful children.
But, sadly, their marriage dissolved in the mid-1980’s as they simply grew apart, though it was an amicable separation (“that’s putting it nicely,” says Jennifer) and they still remain friendly.
Living the High Life
After leaving the post office, Dan started his own business and managed a retail store for five years until he began working in real estate leading him to move to Canyon Country in 1997.
In 1989, Dan met Linda Comerford during his real estate schooling and they instantly fell in love and a long lasting relationship developed.
Dan retired in July 2013 but continues dabbling as a part time Realtor, but his and Linda’s passion is flower and vegetable gardening.
They spend a great deal of time going to their grandkids sporting events; grandsons Ben and Jake both played for Canyon Country’s famed football coach Harry Welch and Ben’s team won State Championship in 2006. Another grandson, Christian runs cross country at Golden Valley High School and grandson Andres ran cross country there as well but now attends Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Altogether, Linda and Dan have six children and 12 grandchildren.
Following in their Father’s proud military footsteps, two of Dan’s sons, Greg and Daniel, Jr. enlisted in the U.S. Army and earned their jump wings just like their Father. Daniel, Jr. and Greg served from 1986 to 1989 and were part of the 1st Special Forces Group Airborne at Fort Lewis, Washington.
Both Jennifer and Dan expressed much gratitude to our city and our strong Veteran supporting community for installing a Fallen Warriors Monument and to include their own great American, Henry Acuna.
Jennifer said her aunts, who were very close with Uncle Henry, are quite emotional at the thought that their brother’s sacrifice will never be forgotten. For Gold Star Families, every day is Memorial Day.
The city of Santa Clarita and SCV Veterans Memorial, Inc. are conducting an unveiling ceremony at 10:00 AM on November 8, 2017, at Newhall’s Veterans Historical Plaza. The public is invited.