One returned; one did not
Courtesy of the Madera County Historical Society
Al Barsotti is shown here when he was Mayor of Madera. In 1953, Barsotti gave a returning Korean POW the keys to the city.
The young, petite, dark haired woman whose eyes bore the stains of lots of tears stood on the edge of the crowd at the Armory on Yosemite Avenue. Dressed in the white uniform she wore as an employee of a local dry cleaning establishment, she watched the preparations for honoring the returning prisoner of war. Her heart raced with a glimmer of hope. Perhaps he could tell her something. Maybe he knew.
She had taken off from work to try to meet Private First Class Carl Doran, who was coming home after spending three years in a North Korean prisoner of war camp.
The date was Aug. 31, 1953, and the Mayor of Madera along with the City Council and the Madera County Board of Supervisors had all turned out that Monday to honor Private Doran. Music was playing, the colors were paraded, honors bestowed, and the cameras of newsmen photographed the youthful North Fork hero and his happy family.
It was a much-deserved tribute to the young soldier, but one interlude that was not photographed — possibly the most dramatic of the day — centered around Mrs. Rita Alaniz. She carried a heavy burden of grief. Her husband had been missing in action since November 1950, the same month that Private Doran was captured.
Rita had been waiting at the Armory long before the flags were unfurled and the officials arrived, in order to meet the returning soldier. In her hand she clutched her last letter from her husband along with his photograph.
At last the convertible in which Doran would ride in the parade down Yosemite Avenue arrived, and Rita rushed to the car to greet him. She showed him her precious mementos in hopes Doran had seen her husband. She told him his name.
Private Doran took the letter and photograph of Robert Alaniz, Rita’s husband. He glanced at the letter and looked long at the photograph, then he turned to Rita. Slowly he shook his head.
“I don’t remember anyone like that, Ma’am,” he said. “I’m sorry.”
Rita didn’t stay to see the colorful parade; she went back to her job. She had two children to raise, and one was a little three-year-old girl that her husband had never seen. She was born 3 days after her father shipped out for Korea.
Meanwhile, the city went on with the celebration of Private Doran’s homecoming. Folks had been all abuzz at his release, and the county’s leaders arranged to welcome him home with as much fanfare as they could muster.
Doran had landed in San Francisco the previous Saturday where he was met by his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Owen Doran, and his six-year old sister Carol. They brought him to Madera, where William Venturi, the veteran’s administrative officer, was hurriedly putting together a proper hometown welcome with only 48 hours notice.
“We want to show this young fellow that we people at home appreciate what he and the rest of our boys over there have been doing for us,” Venturi said.
The 21-year-old private had enlisted in the Army in February 1950, and was taken prisoner nine months later. Now he was back home.
Doran was greeted at the Armory by Venturi and James Haney, Commander of the Madera Veterans of Foreign Wars. The veteran was then driven down mainstreet to City Hall where he received the keys to the city by Mayor Al Barsotti.
The was no doubt that Madera was grateful to Private First Class Carl Doran. Its citizens threw themselves into a community-wide expression of thanksgiving at his safe return.
Neither can there be any doubt that Doran, as he rode up Yosemite Avenue, reflected on the young lady he had just met and the husband that never came back.
The story of American servicemen in Korea and in all of our nation’s wars is one of heroism in every case. Some came back whole. Some came back maimed. Some miraculously returned after being held prisoner, and some never came back at all.
Every November we honor all Americans who put on a uniform so that we can live in freedom. Certainly the sacrifices of Carl Doran and Robert Alaniz need to be remembered.