Local archivist focuses on the soldiers of WWII
WATSONVILLE — A teenage soldier, in his first battle on the island of Saipan facing a Japanese Banzai charge, stood his ground so his friends could reach safety.
Another soldier organized the Blue Angels, the U.S. Navy’s elite flying team, and set the standards for the pilots who thrill millions each year.
But what ties them to each other is the one thing Greg Gardner is hoping to highlight: they are part of Santa Cruz County history.
“As time passes we lose sight of the impact local people have had,” Gardner said. “Can you imagine a mother walking down the street wondering if that person was saved by her boy?”
This line of thought has driven the local historian to open up a series of projects. He has begun to collect the stories and information of individuals who earned Medals for Valor and the Gold Star Honor Roll for World War II, putting them into easy-to-use lists.
“For example, the Gold Star Honor Roll, those individuals who died in the service of their country, most of their stories are hidden away deep within the Santa Cruz Public Library website,” he said. “These are stories written by local historian Robert Nelson. The honor roll list includes links to these stories so people can learn about these men who left a legacy for us.”
Ray Voris, who went to school in Aptos, is one such person. He was a Navy Air Ace, and fought during the Marianas Turkey Shoot but he also was the one who organized the Blue Angels. James Jenkins and his mother moved to Santa Cruz County in 1943, and after helping his mother get settled he enlisted in the U.S. Marines. He was 17, and to enlist his mother had to sign a waiver.
“Can you imagine a mother whose baby boy comes to them and asks to fight for their country? What do you say?” Gardner asked.
Jenkins went on to save the life of his friends.
Gardner himself is no stranger to the county. He was born in San Jose, making frequent trips to Santa Cruz to visit his brother and to go camping at Henry Cowell State Park and New Brighton Beach. He enlisted and joined the Air Force, then returned to Santa Cruz in 2009. There, he studied to be an archivist.
“One of my passions is to keep our past alive so we know where we have been so we have an idea where we are going,” he said. “I am a veteran so the stories on the soldiers is personal. I want to try to keep their contributions, their stories, their legacy alive.”
But, his work is far from being over.
“There is no single list of all those individuals awarded medals for valor. So I am still collecting information on individuals with connections to Santa Cruz County,” he said.
In addition to going to school he interned at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History, graduating in 2013. At the end of the day, he said it is the personal stories of individuals that inspire him.
“It is not just soldiers, I have other projects I have or I am working on,” Gardner said. “On the Santa Cruz MAH Online History Journal I have an article on the Influenza Epidemic of 1918 in which I tried to include stories on what locals were going through. Two other projects I am working on are the Civilian Conservation Corps and the Prohibition Era again trying to focus on the individual stories.”