Hundreds of people attended a Memorial Day ceremony in McCambridge Park on Monday, with one former Burbank resident, the late Wilber R. "Web" Raduenz, receiving a tribute for his "unshakable integrity" as being among the best of the Greatest Generation.
The ceremony's guest speaker, attorney Correy Avner, recalled many stories about Raduenz from when they prevailed in a five-year legal battle in the 1980s.
"Web Raduenz was 100% about right and wrong, and his faith in that was rock solid," Avner said. "Yet, he never sermonized about that or anything else."
In 1984, as a young lawyer, Avner was asked to handle a case where Raduenz alleged a "very large and powerful company" had permanently wronged him. Avner said he felt he was in over his head taking on the case, yet could not help but sense that this honorable man, a first lieutenant in the 101 Airborne Screaming Eagles in World War II, was surely fighting for justice.
At age 64, Raduenz would not roll over and go away from being wronged by a company that tried to cancel healthcare for him and his wife of more than 40 years, who at the time was suffering from an advanced stage of cancer, Avner said.
"Little did I know then that this same man had fought so extraordinarily hard and valiantly for our nation," he added.
During the five years of working the case — during the first two years the company tried everything to end the lawsuit in court — Avner would visit Raduenz's home on Griffith Park Drive, where he had lived for more than 50 years. Avner and Raduenz traveled the country to take witness depositions, and the two would share hotel rooms to save on costs.
One time when hurriedly dressing for the first day of depositions, Avner was surprised to see at least five bullet scars on Raduenz's body. It was then Raduenz opened up a little about his time seeing heavy combat during World War II, and he had been wounded.
"When I asked him for some detail, he was reluctant to speak about that, and wondered aloud what that had to do with the case," Avner said. "You see, this legal action commenced for him at age 65, was the first legal action he'd ever been involved in. He offered that those who have to talk about their heavy combat experience typically didn't experience that, so I explained to him that a jury is going to have to decide who has integrity and who does not, and that I needed to be able to paint the picture of who he really is. That's when Web began to fill me in."
After the depositions, Avner saw Raduenz's three Bronze Stars with oak leaf clusters, honors rarely given back then. Bronze stars were for exceptional valor and oak leaf clusters signified the person had sustained serious combat wounds. Along with the medals contained in a cigar box in the bottom drawer of a dresser closet in Raduenz's spare bedroom, Avner saw written commendations stored away.
"'Understated' doesn't even begin to describe how low-key and attention- and praise-avoiding Web Raduenz was," Avner said.
Raduenz accomplished crucial missions while leading the Screaming Eagles, including their parachuting behind swarming Nazi lines just hours before D-Day and taking by lethal force and holding multiple exit corridors for U.S. troops landing on Utah Beach.
"They also took out bridges crucial to Nazi troop counter-attack, while seizing and holding another bridge crucial to our troops' survival and advancement," Avner said.
Through it all, the battles in World War II and the five-year legal war waged by Avner, Raduenz said he never showed any anger or resentment. Avner also called Raduenz "ethnic and religious color blind" when it came to others.
"He explained having seen Jewish chaplains giving last rights in Latin to dying Catholic soldiers, Catholic chaplains doing so in Hebrew for dying Jewish soldiers, and the like, convincing him that we all had the same God," Avner said.
The case with Raduenz had many six-month stretches of 15- to 18-hour days, and it nearly financially broke Avner, who was just starting his own law practice. The burden impacted Avner's relationship with his wife and their early family life, he said.
"Even so, I, to this day, am more proud for having represented Web, than for any other lawyering that I've done in now approaching 40 years," Avner said.
During the Ceremony of the Rose at the event, local Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts placed roses on approximately 288 fallen Burbank soldiers' names on the war memorial in McCambridge Park, from all five military branches.
The Burbank Community Band played the "Armed Forced Medley" as well as "Taps." Lt. Col David J. Worley led the POW/MIA Table Ceremony with the Crescenta Valley High School Air Force Junior ROTC Honor Guard.
Burbank Mayor Will Rogers, U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank), state Sen. Anthony Portantino (D-La Cañada Flintridge), Assemblywoman Laura Friedman (D-Glendale) and state Sen. Robert Hertzberg (D-Los Angeles) all addressed those who attended the Memorial Day ceremony.
"We have a responsibility to remember the fallen, as well as their families and the wounded," Portantino said. "The most poignant part of any memorial wall is the blank spaces that are left for future casualties."