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Honoring California's war dead on Veterans Day

November 11, 2009 | 10:40 am

Veterans Day honors all men and women who have served in the American military. Those who gave their lives for their country have always had a special place of honor on a national holiday created to celebrate the end of WWI and originally called Armistice Day.

"If the idealistic hope had been realized that World War I was 'the war to end all wars,' " the name may never have changed, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs website notes.

With wars going on in Afghanistan and Iraq, The Times also gives special acknowledgment to the Californians who have died while supporting those efforts. In some cases, those individuals went to lengths to join or stay in the military. Their stories have been collected in the California's War Dead database, where readers are invited to share memories of the fallen. Here are a few:

William 'Tony' Farrar, 20 Told he was too thin to serve at Army boot camp, William A. Farrar Jr. of Redlands went back home to eat. Even so, when he returned two weeks later he had to drink extra water to meet the minimum requirements. Farrar was fresh out of Palm Springs High when he enlisted.

Pfc. Farrar, 20, was killed May 11, 2007 when his convoy was struck by a roadside bomb in Iskandariya, south of Baghdad.

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Richard Soukenka, 30 Army Sgt. Richard Soukenka spent part of his childhood living on the streets, bushes and riverbeds of San Diego County. As a teenager, he was taken in by a soup kitchen volunteer who later formally adopted him.

A teacher at Oceanside High where Soukenka was a student remembered him for having "the most incredible spirit about him. Whatever setback he encountered, he found a way to dust himself off and move on."

Soukenka was on his second tour of duty in Iraq, and 10 years into his service in the Army, when he and two others soldiers were killed Feb. 27, 2007, by a roadside bomb that exploded near their vehicle in Baghdad. He was 30. Those who knew him said he had come to believe Americans were in the middle of a civil war they could not change.

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Robert Rapp, 22 Robert T. Rapp of Sonora, Calif., turned 18 during his senior year at Sonora High and left six months early to enlist. His family and friends said he had a deep-rooted sense of patriotism, driven by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Before he and another paratrooper were killed by a suicide bomber in Sabari, Afghanistan, on March 3, 2008, Army Sgt. Rapp, 22, wrote a prophetic letter home:

"Let the world know I died doing what I love," he wrote. "Dying for my country is the greatest honor I could ever receive."

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Justin Hunt, 22 Justin T. Hunt of Riverside weighed 360 pounds when he first tried to sign up for military service -- the Army and the Navy told him to come back when he lost the weight.

For 10 months the former Elsinore High defensive tackle ran every morning with his Marine recruiter. He told his mother he could do without his favorite foods: French fries, pasta and potatoes.

Hunt was a muscular 170 pounds when he became a Marine.

"He was so proud," his mother said. " 'Mommy, your baby boy's a Marine.' That's what he said when he graduated."

Lance Cpl. Hunt, 22, was killed in combat July 6, 2004, while battling insurgents in Al Anbar province, Iraq. His older brother, Robert, a Navy corpsman who also was serving in Iraq, accompanied his body home.

-- Megan Garvey

Related: Obama speaks to Veterans Day crowd: 'That is why we fight'
Veterans Day events planned across Southern California

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