A UCLA alumnus’ research is bringing attention to the hundreds of UCLA alumni and previous students who died fighting in World War II.
Bill Beigel, a World War II historian and UCLA alumnus, shared his ongoing research of UCLA veterans killed in action during World War II at the James West Alumni Center on Thursday. He said he hopes students can relate to the stories of these veterans by learning more about them.
“Look at these young people, they are no different than you,” Beigel said. “They were students too 75 years ago.”
Darryl Johnson, a retired U.S. Army colonel and board member of the UCLA Alumni Association, introduced Beigel with a letter from another UCLA alumnus and veteran, retired U.S. Marine Corps General John Dailey. In the letter, he said he thinks it is important for current students to be aware of the sacrifices veterans make for their country.
“I urge you to remember as you walk through this beloved campus,” Dailey said in the letter. “The heroes who walked here before and the heroes who walk among us now.”
Beigel said he began his research in 2009 with a list of UCLA veterans killed in action during World War II provided by the UCLA Department of Military Science. He said that although the list only had 190 veterans originally, through his research he has added 85 names to the list. Beigel thinks the list will only get longer.
Beigel said he has spent hundreds of hours combing through UCLA yearbooks looking for matches with the National Archives’ list of everyone who died during World War II. He added he also looks at old news clips for any coverage of UCLA events and searches for names that he could add to the list.
“In the last month, I found four new guys,” he said. “Just by doing it that way.”
Beigel also shared individual profiles of UCLA veterans who were killed in action.
Francis Wai, who played football for UCLA and joined the Army in 1941 after graduation, died in Leyte, an island in the Philippines, after leading his troop in an assault against the Japanese army in 1944, Beigel said. He added that Wai, who was inducted into UCLA’s Athletic Hall of Fame in 2014, is the only Chinese-American to have received the Medal of Honor.
Hitoshi “Moe” Yonemura, who served as his class’ student body treasurer and graduated from UCLA in 1942, served in the army as an officer in the 442nd brigade, Beigel said. Yonemura, who was killed by a sniper in 1945, was awarded the Silver Star and Purple Heart posthumously, he added.
Beigel said he feels a personal connection with each veteran after examining numerous records and photos to piece together their lives and deaths.
“I feel like I know these guys,” he said. “I look at a picture and I go, ‘Don Brown, yeah, I remember him. He was this and he was that.’”
Some students said they think it is important for more students to know about Beigel’s research and the lives of these veterans.
Shaina Patel, a first-year civil engineering student, said the presentation moved her and she thinks it was more personal than she expected.
“(Beigel’s presentation) is not just history and facts, it’s stories we can connect to,” she said.
Carter Thomsen, a first-year undeclared student, said he was struck by the connection today’s students have to these veterans.
“When (Beigel) mentioned some students who were only in school for two years … they sacrificed their lives so we can have these opportunities,” he said.
Thomsen added Beigel’s presentation motivated him to find out more about any of his relatives who served in the military.
“Next time I go home, I’m going to ask about veterans in my family so that their memories can live on,” he said.
Beigel said he hopes students will take some time out of the Veteran’s Day holiday to learn a little bit about the lives of those who died for their country.
“These (veterans) who may just be names on a page were walking up Janss Steps to class on a nice November day like this without a care in the world,“ he said. “They’re really the same as everybody that’s here now.”