Barbara Torrey Smith reflects at Fort Rosecrans grave of her father, Philip Huston Torrey Jr. (inset). Photo by Chris Stone

Every year on Father’s Day, Memorial Day and the anniversary of her dad’s birth and death, Barbara Torrey Smith can be found paying her respects at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery.

Denise Gallagher of Carlsbad weeps at the grave site of her parents Norman and Joyce Ray. Photo by Chris Stone

Yet she never had a chance to know Navy Cmdr. Philip Huston Torrey Jr.

She had just turned 3 when her dad, a 31-year-old pilot, was shot down during World War II.

She speaks proudly of her father — “my absolute hero forever.”

“He was pretty special,” the San Diegan said on a cool morning with heavy mist. “I really miss knowing him.”

Everything she learned about her father is secondhand from relatives or newspaper accounts.

Smith was among thousands attending Memorial Day ceremonies honoring the fallen military members laid to rest at the Point Loma cemetery.

The 117th Memorial Service and Day of Remembrance included advancing the colors, wreath laying, a recitation of the Gettysburg Address, remarks by Vice Admiral Nora W. Tyson, commander of the U.S. 3rd Fleet, and a canon and musket volley.

Barbara Torrey Smith arranges a bouquet of flowers at her father’s grave site at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery. Photo by Chris Stone

Before the ceremony, Smith shared what she has learned about her father from grandparents, uncles and aunts. Her mother never spoke of him.

“He was such a great guy. Everybody loved him,” Smith said.

“He’d come in and say ‘Let’s go get a beer,’” her relatives relayed to her. “The men absolutely adored him. He was one of those men who you just don’t forget.”

Torrey was lost Feb. 16, 1945, when the Grumman F6F Hellcat he piloted was shot down and crashed at Habu village near Narita, Japan.

Smith spoke of his medals — the Distinguished Flying Cross (four times), Navy Cross and Purple Heart.

Nicknamed “Tarzan,” Torrey in 1943 became a commanding officer operating from the aircraft carrier Essex. In late August 1943, he flew a training raid against Marcus Island. In October he attacked Wake Island. And in December, he flew over the Marshall Islands.

Denise Gallagher of Carlsbad honors her parents who are buried at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery. Photo by Chris Stone

He served on the USS Lexington until his death, according to pacificwrecks.com

“His outstanding leadership, excellent training progress, and courageous devotion to duty were largely responsible for the complete success of the missions and the severe damage dealt to the Japanese forces,” said his Distinguished Flying Cross citation.

Smith considers herself fortunate to have her father’s remains at Fort Rosecrans rather than have them unaccounted for abroad.

But “it’s very hard. You need something of theirs,” she said as she tells the story behind a crucifix from her father’s rosary that he kept in the cockpit of the plane on every mission.

After her father was shot down in Japan, a villager found the crucifix and kept it for 30 years.

In 1980, the villager met Smith’s brother when he visited the area and gave the cross to him. She also showed him a memorial that the villagers made for her father because “they felt that any warrior, whether they were the enemy or not should be revered,” she said.

“My most precious thing that I have of his,” she says of the crucifix.

Her brother came across villagers who had cremated and then buried Torrey, she said.

“It’s been hard every time I come out here,” Smith said. “But he’s home. He’s back where he belongs.”

Denise Gallagher also visited loved ones at Fort Rosecrans.

Gallagher wept Monday as she touched the marker of her parents, Norman and Joyce Ray.

“(The grave) is all that I have to hold onto,” she said.

The Carlsbad resident’s son Austin is stationed at North Island Naval Air Station, so she feels her parents are watching over him from the cemetery across the bay.

“One day we have to stop and realize all that we have,” she said. “It’s not free.

“People have sacrificed for all we have,” she said, overlooking rows and rows of grave stones.

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