Pete Minix, 66, has spent the last 20 years researching and documenting the stories of hundreds of U.S. military veterans, enough to fill 104 binders.
He’s now donated his work to the General Patton Memorial Museum in Chiriaco Summit, Calif., where an upcoming Veterans Day event will provide members of the community a chance to show their own appreciation for those who have served the country.
Minix was just 17 years old when he enlisted in the United States Marine Corps. Like many cadets, he wasn’t old enough to vote, but he was ready to serve his country.
“I always knew I was going to go into the Marine Corps when I was in high school,” Minix said. “I always liked what they stood for, and I liked the uniform and the brotherhood that I’d only read about, which I found was true when I got in.”
Minix turned 17 two weeks before he graduated from high school in Whittier, Calif. in 1972, and soon reported for boot camp in San Diego. Within a few months, he was boarding a plane headed for a U.S. military base in Okinawa, Japan.
By 1973, Minix was a fully trained M60 machine gunner serving aboard the USS Tripoli, an LPH, or Landing Platform Helicopter amphibious assault ship stationed in Gulf of Siam during the Vietnam War. He described the ship as small aircraft carrier that was home to more than 1,500 Marines and U.S. Navy personnel and about 40 helicopters.
“We were constantly training,” Minix said. “It was nerve-wracking, especially when they told us to gear up and we were in the ’copters and everything and then they would tell us to stand down. We did that several times a day.”
But he never actually set foot in Vietnam.
“Even though we spent three months off the coast, I never saw action,” Minix told The Epoch Times. “I was ready to go, but they never sent us in.”
He recalls the controversy surrounding the Vietnam era and the emotional scars it left on many veterans, especially those who were shamed by their own country. He remembers the stories of some vets who returned from Vietnam to the “war at home” only to be spit on or called “baby killers” by anti-war protesters.
“It was not like World War I or II, or like Iraq or Afghanistan, when people appreciated veterans and there were gatherings at the airport when they came home,” Minix said. “Unfortunately, the Vietnam vets didn’t get all that.”
But the times have changed once again, and today Minix is thanked for his service by many who see his Marines cap.
“I fly the Marine Corps flag every day, Old Glory every day, and I wear my Marine Corps cap all the time,” he said.
To show his gratitude for other veterans who served before him and fought for his freedom, Minix collected the stories of 511 veterans, including the stories of 15 First World War vets and a few Korea vets. The majority are those of the men who served in the Second World War.
“Most of them are gone now,” Minix said. “Unfortunately, we’re losing our World War II vets. Most of them are 95 or older, and even Korea vets are getting up there,” he said.
Less than 500,000 of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II remain alive today, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
“I think their stories need to be told, constantly—over and over again—so they’re not forgotten,” Minix said. World War II was a war like no other war we’ve ever had. Ninety percent of the world was at war, and you had the Holocaust. It’s just something that can’t be forgotten. You can’t just sweep it under the rug.”
In his research, Minix interviewed as many veterans and their families as he could in person, while documenting the stories of others via email and regular mail. Minix’s work will be entered into a database at the General Patton Memorial Museum.
Minix, along with other vets and some World War II survivors, will attend the Veterans Day event held on Nov. 11 each year at the museum.
On Veterans Day, millions of Americans pause to observe a minute of silence on the 11th hour, of the 11th day of the 11th month—the time when, in 1918, the Armistice with Germany signaled the end the First World War. In 1954, almost a decade after the end of the Second World War, Armistice Day was renamed Veterans Day at the urging of U.S. veterans’ organizations. The day is also recognized as Remembrance Day in commonwealth countries such as the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia.
Minix served with the 1st Marine Division, Camp Pendleton; 2nd Marine Division, Camp Lejeune; 3rd Marine Division, Okinawa; and 4th Air Wing, El Toro. Later, he served with the 40th Infantry Division of the Army National Guard. He held the rank of Sergeant for four years before leaving the military in the early 1980s to pursue a career as an emergency medical technician, or EMT/ER Tech II in Whittier. He was also a volunteer firefighter for five years.
Minix’s son Michael also spent four years in the U.S. Army as a combat engineer and saw action in Iraq. Like his father, grandfather, and uncle, he wanted to serve his country. Minix, who is retired and now lives in Indio, has been married to his wife Marilyn for 41 years. They also have a daughter who is a teacher and a four-year-old granddaughter.
Like many vets, Minix is disappointed that most—if not all—schools in California no longer teach the history of World War II and the lessons it taught humanity.
Many younger Americans can’t tell you where World War II started, why it started, or where Pearl Harbor is, Minix said.
“They just don’t teach that in high school anymore. They don’t talk about it; they don’t teach it,” Minix said. “I can’t figure out how a six-year period that changed the world can just be skipped over. I just want people to know what these men and women did.”
With men fighting on the front lines, women working munitions factories back home and families rationing for the war effort, it is no wonder that the Americans who lived during the World War II era are known as the Greatest Generation.
“It was a brutal war and I just don’t want people to forget about these men and women and what they did,” he said. “You know, you’ve got some guy who is 21 years old who is in charge of nine guys and can’t drive yet, but he’s flying a B-17 over Europe with the Germans doing their best to shoot him down.”
Though he is proud of his country, he struggles with the idea of American blood being spilled in the Middle East overseas to liberate, defend, and rebuild other countries, especially those that don’t seem to appreciate the effort the United States has made.
“We try to rebuild their cities and stuff and they just turn around and blow it up again and see how many people they can kill. They just don’t want us there,” he said. “We’ve lost so many men and women over there, and for what?” said Minix, adding that he tries to steer clear of politics.
While the Marines was a good choice for him, Minix admits the military is not for everyone.
“Once you’re in the service, you are Uncle Sam’s property. Some people can take orders and others just can’t hack it,” said Minix, adding that out of 80 cadets he trained with in ’72, only 50 graduated.
For some people, the military offers a way to turn their lives around and transform it into something better.
“It did mine,” Minix said. “When I was in high school, I was hanging around with all the ‘cool’ people, or so I thought at the time, but they were basically troublemakers, and at the time, I was. But when I joined the Marines after high school, it made me a man awful quick, and I found out, too, that whatever they tell you is not open for discussion.”
When it comes to the military, you get out of it what you put into it, he said.
Museum Co-founder Margit Chiriaco praised Minix for the contribution of his research to the facility.
“He’s done a wonderful job,” she said.
Veterans Day Ceremony
Chiriaco invited the public to come out on Nov. 11 and said admission to the museum is free for all who attend the Veterans Day ceremony. The museum is about a quarter-mile from Camp Young, the headquarters of George S. Patton’s Desert Training Center, where the famous war hero trained more than a million men for combat in North Africa during the Second World War.
The museum opens at 9:30 a.m. The program, which includes a presentation of colors and new remodeled tank rooms, starts at 11 a.m. sharp in the USO theatre room.
“It’s going to be a wonderful event,” said Chiriaco, whose parents donated the land for the museum. “It always is, and it gives people a chance to enjoy the museum.”
The museum is offering free Jeep tours of the Desert Training Center on Veterans Day. Tank rides are also available for a fee.
“It’s a fundraiser for the museum,” Chiriaco said. “They are M60 Patton tanks.”
Although many schools don’t teach World War II history in the classroom, some school districts have begun to organize bus tours to the museum, Chiriaco said.