Robert David Azadian, World War II veteran, defense-industry worker, and lifetime southern California resident, died on December 2, 2015. He was 91.
Dave, as he was known, was born on the family kitchen table in Los Angeles, California on October 13, 1924 to David George Azadian and Anny Milly Azadian. Dave’s father immigrated with his family to the United States from Adana, Turkey in 1897. Settling in Boston, Massachusetts, Dave’s father became a medical doctor and was working in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania when he met Anna, a nurse, who had immigrated from Bardejov, Slovakia. They married and moved west, ultimately settling in Los Angeles where they raised Dave and his older siblings, George and Betty.
In 1936, Dave’s father purchased a house on South Hill Street in Los Angeles-just a ten-minute drive to his downtown office where he had opened a private practice a few years prior. Located near the University of Southern California (USC) campus and the Los Angeles Coliseum, the family would park cars on their front law during football games. As a young boy, Dave’s favorite game was “Here we Go ‘Round the Mulberry Bush” and he spent countless hours with his brother and sister at movie theaters on the weekends, riding the streetcar to the beach, on camping trips to Yosemite, and at gatherings of the Sokols-an American Czech/Moravian/Slovak social, gymnastic, and educational organization.
Dave was fifteen-years-old when his father suddenly died at age 55 on February 8, 1940. The loss hit him hard but he persevered. Like his brother and sister before him, Dave completed his studies at Manual Arts High School and, like most of his generation including his brother George, was called to service in World War II. While George chose the Navy, Dave enlisted in the Army in August 1943 and did his basic training that fall at Camp Adair near Albany, Oregon. Dave was attached to the 361st Regiment of the 91st Division and was deployed to the European theater in April 1944. The thirty-day journey across the Atlantic was unlike anything Dave had ever experienced. Above deck he looked out at the horizon and all he could see for miles in every direction were American ships steaming toward the unknown. The word that kept popping into his head as he beheld the awesome sight: “armada.”
After a brief stint training in North Africa, Dave was among the 150,000 Allied soldiers who fought in the Battle of Anzio. He saw his first combat near Villetri and helped open the southern route for the Allies to take Rome. He pushed northward, regularly engaging the enemy. He fought in the strategically important Arno River campaign in June; bested heavily-fortified German defenses in foggy, rain-drenched mountainous terrain during the Gothic Line campaign to capture Monticelli in September; and braved the frosty, rocky cliffs in the North Apennines to take Livergnano in October. Dave recalled fighting day and night at Livergnano as they countered the German night-fighter pilots with powerful floodlights to light up the sky. He described the horror of seeing “truckloads” of wounded men die because the overwhelmed doctors simply could not treat all of them in time.
As a frigid winter set in, Dave and the troops held their positions, knowing that the final campaign lay ahead of them in the New Year. But Dave would not be with them. In mid-December, he fell ill with yellow jaundice and hepatitis and was sent 500 miles south to a military hospital in the port city of Bari on Italy’s southeast coast. During his stay at the 26th General Hospital, the General asked him what he was doing there. Dave said that he came to “save lives, not take lives.” Given his family’s background in medicine, Dave’s status was promptly changed by the General from patient to employee. “I don’t know why they let me,” he said. Dave was now working at the same field hospital he was supposed to be recovering in. He was assigned to the burn ward and assisted the doctor performing plastic surgery, dental surgery, and taking X-Rays. He was promoted and rose in rank to Medical Technician Fifth Grade (abbreviated as T/5) and was addressed as Corporal or “Tech Corporal.”
On May 8, 1945 the war in Europe formally ended. After spending nearly all of 1945 working at the hospital in Bari, Dave returned home in the fall. Dave said that he was among the first soldiers to arrive as his ship steamed into Boston harbor. He marveled at the welcome they received with ships shooting colored water into the air to mark the occasion. Dave traveled by train to Camp Sibert in Alabama for debriefing before returning home in October 1945. It was the first time he had seen his family in nearly two years and he arrived just in time for them to throw him a big party two weeks later for his twenty-first birthday. They day after the party, his brother George surprised the family by also returning from his Navy service in the Pacific. “It was a happy time,” George said. “It was a happy time.”
After his Army discharge, Dave enrolled at USC and spent two years as a Pre-Medical and Chemistry Major. He married Beverly Sue Halsey on November 6, 1948. They loved to explore California and took trips to Yosemite (where they honeymooned), Lake Tahoe, the California coast, and the Bay Area. They had three girls: Linda, Jill, and Pamela and, for a time, the family lived in a newly built home in what was once the avocado farmlands of Whittier. The girls fondly recalled how their father would climb the avocado tree in the front yard, shake the branches, and watch as the fruit fell into the waiting blanket they stretched out below. The family went skiing in Big Bear, spent sunny days at the beach, and Dave took them to a new amusement park called Disneyland which became a favorite family destination.
Dave held a series of jobs drawing on his medical, technical, and overall applied scientific skills. He began his post-military career at Los Angeles General Hospital as a laboratory assistant before being personally hired away by inventor Dr. Arnold Beckman. Beckman told him: “Come work for me. Don’t go through personnel, don’t go through Cal Tech. Just come talk to me and you will run that place.” Dave worked as a senior lab technician for Beckman Instruments for six years before moving up the defense industry ladder at such places as Litton Systems, RCA Defense Electronic Products, and finally a fifteen-year stretch at Lockheed Corporation. Along the way he worked on key Cold-War-era projects like nuclear submarines and stealth bombers.
After his wife’s sudden death in 1967, Dave-now a single father-moved his family to the San Fernando Valley to be closer to work. He lived in the Valley for over two decades purchasing a house with a swimming pool for his grandchildren to learn how to swim in. He survived major earthquakes, became a trophy-winning dancer, and adored his cherished Boxers. Dave retired in 1986, successfully underwent bypass surgery in 1995, and ultimately moved to Mission Viejo. He enjoyed returning to his beloved Yosemite for camping trips, boating, and fishing at Bass Lake; gambling in Las Vegas and Laughlin, Nevada; and travelling to new destination such as Hawaii, Arizona, Philadelphia, New York, Atlantic City, Mexico, and the Caribbean. He was always present for family birthdays, graduations, weddings, and holiday gatherings.
While he was too modest to admit it, Dave was a hero and without his effort and the determination of his contemporaries in the “greatest generation,” the world as we know it would be a far different place. He is survived by his daughters Linda Priola and Jill Blair; his grandchildren Artemus Ward, Jennifer Lockway, and Ryan Casey; and his great-grandchild Aiden Lockway.