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La Jolla veteran honored with trip to nation’s capital

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honorflightsandiego.org

By Pat Sherman

Longtime La Jolla resident John M. Robinson was one of 88 World War II veterans from the San Diego area honored for their service this month with a free, chartered trip to Washington, D.C. to view the National World War II Memorial and other monuments in the capital city.

The trip was paid for by Honor Flight San Diego, part of a network of more than 100 nonprofit groups across the country created to honor veterans by transporting them to D.C. to visit memorials and reflect on their service — all at no cost to them.

For, Robinson, a retired Navy lieutenant commander who served in World War II from 1942-45, and during the Korean War from 1950-52, the weekend sojourn was filled with emotion.

“I happened to be the oldest one on the trip,” said Robinson, 95, who was accompanied by his granddaughter, 26-year-old Kelly Ridley, who flew in from Boise, Idaho.

Though Robinson visited the National WWII Memorial during a previous trip back east, he said the site, which consists of 56 pillars and triumphal arches surrounding a plaza and fountain on the National Mall, was just as impressive the second time.

“It was kind of overwhelming — just awesome, really,” the Minnesota native said. “It was so thorough and covered all the battles and everything.”

Robinson and the veterans also got to witness the changing of the guard at Arlington National Cemetery and tour Korean, Iwo Jima and Vietnam memorials, as well as the Navy Yard Museum.

Robinson said the Korean War Veterans Memorial in West Potomac Park was also particularly moving for him. The memorial, comprised of 19 larger-than-life stainless steel statues, represents a squad on patrol, drawn from each branch of the armed forces.

“It’s really a different kind of memorial, just (demonstrating) the general hardship they went through in combat,” he said. However, the most meaningful portion of the trip was when Robinson and his granddaughter strolled past the corner of Constitution Avenue and 18th Street, where the Navy Office of Procurement and Material once stood.

It was there that he met his wife of nearly 60 years, the late Kathleen Tanner Robinson.

“It’s where I first got sight of her,” said Robinson, who worked in the building for nine months. “She was a page girl who had just gotten out of high school.”

A bold, older employee from Brooklyn eventually facilitated a meeting between the shy Navy man and the girl who would become his bride just six months later.

“That was really meaningful for me,” he said.

Robinson and his young bride moved to San Diego in 1952, where he worked in communications for the Navy before moving on to a career in estate planning. They purchased a home near the La La Jolla Country Club for $19,000.

Robinson was aboard ship when his wife called to tell him about the then newly- constructed home near the intersection of Pearl Street and Cabrillo Avenue. Though she didn’t think Robinson would like living on a steep hill, they purchased the home the following day.

Robinson’s children all graduated from La Jolla High School, including two sons who went on to play baseball in the major leagues. His sons’ names, Dave (outfielder, San Diego Padres) and Bruce (catcher, Oakland Athletics, New York Yankees), are engraved on a marker at La Jolla High.

Granddaughter Kelly Ridley said she was honored to be with her grandfather as he strolled down memory lane in the nation’s capital. “It was amazing for all the veterans,” Ridley said. “They seemed like they were on cloud nine.”

The memorials brought back deep-seated memories that even some of the veterans’ closest family members couldn’t trigger, she said.

“Most of them had not been to D.C. so that was great getting to see their emotions — the tears and smiles,” Ridley said. “They could remember exactly where they were, to the date. ... Every one of them had such different experiences and memories. It’s something very cool that will soon be gone.”