Malibu’s veterans in the making

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Malibu resident Katie Spangle holds a photo of her son Robert Jennings Spangle, who enlisted with the Marines soon after graduation from Malibu High last year. He will deploy to the Middle East early next year. Photo by Dana Fineman / TMT

Malibu parents see new growth, maturity with their children’s enlistment in the military. Despite the risks of war, the new enlistees say they look forward to serving.

By Melonie Magruder / Special to The Malibu Times

The United States Department of Veterans Affairs estimates there are currently more than 24 million veterans of U.S. wars, including World Wars I and II, the Korean conflict, Vietnam, the Gulf wars and peacetime service.

Of those millions, Malibu has sent some of its own, including Lt. Leon Cooper, who served in the Navy in World War II and who was profiled in The Malibu Times earlier this year, and 2nd Lt. Jim Cowan, a Hawaiian teen who enlisted in the Marines the day after Pearl Harbor, served through the Korean War, earning the Silver Star and two Purple Hearts, and whose family landscaping business trucks are still seen in Malibu today.

Malibu has also lost residents to war, including Capt. Albert Kaspaul, killed in action in Vietnam, and Sgt. Robert Ayres III, killed in an ambush in Iraq last year.

And this city includes veterans who were prisoners of war.

Lt. Col. Tom Hanton, whose mother, Kay, still lives in Malibu West, was shot down in Vietnam, flying the same combat missions that erstwhile presidential candidate John McCain did. Hanton was captured and housed in the infamous Hanoi Hilton for nine months before release at the end of the war, earning the Bronze Star and several awards for successful combat missions. He remembers his POW experiences vividly.

“I was disappointed I couldn’t do my job while in prison,” Hanton said. “I flew 135 missions and ended up subjected to constant Tokyo Rose-type propaganda all day as a POW. We learned to communicate with other guys by hand signals and tapping something similar to Morse code.”

When Hanton returned to the States, he re-upped and continued to fly another eight years, then worked staff assignments at the Pentagon up through Desert Storm in 1991.

“I found the Air Force to be a very exciting and rewarding career,” Hanton said. “I’d do it again.”

Veterans to come

And Malibu now has a current crop of veterans-in-the-making.

Several recent Malibu High School students enlisted soon after graduation, many of them compelled to join the military after being deeply impacted by the events of 9/11, and Malibu parents have found themselves with suddenly matured children facing sobering, immediate futures.

Robert Jennings Spangle (MHS class 2007) enlisted with the Marines September of last year, specializing in reconnaissance. He is currently training overseas and will deploy to the Middle East early next year.

“I couldn’t ask for a better team,” Lance Cpl. Spangle wrote in an e-mail to The Malibu Times. “It’s an honor to be serving with them and in Afghanistan, where this fight started. The training is constantly getting harder-this job requires as much brains as it does strength.”

Spangle’s mother, Katie Spangle, said she couldn’t be prouder.

“I come from an artistic, pacifist family, so the military is the last thing I wanted for [him],” she said. “But now he has this new maturity. I absolutely support him.”

Other Malibu parents voiced the same opinion of their sons’ emerging growth. Derek Myers (MHS 2007) joined the Navy right after graduation, following in the military footsteps of his father, Jim, who served in Vietnam.

Jim said he was not surprised his son enlisted and that Derek’s military training as Master at Arms would prepare him for a career upon his return home, much as Anna Milliken’s son Greg’s (MHS 2005) training as a helicopter mechanic would offer future opportunities.

“Greg’s in the best physical shape of his life,” she said. “And there’s a real strong bond with the Marines. They have a real sense of purpose and are committed to something bigger than themselves.”

Commitment to a larger purpose spurred Austin Embleton (MHS 2003) to help save homes in the Corral Canyon fire (subsequently receiving a Dolphin Award). He went into the Marine Reserves right after 9/11 and his unit will deploy to Ramadi [in central Iraq] next spring.

Willy Forsyth (MHS 007), Chris Purucker (MHS 2007) and Nathan Ball (MHS 2008) all enlisted in the Air Force or Marines within the past year, committing themselves to duties beyond what their parents expected for them so soon in life.

“Willy is just so proud of his country,” Bill Forsyth, pastor of Calvary Chapel Malibu, said. “His current training is preparing him for a number of heavy rescue duties, from diving to paramedic.”

Purucker, who will most likely deploy next summer, said that entering the Marines was “the proudest day” of his life.

“There is a camaraderie with Marines, like living in a big family,” he said.

Whereas no parent is anxious to see a son or daughter transfer to a war zone, Jennings Spangle was quick to mention that, “Any Marine, soldier, sailor or airman will tell you that home is everything.”

Mark and Karen Ball’s son, Nathan (MHS 2008), left for Marine boot camp in San Diego last week. Mark said that for the next three months, Nathan is permitted to communicate with his family only by U.S. mail and a five-minute phone call on Christmas Day.

“We are so proud of our son and honored that you would include him in your profile, as he begins his service to his country,” Mark wrote in an e-mail to The Malibu Times.

While these former Malibu High School students prepare for war, residents here try to help the effort in any way they can. Cindy Linke operates the local chapter of Operation Interdependence, which puts together care packages for troops on the front line.

“We have a group working later this month to prepare the packages and we welcome any donations and help we can get,” Linke said.

Linke specified the need for travel sizes of shampoo, body lotion, toothpaste, disposable razors, shaving cream, baby wipes, Chapstick, beef jerky, gum and sunscreen. Apparently, troops also love powdered Crystal Light and cocoa to mask the taste of local drinking water.

Operation Interdependence will be working Thursday, Nov. 20, from 9 a.m. till noon, assembling care packages. More information can be obtained by calling Cindy Linke at 310.457.4510.