Jeff Jardine

Jeff Jardine: Nation’s onetime defenders are now the ones needing protection

They dodged bullets and mortars to storm the beaches at Normandy, Anzio and Okinawa. They slashed through the jungles of hellholes like Burma and New Guinea. They sank enemy ships in the Pacific. Or they worked to support those who did to defeat Germany, Italy and Japan in World War II.

But now, the veterans of that war whom we so admiringly call our Greatest Generation are among our most vulnerable. They are in their 80s, 90s and some even in their 100s, and they can no longer be expected to defend their homes now the same way they defended the nation in the 1940s.

The death of Richard Iverson underscored that last week. Intruders invaded his Modesto home and brutally beat him on July 24. His 85-year-old wife saw a intruder leave the home with another. Police said one was a man, the other a woman.

Iverson’s wife found the 94-year-old on the floor of the breezeway of their northeast Modesto home just south of Memorial Medical Center. He suffered head injuries including a broken nose, facial fractures and cuts, and was taken to a hospital where he remained until he died Monday.

That same day, the home on Gary Lane was broken into again, police said, and investigators are working the case with few leads.

“The fact that some coward would attack a World War II veteran whose generation gave everything for our country makes my blood boil,” Modesto Police Chief Galen Carroll said. “A good society should hold those that went before us and worked hard to give us everything we have today in reverence, and we all should look out for them.”

To this point, investigators know only that there were two suspects and both wore dark clothing. Authorities need help from the public to catch and prosecute the vermin who did this, he said. Or even help from other crooks with hearts, if they exist.

“I hope that there is some honor among thieves, and those that know who did this will see this victim as their grandfather or great-grandfather and do the right thing,” Carroll said.

It marks the second time in the past five years a World War II veteran in Modesto became the victim of a home invasion. A 92-year-old man in the La Loma neighborhood was home one afternoon in October 2010 when Danny Jenkins, a 31-year-old Modestan with a lengthy criminal record, broke into the home, put a knife to the victim’s throat and demanded money.

In this case, the victim’s grandson chased him. The victim gave a good description to police, who caught Jenkins a few blocks away. He was convicted in July and is serving prison time in Arizona.

California has seen several of these crimes in recent years, including one similar to the Iverson case in which the victim died a few weeks after the assault. A 91-year-old Sacramento resident died from a gunshot wound in a home invasion. And a 91-year-old survivor of the Normandy invasion was pistol-whipped by a 16-year-old in Fresno. Given the opportunity to apologize to the victim in court, the punk refused. He’ll be in prison well into his 30s.

The attacks certainly haven’t been limited to the Golden Agers in the Golden State. In the past two years, World War II veterans have been victimized in Carson City, Nev., and in Indiana, where the victim not only was veteran but also had been a prisoner of war in the 1940s. An Ohio veteran and victim was awarded another Purple Heart medal to replace the one taken by a home invader. And a Canadian who survived the invasion of Normandy also survived a home invasion before suffering a fatal heart attack at age 101, just two months after the robbery.

But victimized twice previously, a 92-year-old veteran in Kentucky shot and killed an intruder in his home. He told authorities he would have shot the two accomplices if he’d had a clear view of them as they hauled their dead partner in crime out of the home. The authorities took away his .22 rifle despite his protests.

“These people aren’t worth any more to me than a groundhog,” Earl Jones told a Kentucky news agency. “They have our country in havoc. We got so many damned crooked people walking around today.”

The safer way, Carroll said, is to be looking out for the vulnerable.

“I think the community should as a whole be protective of our senior citizens knowing there are scumbags out there willing to victimize and take advantage of them,” he said.

Including those who defended the country but never imagined they might have to defend themselves in their own homes, and so late in life.