Veteran remembered for dry humor, community support

Dan Huston, a Laguna Beach resident, community advocate and World War II veteran, has died. He was 90.

As an active member of the Freedom Committee of Orange County, a group of veterans from World War II and the Korean and Vietnam wars, Huston was a frequent and lively speaker at Laguna and Newport-Mesa Unified schools and community events.

He died at Mission Hospital in Laguna Beach on March 15, eight days shy of his 91st birthday and hours before he was scheduled to share his war experiences with students at Corona del Mar high school.

"When he spoke, his whole idea was [to communicate] the cost of freedom," said Jack Hammett, chairman of the Freedom Committee and a former World War II Navy corpsman. "Freedom was not free; it was expensive with the cost of lives."

At Compton Community College, Huston received his civilian pilot training and enlisted in the Naval Air Corps in 1941. At the Naval Air Station in Corpus Christi, Texas, Huston earned his aviator wings and was assigned to the USS Colorado in the Pacific.

Huston earned 10 Battle Stars, two Air Medals and played a valuable role in many sea skirmishes, including the 1943 sinking of a Japanese submarine, the I-35.

"I saw the submarine suddenly burst out of the sea like a broaching whale," Huston wrote in an October 1999 issue of Sea Classics magazine. "Yelling a 'Tally Ho,' I immediately dove to drop my depth charges before the submarine could crash dive ... Years later, I learned that I'd helped to sink the 2,198-ton I-35; that it was the Frazier which rammed and sent her to the bottom with no survivors."

Huston maintained a passionate sense of patriotism throughout his life, said daughter Hillary Gorrie.

"If we were ever at a live sporting event and someone was singing the 'Star Spangled Banner,' he would get misty-eyed," she said. "And without fail, if there was a military fly-by, he would cry."

While the former Navy lieutenant's war stories were numerous and circulated widely between family and friends, he may be best remembered for his dry humor and mischievous pranks.

"I believe that on Mom and Dad's very first date, he took her to a college basketball game and before it started, he managed to get a hold of the ball and he hid it," daughter Haven Tieck said with a laugh.

Huston was married to his wife, Mary Lou, for 67 years until her death in December.

She was a frequent target for his well-intentioned jokes, especially on her birthdays. Huston once arranged for the Laguna Beach High School marching band to show up at her work and play to her. He also had friends impersonate celebrities over the phone, Tieck said.

Huston, a 52-year Laguna Beach resident, was also involved in the community. With a love of sports that began when he was captain of his college football team, he later was a Little League coach. He also was a member of the Laguna Optimist Club and a supporter of the Pageant of the Masters.

City leaders and local newspapers, including the Coastline Pilot, sister paper to the Daily Pilot, were frequent recipients of Huston's commentaries and criticisms.

"As self-appointed city curmudgeon, I feel it is my duty to keep our community aware of what those rascals at City Hall are doing, or not doing," Huston wrote in a Coastline Pilot letter published June 21, 2002.

In 2004, he ran a unsuccessful bid for the Laguna Beach City Council as a write-in candidate on a platform that included getting a parking structure for downtown.

Huston is survived by his brother Robert Huston, daughters Hillary Gorrie and Haven Tieck, three grandchildren and two great-granddaughters. He was proceeded in death by his sister Helen Bertrend, daughter Holly Ott and wife Mary Lou Huston.

The family is organizing a private service for a future date.

"He was just fun — a real great guy and a friend to everybody, it seemed," Gorrie said. "He would talk your arm off; he wanted to know everything about you."

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