David Baca, left, Julian Mazuka, center, and Frank Bento enjoy dinner and documentary about Honor Flights at West Hills College. Baca and Bento, Mazuka’s two sons-in-law, will accompany him on an Honor Flight to see the World War II Memorial.
David Baca, left, Julian Mazuka, center, and Frank Bento enjoy dinner and documentary about Honor Flights at West Hills College. Baca and Bento, Mazuka’s two sons-in-law, will accompany him on an Honor Flight to see the World War II Memorial.

Julian Mazuka was deferred from enlisting three times before he was drafted and had to report to basic training during World War II.

He had a skill that was considered vital to the war effort. He was a sheep shearer.

Julian Mazuka, 92, a veteran of World War II, holds a photo of himself in uniform from 1944.
Julian Mazuka, 92, a veteran of World War II, holds a photo of himself in uniform from 1944.

Mazuka, 92, will take off on Oct. 29, along with 75 other Central Valley World War II veterans, to see the World War II Memorial in Washington DC. The trip is the inaugural flight of California’s newest hub of the Honor Flight Network, Central Valley Honor Flights based out of Fresno.

 A Lemoore resident since shortly after the end of his military service, Mazuka is excited to make the trip.

 “It’s a free trip! Will cost me nothing,” Mazuka said.

The mission of the Honor Flight Network is “to transport America’s veterans, at no charge to the veteran, to Washington, DC, to visit the memorials dedicated to honor their service and sacrifice.” The goal is “to help every American veteran who is willing and able to get on a plane or a bus visit his or her memorial.”

Top priority is given to America’s most senior veterans – survivors of World War II and any veteran with a terminal illness – who wishes to visit his or her memorial. The program will naturally transition to helping veterans of the Korean War, Vietnam War and all veterans who served on a chronological basis.

Time is of the essence as an estimated 640 World War II veterans die each day. A lot of fundraising takes place to make these flights happen. Money must be raised to enable the veterans to go, and each veteran must be accompanied by a guardian, someone who is able-bodied and will look after the veteran’s needs during the three-day trip.

Mazuka’s two sons-in-law will accompany him on the honor flight later this month. David Baca will serve as Julian’s guardian and Frank Bento will be the guardian of another veteran.

Baca heard about the Honor Flight program and the new hub in Fresno through local media and told Julian about it. They talked to Bento and all three decided they wanted to go.

 “I think it’s a great thing,” Baca said. “It’s a great tribute to the veterans.”

Julian Mazuka was born in Uvalde, Texas, and was living and working as a sheep shearer in Phoenix, Ariz., when he was drafted on Feb. 17, 1944, into the U.S. Army. He was 23. The three deferments he received were the maximum allowed. His employer applied for the deferments to try to hold on to his valued employee as long as he could.

Mazuka’s basic training was at Camp Roberts in Little Rock, Ark. It lasted 16 weeks. “About two weeks before the end of our training, they took us to the theater. They were asking for volunteers to be paratroopers,” Mazuka said. “My friend talked me into volunteering with him.”

His friend didn’t pass the physical and Mazuka was off on his own in May 1944 with a bunch of other raw recruits for six weeks of paratrooper training at Fort Benning, Ga. He was attached to the17th Airborne, 513th regiment, Company B, commanded by Colonel James W. Coutts.

From Fort Benning they sailed to Lockerbie, Scotland, in the middle of January 1945. Mazuka spent his 24th birthday on board the RMS Aquitania, the second largest ocean liner of its day, with 13,000 troops. Upon arrival in London, they crossed the English Channel to France and were stationed in a military camp.

Mazuka saw action on the front lines from early February to mid-March 1945. After a week back at camp spent preparing, he and his company embarked on Operation Varsity late March 1945.

Operation Varsity was a successful joint American–British airborne operation that took place toward the end of World War II. Involving more than 16,000 paratroopers and several thousand aircraft, it was the largest airborne operation in history to be conducted on a single day and in one location, according to Wikepedia.org.

In what became known as the drop across the Rhine, Varsity was meant to help the 21st Army Group to secure a foothold across the Rhine River in western Germany by landing two airborne divisions on the eastern bank of the Rhine near the village of Hamminkeln and the town of Wesel.

The operation was a success, with both divisions capturing Rhine bridges and securing towns that could have been used by Germany to delay the advance of the British ground forces. The two divisions incurred more than 2,000 casualties, but captured about 3,000 German soldiers. The operation was the last large-scale Allied airborne operation of World War II.

Germany surrendered May 7, 1945. The 17th Airborne was disbanded and troops were absorbed by the 82nd and 101st Airborne divisions, according to David Baca. Mazuka was attached to the 82nd and sailed for the Pacific, via the Panama Canal. Before crossing the canal, Japan surrendered and the ships turned and sailed to ports in Virginia.

The following few weeks were spent on furlough with marching opportunities with the 82nd in New York, Washington, DC and Philadelphia. President Harry Truman saluted the troops as they marched in Washington, DC.

Mazuka was honorably discharged April 15, 1946, having served a total of 26 months with six months in combat. He came to the Central Valley, to Stockton, where his parents were working picking fruits, vegetables and cotton. They moved to Lemoore soon afterwards and rented a place near Idaho and Houston.

With his large family – four sisters, three brothers and some extended family – Mazuka started a contract picking business in Lemoore. Once that was established he started a sheep shearing business with a four-man crew who traveled to Montana and made their way back to Lemoore working their trade along the way.

Julian Mazuka married Ascension Orsaba, a lifetime Lemoore resident, and together they had two daughters, Jesse and Pearl. Jesse is married to David Baca of Hanford, and Pearl married Frank Bento of Visalia. The Mazukas have five grandchildren and five great grandchildren. Ascension passed away in 2008.

For more information about Central Valley Honor Flights, visit www.cvhonorflight.org. On the Web site is information about how to apply to send a veteran, to become a guardian, or to donate to help send a veteran on the flight. The next Honor Flight will be some time in March, when the weather in Washington, DC will begin to warm again.