CARLSBAD — Two generations reunited last week — three years after their first introductions.
World War II veteran Howard Dungan, 95, of Spring Valley attended the promotion ceremony on Thursday at Aviara Oaks Middle School as the eighth-graders move into high school.
Dungan first met with the kids when they were in fifth grade, during a letter writing campaign the students took part in for veterans participating in the Honor Flights.
After he returned from Washington, D.C., Dungan decided to make the short trip to Carlsbad to speak with the students in Joanne Haeussinger’s fifth grade class.
“We had all these letters from the kids … so I decided to see if I could talk to them,” Dungan said. “They wrote another batch of ‘thank yous’ and I really appreciated it. I saw what a wonderful class it is.”
The day before the ceremony, the veteran B-25 pilot spun yarns about his time in the service, glossing over the scary details of his missions.
Instead, he spoke about the lighter times and even crossing paths with legendary baseball player Joe DiMaggio.
During his visit the day before, Dungan also presented one student, Dharma Dorazio, with a lei from Hawaii. Dorazio gave Dungan a pint-sized teddy bear three years ago and dubbed him “her bear buddy.” The bear sits atop the rear-view mirror in his RV.
Yet another gift from Dungan brought Haeussinger to tears.
The former pilot gave the veteran educator his flight wings he wore during the war, which also has his wife’s name engraved on the back. “It was really incredible to me that somebody that I didn’t know all that well would leave me with a personal gift,” Haeussinger said. “It is something I will cherish for the rest of my life.”
But it was on a trip to remember his best friend that Dungan remembered the gesture of the Dorazio. He was in Peral Harbor to honor a friend who was killed in the Dec. 7, 1941 attack by the Japanese and entombed in the USS Arizona. “I felt attached to these kids,” Dungan added. “They must have pretty good families because they are pretty good kids.”
Despite his loss, Dungan returned from war, married his high school sweatheart and settled in Spring Valley.
He raised a family and taught for 36 years at Roosevelt Middle School in San Diego.
But last week, Dungan was excited to see how the students have grown, asked them what their plans were and joked how he hopes to be around for their high school graduations.
“It was a really good day and he enjoyed it,” Haeussinger said. “All of them (the students) remembered him. It was very meaningful for him.”
Steve Puterski covers Carlsbad and Vista. For tips or story ideas, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @StevePuterski.