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December 6, 2022

WWII memories linger

On Dec. 7, 1941, everything changed in America. That Sunday morning, the Imperial Japanese Navy attacked the U.S Navy at Pearl Harbor, killing over 2,000 and dealing the United States a stunning blow. At that moment the United States was drawn into WWII, and Gilroyan Frederick “Bud” Collom was there.

Collum, born in 1919 in Nebraska, was a Navy seaman at the time of the attack, working as a mechanic on a PBY-5 seaplane at a U.S. Navy airstrip at Kaneohe Bay when Japanese pilots attacked the base, destroying airplanes, buildings and equipment. Collom told the Dispatch several years before his death in 2009 about that harrowing day, when he helped feed ammo to a machine gun firing at incoming Japanese fighters. He would spend the next four years in the Pacific, including the battles of Coral Bay and Midway. The wartime stint became a career in the Navy that spanned from WWII to Korea, and into the Vietnam War.

“When a guy joins, his dream becomes the day he gets out,” Collom said in a 2001 interview with the Gilroy Dispatch. Collom became a pilot in 1947, and in his career, the Navy awarded him awarded National Defense Service Award (with one Bronze Star), an Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal, a Vietnam Service Medal (with three Bronze Stars), among various other honors.

Collom retired from the Navy in 1968 as a lieutenant commander after being in charge of a C-130 cargo plane that flew missions in Vietnam. After that, Collom worked as an instructor for Two Genes Aviation at the San Martin Airport.

In 1989 Bud met his wife Mary Ann, a retired obstetrics nurse, who has served as a president of the Gilroy American Legion Women’s Auxiliary ever since. Together Bud and Mary Ann devoted countless hours to their four daughters, the American Legion and frequent trips to Hawaii.

Mary Ann Collum recalled the day at their home when Bud died, Jan. 28, 2009. “He asked me, ‘Sport’–he called me Sport–‘are you going to be OK?’” Mary Ann said. “I said, ‘Sure, I’ll be alright.’ He turned his head slightly, and he died.”

She continues to stay deeply involved in the American Legion Women’s Auxiliary, helping to organize fundraising dinners, like the Dec. 1 tamale and cookie sale at Veterans Memorial Building of Gilroy, and distributing thousands of red paper poppies on Veterans Day.

Together with veterans and non-veterans alike, Mary Ann was at Sunday’s Veterans Day remembrance service at the Veterans Memorial building on Sixth Street.

Toward the end of the ceremony, Gilroy Mayor Rolan Velasco announced that he would propose that the Gilroy City Council rename First Street to Veterans Boulevard upon completion of repairs, and after approval from CalTrans.

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