BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) – Dozens of names are etched in the granite at the World War II Memorial in Bakersfield’s Jastro Park and every one of those names, living and deceased, is a story.
Bud Medlin is one of those stories. His Pacific Theater experience involves both the conclusion of the conflict with Japan and, perhaps more significantly, the Cold War that developed even before the Articles of Surrender were signed. He was there for the first post-war dance that paired the U.S. with the Soviet Union.
The Russians had watched the atomic bombs level Hiroshima and Nagasaki, compelling the Japanese to concede. But then on July 1, 1946, the U.S. tested a nuclear weapon – the equivalent of 23 kilotons of dynamite – at Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands. Medlin, 18 years old, was there.
The Soviets protested, demanding that the U.S. disarm its nuclear arsenal in order to ensure world peace. But the U.S. tested nuclear devices at and near Bikini Atoll 22 more times over the next decade.
Medlin, being a kid, didn’t think about the geopolitical ramifications. In fact, though he grasped the awful implications of the destruction he witnessed from the deck of a merchant ship 12 miles from the island, the sight of the explosion, particularly the second from an underwater device planted just off the shore, stirred his imagination.
“They wanted to see the exact effect (of a nuclear bomb),” Medlin said. “So they had it planted there right in the water. Of course, we were out 12 miles. And that was the most beautiful sight I ever seen in my life – streams of color and it was going into the mushroom. I never seen so many colors in my life.”
Now his name joins those etched in granite at the Kern County World War II Memorial honoring those who served between September 1940 and July 1947. More than 40 are expected to attend the unveiling at Jastro Park.
Also etched in granite at the new Bakersfield landmark are the names of the 690 warfighters who died in the service of their country, among the estimated 10,000 from Kern County who served during World War II.
Medlin, a long-retired machinist from Missouri about to turn 95, will be there, as well as his nephew George Medlin of Frazier Park, who witnessed the flag-raising on Mount Suribachi on the island of Iwo Jima and – at 97, is two years older than his uncle.
Dozens of names, dozens of stories, surround the centerpiece bronze sculpted by Ben Victor at the World War II Memorial in Jastro Park.