War hero named parade grand marshal

Richard Sorenson sits in the living room of his Southwest Reno home Friday morning.

Richard Sorenson sits in the living room of his Southwest Reno home Friday morning.

Richard Sorenson spent 24 hours in combat during World War II before he leaped on a grenade to save the members of his machine-gun platoon.

At 78, Sorenson was the only living Medal of Honor winner in Nevada members of the Nevada Day Committee could find when they went looking for a grand marshal for the 2003 parade.

"I'm pretty proud that they would select me," he said. "I'm the only medal of honor recipient in the entire state."

The retired Veterans Administration regional office director said he was 18 when he volunteered to join the U.S. Marines in 1942.

"I joined Dec. 13, 1942," he said from his Reno home. "I went right down after football in October, but it took me that long to get in. There were lines, I can tell you."

Sorenson was born and raised in the little town of Anoka, Minn., and was attending high school there when war broke out Dec. 7, 1941.

He went to boot camp in San Diego and then to Camp Pendleton, where he joined the 24th regiment of the 4th Marines.

"We were there for a while," he said. "We were the only Marine division to go from the States right into combat."

Into the maelstrom would be more like it. According to Sorenson's certificate, his unit landed on Namur Island in Kwajalein Atoll on Feb. 1, 1944.

During a Japanese counterattack, Sorenson and five other Marines were in a shell hole when a Japanese grenade landed in their midst.

"I was in combat for about 24 hours," he said. "I was on the first wave that went in and moved across the island. It was continuous fighting for a long time."

Sorenson threw himself on the grenade and took the full force of the blast.

"Of the 27 Marines that did it in the entire war, only three survived," he said.

As it was, Sorenson was in the hospital for nine months after taking the grenade.

"They put me on limited duty and sent me on a war bond drive," he said. "I was very lucky."

Sorenson survived and ended up returning to the Marine Corps in 1950 to fight in Korea. He stayed in until 1955, when he went to work for the Veterans Administration.

He and his wife, Mili, have lived in Reno for 25 years after Sorenson retired. They have five children and seven grandchildren.

Sorenson has been collecting military helmets for 35 years. His favorite is from the Prussian guard de corps, the personal escort of the Kaiser from World War I.

"I have some spiked helmets and some from France and Russia," he said. "And some from the U.S. Marine Corps."

This year's Nevada Day Parade is Nov. 1.

Memorial Day not only a day off

by Regina Purcell, Nevada Appeal News Service

Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, is a day of remembrance for those who have died in our nation's military services.

Most Americans today have forgotten the meaning and traditions of Memorial Day, which is celebrated in the United States today.

"This year is incredibly different. I have different feelings," said Mary Merry, 46, wife of Gardnerville resident and U.S. Marine Corps Reservist Dr. Thom Merry, 52.

Dr. Merry is a commander and flight surgeon, currently serving in the Iraq War.

Thom Merry predicted earlier this year, just before he was deployed, that "This is going to be a marathon. We're going to have hard days in what's ahead of us."

Although e-mails have been coming, telephone calls are few and far between. Mrs. Merry said her husband called Thursday for their 21st wedding anniversary from Aaliyah, Iraq. He is scheduled to relocate to Kuwait City and head up a U.S. Marine Corps expedition unit as head surgeon.

Merry will be in charge of 7,000 Marine Corps personnel and 5,000 others from the U.S. and its allies. Merry said her husband was distraught over the loss of Marines in a helicopter accident this week, but overall, his spirits were good.

"He hasn't actually had a shower (since he left), but he just got a camping shower from a Marine who left," she said. "He said the shower has been heaven.

"Things are going well, but they are in 102-degree heat, and the troops are losing weight because they can't eat in the heat."

Merry said her husband hasn't received any mail -- although packages have been sent. She said they move around a lot and not hearing from home depresses troops.

"They are waiting for the (allies) to come and relieve him in July, but more than likely, it will be August before he comes home," Merry said.

To send letters to Dr. Merry write to: Commander Thom Merry, #1 MEBCE Surgeon, UIC 43601, Box 0001, FPO, AP 96613.

Longtime Carson Valley senator, now retired, Lawrence (Jake) Jacobsen is a World War II and Pearl Harbor survivor. Jacobsen served in the U.S. Navy, in 15 major engagements during the war.

"Memorial Day means an awful lot," he said. "A lot of my friends gave their lives for our freedom.

"Freedom becomes more priceless as days go by," he said. "We take it for granted when it could all be over so quickly."

On Friday, Jacobsen was joined by students from daughter-in-law Robbi Jacobsen's Gardnerville Elementary School class to place flags on veterans' graves at the Gardnerville Cemetery.

Over the years, Jacobsen has placed 500 flags each year on veterans' graves throughout Douglas County and in cemeteries in Northern Nevada to mark the observance.

Jacobsen is also the guest speaker at the Memorial Day Ceremony at 11 a.m. Monday, at the Northern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Fernley, hosted by the Veterans Memorial Cemetery Support Group Inc.

Many Douglas County veterans will participate in that ceremony as none is planned in Carson Valley this year.

Ron Kruse, chairman of the Indian Hills General Improvement District and 21-year veteran of the U.S. Navy, who served in the Korea and Vietnam wars, works tirelessly for veterans' issues in the Nevada Legislature, such as getting funding for future and existing veteran's cemeteries.

He said there are more than 260,000 veterans living in Nevada.

"Memorial Day is a big event," he said. "It is a time to reflect on memories of those who are gone, those who served and those who are still here."

Kruse is convinced there are still American prisoners of war being held as a result of the Vietnam War.

"There is no doubt in my mind," he said. "It is important we remember them, and take steps to finding them and bringing them back home."

Pam Martin, 56, of the Gardnerville Ranchos is the widow of Robert Anderson, who died in 1968 in the DMZ at age 23 during his second tour as a Marine in Vietnam in 1968.

Three days after he left, Martin discovered she was pregnant. Her son Robert J. Anderson, 34, was born four months after his father was killed.

"Memorial Day means we remember all the things the United States has gone through for our freedom," Martin said," and how proud we are of all our military people."

Memorial Day Ceremonies

-- Memorial Day ceremonies will be performed today by the Marine corps League and the Carson High School Naval JROTC color guard, bugler and rifle squad. Times are as follows: 10 a.m. at Virginia City Cemetery; 11 a.m. at Dayton Cemetery; noon at Carson City Lone Mountain Cemetery and 1 p.m. at Carson City Stewart Indian Cemetery.

-- A second ceremony by the Nevada Air National Guard and the grand opening of the cemetery's new offices will be at 1 p.m. at Lone Mountain Cemetery.

-- Memorial Day Ceremonies begin at 11 a.m. Monday, at the Northern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Fernley, hosted by the Veterans Memorial Cemetery Support Group Inc. Many Douglas County veterans will participate in that ceremony as none is planned in Carson Valley this year.

-- The 10th annual Reflections Banquet from the Vietnam Veterans of America, Chapter 388 in Carson City, begins at 6 p.m., Saturday, May 31 at the Carson Nugget. Lt. Thomas R. Norris, a congressional medal of honor winner, is the guest speaker. Tickets are $30. For information, call Terry at 849-9544.


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Sign in to comment