San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

SPECIAL TO THE MERCURY

A pair of World War II veterans will share grand marshal honors during the annual Veterans Day Parade at 10 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 10 in downtown San Marcos.

COVER: Willie Higgs, one of two veterans chosen to serve as grand marshal of the 2012 San Marcos Veterans Day parade, was injured during the battle to occupy Iowa Jima.

The two – Willie Higgs, a San Marcos native who received a Purple Heart while serving in the U.S. Marine Corps, and USAF veteran Milton I. Aalen, a 15-month San Marcos resident who earned the Distinguished Flying Cross while flying 50 missions, including 35 in combat  – were chosen for the special Veterans Day honors from a record number of ten nominees.

The other nominees will ride in the Veterans Day Parade behind the grand marshals as part of an Honor Guard.

A community-wide call for nominations of local veterans for grand marshal honors resulted in the nomination of ten men with impressive military service records. According to Recreation Programs Manager Lisa Morris, a four-member independent committee made the selection after reviewing the nominations. After a point system was applied to the committee’s rankings, the two local World War II veterans were selected.

The 2012 grand marshal nominees also include U.S. Air Force veterans Dr. Theodore Dake Jr.; Delbert (Del) David, who also served in the Texas State Guard; Lt. Col. Robert L. Dentino; and Oliver (Ollie) Maier.

U.S. Marine Corps veteran nominees include Gregory A. Frank, who served in Iraq, and Patrick Luckett of Buda, a WWII veteran. Rounding out the list are U.S. Army veterans Sammy Luna Tobar, who served during the Korean Conflict, and Tereso F. Tobias Jr., a Vietnam veteran.

Higgs, nominated by Shelley Henry, joined the Marine Corps as soon as he turned 17 and headed for basic training in San Diego. After training in California, he was assigned to a mortar squad at Fort Pendleton and sent to Maui to join the 4th Marine Division that had just returned from Saipan.

From Maui, Higgs left for the long journey to Iwo Jima in December of 1944, arriving before the Marines’ February 19 landing. His unit went in on the second or third wave, proceeding up the hill with severe casualties. His unit pressing on toward the end of the island, Higgs was assigned to get a Japanese soldier out of a cave. Throwing a grenade into the cave, he was almost hit when the soldier threw it back.

The next time, he held the grenade a little longer and made good on his hit. Unfortunately, when he jumped off the ledge to avoid the explosion after he threw the grenade, he blew out his knee. From there, he was transported on a hospital ship to Guam where he stayed a while before being transferred to Hawaii and then on to San Francisco and to Corpus Christi for rehabilitation. He was discharged toward the end of the war.

After his discharge, Willie Higgs finished his education at Southwest Texas State Teachers College and taught choir for many years at both San Marcos High School and San Marcos Academy.

Milton Aalen was born in San Antonio, the son of a career military man who died when he was only 12 years old. He was raised by his older sister. After graduating from high school in 1939, he took the Civil Service exam in order to work at what is now Kelly Air Force Base.

But he wanted to fly so he joined the Army Air Corps in June of 1943 and was sent to California and eventually Arizona for training. It was at Thunderbird Field near Phoenix that he completed his first solo flight.

When he attempted to land his plane after a solo flight, the plane got caught in a crosswind and a wing was damaged, resulting in Aalen getting “washed out of flight school” and being sent to Minnesota for radio operations training. Later, he was sent to Laredo for gunnery training.

Eventually he was sent to England where he was assigned to a crew flying B-24s. He flew his first combat mission two days after D-Day in June of 1944. By Christmas day of that year, he had flown in a total of 50 missions.

After his discharge in September of 1945, Aalen went to Texas A&M where he graduated with an accounting degree. He went on to become a hospital administrator in Hearne, Tex. where he retired after 32 years of service. Retired and recovering from cancer, Milton Aalen was persuaded to join his son Gary in San Marcos.

“We hope all the honorees will join representatives of our veterans’ service organizations when San Marcos Mayor Daniel Guerrero presents the annual Veterans Day proclamation in Council Chambers at City Hall at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 7,” Morris said.

The parade route will begin on Hopkins Street and proceed to the Hays County Courthouse where it will turn right onto Guadalupe Street and then right onto Hutchison Street and back to CM Allen before turning left back onto Hopkins Street where it will disband in front of the Activity Center. Parade viewers are encouraged to watch from the Hopkins Street area and to avoid the construction on Hutchison Street between LBJ Drive and CM Allen.

For more information about the Veterans Day Parade and other Veterans Day activities, contact Morris at (512) 393-8400.

— FROM THE CITY OF SAN MARCOS/MELISSA MILLECAM

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