In April 2016, I suggested to the Executive Board of Camarillo Post 741 that we request the City of Camarillo, Calif., to list the names of all servicemembers who were KIA or MIA from Camarillo on the back of a Veterans Memorial in one of our city parks. The board agreed it was something the post should support. One of the board members, Dan Crow, was already on a Citizens Committee established to recognize Vietnam veterans. He agreed to bring it up to the city and I began searching for names.
Finding information about casualties proved to be confusing and contradictory. I found names in different databases, both government and private, that were dissimilar to say the least. I found information rather easily regarding Vietnam and WWII casualties, but Korean War casualties were not as easy to find. I even found a book online that listed by name, and in most cases a picture, WWI casualties. No such material was available for Korea.
I am by no means computer-savvy, but during my search, I was directed to a privately run Korean War website. While searching that database, I came across the name of Victor Galvan Corona, a Camarillo resident who had been missing in action since July 22, 1952. Victor was the only Camarillo resident I located that was still MIA. In fact, at that time, he was the only Camarillo resident I could find listed as either MIA or KIA from the Korean War.
I began researching local newspaper articles from the Korean War years to see if I could find any information about Victor. There was no mention of his name in the local paper, although I did locate 2 other servicemembers from Camarillo who were KIA, Henry Ascencio and Hector Rodriguez. I could not understand why there wasn’t an article about Victor’s status.
I began to piece together Victor’s story from records I obtained and from meeting with and becoming friends with his nephew, Carlos Corona. This was the beginning of a search that finally brought Victor home, at least in spirit.
Victor Corona was born in Montana on July 28, 1930. His family moved often, as they were migrant farm workers. He was one of 13 siblings and he spent part of his childhood in Mexico, his parent’s home country. Eventually, his family moved to Ventura County, Calif., and settled in the small town of Camarillo. Victor attended Oxnard High School and because his family moved so much, he was 21 when he graduated. Victor was an outstanding baseball player, playing semi-pro ball. Carlos said Victor was offered a minor league contract with the Yankees, but he had already enlisted in the Air Force. He agreed to take up that offer after his service.
After attending basic training, Victor was assigned to gunnery school in Colorado. He was assigned as a gunner on a B-26C light bomber. Carlos recalls his last memory of his Uncle Victor was on a visit he and his family took to Colorado. Victor showed a young Carlos the planes, which caused Carlos to tell his uncle that he was going to be a pilot. Victor told him he would be back to help him become a pilot. Unfortunately, Victor would never return.
Victor shipped out to Korea with his squadron in May 1952. He was assigned to the 34th Bombing Squadron, 17th Bomb Wing. His squadron flew out of Pusan East, from K-9 Air Base. On July 22, 1952, Victor and his three fellow crewmen, Capt. Robert Cherry, 2nd Lt. Frank Loughery and A2C Donald Hart, left on a night bombing mission. The circumstances of that mission are described below from an Air Force report on Victor’s MIA status.
“On 22 July, 1952 at 21:25 (Korea time), A1C Corona departed Pusan East (K-9) Air Base aboard an B-26C Invader, tail number 44-35887A using the call sign of “Richman 88.” The Crew included two gunners, a pilot and navigator. The briefed mission was a night interdiction operation with the primary targeting the crossroads near Changyon, map reference (MR) XC 8335. The weather in the area was scattered clouds with restricted visibility due to haze and ground fog.
Richman 88 arrived at the pre-briefed target initial point without incident. At 23:05, the pilot of another 34th Bombardment Squadron B-26 (call sign Richman 82) in the area requested the location of Capt. Cherry’s aircraft and he responded, “one minute from drop.” A moment later the crew of Richman 82 observed the bombs exploding on target and radioed Richman 88 with the results. Richman 88 made a final radio message at 23:11 acknowledging the report and checking out of the target area. At that time, there was no indication of difficulty and no reported enemy fire in the target area.”
Victor’s plane failed to return to his base, and a search of other bases his plane may have diverted to were negative. Richman 88 and its crew were never heard from again.
The fact that Victor’s disappearance was never mentioned in the local paper at the time was unusual. Camarillo was a small town in 1952 and had a weekly paper. Why his MIA status was never published I can’t say, since that same paper had articles and pictures in every edition about the war.
I felt something had to be done to recognize this long-missing resident of our city. We, like all posts, have a POW/MIA Recognition Table in our post hall. Ours was in need of an upgrade. I asked the E-Board if I could build a nicer platform and dedicate our POW/MIA to Victor, and of course they agreed.
A fellow Legionnaire named Mike Peach, my friend Alan Campbell and I worked to build the display. Mike works as a carpenter and visualized the display in his head. He told me what to get and how it was going to be built. I would consider Mike a master craftsman as compared to me, unskilled labor. Alan knew how to apply the right type of finish, which was the final touch. We built the display in sections. Once it was completed, we assembled it at the post.
On Memorial Day, we dedicated the new display to Victor with about 30 of his relatives in attendance. The Channel Islands Air National Guard, in a very moving ceremony, formally presented Armando Lopez, the oldest living relative present, with a flag. A Los Angeles-based TV station did a story on the ceremony. Additionally, as a result of stories in several newspapers, high school friends of Victor contacted the post, including John Contreras, who joined the Air Force with Victor and went to basic training with him. However, that’s not the end of the story.
A woman from Bakersfield, Anna Corona Filber, was visiting her parents on Memorial Day weekend. She saw the article in the paper along with a picture of Victor. This woman, in her 50s, recalled seeing that picture as a teenage girl and had asked her mother about it. Her mother only said that it was a family member killed in the war and the subject was never brought up again. Anna showed her mother the picture in the paper. Anna’s mother was shocked to see Victor’s picture in the paper. She had lost contact with much of the Corona family. A call to the post by Anna was relayed to me. I notified Carlos and that part of the family is back in contact.
In November, our post hall was rented for a baby shower. After the party, an older gentleman approached me and asked about the display. I told him about Victor and he said his wife’s maiden name was Corona and she was from Oxnard. I spoke to his wife, Isabel, about Victor and initially I did not think there was any connection. We continued to talk, and I began to recognize names and places I had heard Carlos talk about. I called Carlos, put the two of them on the phone, and another relative who had been out of contact with the family was brought back to the fold.
Out of this tragic story of a missing airman, a family continues to be brought back together and the memories of Victor are renewed.
Welcome home, Uncle Victor.
Bob Garcia, Camarillo Post 741
Additional info: KCAL 9 in LA has the story in its video archives. Go to their website, search for Victor Corona to locate the video. The Camarillo Acorn and the Ventura Star newspapers also ran stories.