Roberta “Randy” Tidmore celebrated with a banana cream pie.

It was Aug. 14, 1945, the day President Truman announced the surrender of Imperial Japan and the end of World War II. Tidmore, a Marine from Illinois who trained at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, stayed stateside as a driver among other roles. 

“Of course, we all wanted to go downtown in San Diego,” said the 99-year-old UTC area resident at a reunion of WWII vets Sunday. “We wanted to go celebrate. But they said: ‘Don’t do it. It’s too dangerous for women down there.'”

“All those swabbies,” piped in 77-year-old friend Paula-Jo Cahoon, referring to young sailors.

[Up in San Francisco, in fact, six women were raped in what the Chronicle called “a three-night orgy of vandalism, looting, assault, robbery … and murder.”]

At a Marina Village Conference Center luncheon in Mission Bay attended by an expected 150 veterans of the global war, stories were told, old friends reunited and music of the era was played by Moonlight Serenade Orchestra Quartet. Veterans danced.

The oldest: Navy veteran Ervin Wendt, 105, who fought in the battles of Guadalcanal and Midway. 

For Juan Montano of Chula Vista, who rose to bosun mate chief by the time he left service in 1953, the day peace broke out wasn’t a moment of reflection.

“My reaction was go to the bars and stay drunk and try to forget about it,” the 95-year-old Navy vet said at the Spirit of 45 event organized by Honor Flight San Diego, which takes veterans to Washington and the World War II memorials.

“I never wanted anything to show that I was in the service until I went back to Texas — 1978 to 1988,” when he joined the Veterans of Foreign Wars, American Legion and other groups.

He tried to forget the carnage.

“I go to the Iwo Jima reunion at Camp Pendleton every year because I put the Marines on the beaches … and I watched them die, you know — 900 sailors and 7,000 Marines,” he said. “I used to pick up a lot of dead.”

In the early postwar years, he said the experience weighed him down.

“At the VFW, they wanted me to raise the flag,” Montano said. “When I raised the flag, I would start shaking. And I just didn’t want to be shaking like that. … Much bad memories. I’ve just seen so much. I drank real heavy.”

Seventy-six years later, memories of his 28-month world war service (from age 17 to 19) are painful but in the realm of expression.

“After you’re over there for 18 months or so, you just give up and say: ‘I know I’m not going to make it. You figure: I might as well be dead,'” he said.

He recalls an officer on his amphibious boat trying to get him to leave despite another boat getting stuck.

“I said I’m not leaving. … I got all of the equipment to pull them off…. I was standing up and he was (using me as a shield),” Montano said.  “He had orders to shoot anyone who left his station, and he was the first one to go down. And I told my guys: You know why he went down, don’t you? He has a college education.”

When the war ended, Army Engineer Cpl. Andre Chappaz was on the island site of a horrific 98-day battle ending in June 1945.

“I couldn’t believe it,” he said. “We were on Okinawa, and stationed for the invasion of Japan.  The news came through, and actually we were stunned. (In an invasion,) anything can happen to you. The guys were very, very happy.”

But joyful relief gave way to frustration.

“If you were married and had a family, you were the first to go back,” Chappaz said. “As the men began to go home, the camp emptied and I really began to miss the men. It was very nostalgic. Walking through the camp, there was nobody left. I felt terrible.”

Besides losing the camaraderie of fellow soldiers, he had to wait and wait for a trip home — probably seven months. He didn’t board a ship until February.

“So yeah, there was a little unhappiness … because they were not moving fast enough and [troops] wrote their congressmen that they wanted to move faster,” he said. 

Ted Jarrard of Bay Park said he was “so surprised” by news of V-J Day.

I couldn’t believe it,” said the 96-year-old Marine with 13 years’ service, including 14 months in the Pacific.

He said he took part in a number of invasions, but “Guam was our most important one. We took care of it. We were told to get ready to invade Japan. We knew what that meant.”

He said he was anxious to go home — after having married a “sweet young thing down in Oklahoma.”

His proudest moment of war service?

“The ability to do what we did,” Jarrad said. “To take the fight to the Japanese.”

Asked the same question, Tidmore said with a laugh: “That I made it through.”

Later she became a United Airlines flight attendant and chief stewardess (including an overseas trip by Bob Hope) and was active in Clipped Wings (the national group of retired flight attendants — especially those forced out of the air for getting married).

Roberta Jane Randolph  married Terry Tidmore and they became tomato farmers in Baja. She later returned to San Diego and held a variety of cultural jobs including a leadership role in running Christmas on the Prado.
 
“Now they’re beginning to find out that women can do a lot,” she said. “They didn’t think they could (in the 1940s). The men … wanted you to be home — taking care of the house and taking care of them.”

Her dad approved, however. 

“My father was extremely patriotic. He was a World War I (veteran). So he was happy for me. Because maybe now he could keep track of me,” she said with a laugh

Montano — who eventually collected 16 war medals and 21 ribbons, including from five other nations — evacuated Chinese from the communists in Shanghai.

Any regrets?

“No, I was proud of what I did,” he said. “I had a lot of guts.”

Army engineer Chappaz said pride wasn’t the question.

“It was a matter of the … experiences, the challenge,” he said. “Eventually, you’re put in a dire situation where you are very frightened and where eventually you overcome that fright. You feel terrific, but you overcame yourself, you overcame your fears. And you did what you were supposed to do.”

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