Many Memorial Days later, remembering a brave Murrayite
May 02, 2019 02:32PM
By Shaun Delliskave
Murrayite Lt. Paul Kezerian received a 21-gun salute at his burial during World War II. (Photo courtesy Kezerian family)
By Shaun Delliskave | [email protected]
Something was unusual about the skilled Murray pilot’s descent onto the Espiritu Santo runaway, as the Marine’s TBF Avenger seemed to just drop. Lieutenant Paul Kezerian had flown in difficult situations before during World War II, but Kezerian wasn’t able to fix his trajectory. The loss of such a skilled and beloved pilot was not only difficult for the Marine Corps 443 Air Squadron but also his hometown.
Paul was part of the “Greatest Generation,” born in 1921 to a poor family in Murray. Armenian converts to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Paul’s parents settled in Murray with his mother Arick’s family, the Sherinians. Arick’s brother Herond eventually opened the first hospital in Murray, and the family’s work ethic was instilled in young Paul.
A middle child among seven siblings, Paul grew up in downtown Murray on Hanauer Street. As part of Murray’s large, ethnically diverse population, Paul was not immune to ethnic slights. Paul’s father, Armenag, recalled in his biography, “He faced the typical grade school challenges growing up, including confronting a bully. His father recalls a time when someone tried to pick a fight with Paul. He was harassed, pushed and called filthy names by the larger boy. He did not retaliate at first, having been taught not to fight, but then the bully crossed the line by calling Paul a ‘Turk,’ the worst insult an Armenian, particularly a Kezerian Armenian, could receive. Paul hit him once, and the bully did not get up.”
According to Paul’s nephew Gary Kezerian Wilde, Paul developed a love of building model airplanes. His obsession with airplanes at such an early age would guide him until the last moments of his life.
Paul persevered above the bigotry at school, and when he reached his final year at Murray High School, he was elected student body president. As a skilled tennis player, he helped form the high school’s tennis club. He also played guard on the basketball team.
Even with the family’s austere finances, Paul’s future looked bright, and he entered the University of Utah in 1939, majoring in aeronautical engineering. During this time, he also got his pilot’s license. Then World War II broke out.
Wilde related, “Paul was about to receive a mission call from the LDS Church, but without telling his parents, he enlisted in the Navy Aviation Corps, 110 days after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. His mother was broken-hearted when his mission call came, but Paul explained that he would be a coward to go on the mission when the country was at war. He reported for flight training at the Naval Reserve Air Base in San Francisco and was enlisted with the initial rank of Seaman 2nd Class, but he later was promoted to 2nd Lieutenant and then 1st Lieutenant in the Marine Air Corps.”
After his training, Paul’s squadron was based at Turtle Bay Airfield, out of Espiritu Santo in the South Pacific. Before he left the U.S., he met his sister, handed her his pocket watch, and told her, “I won’t be coming back.”
After two months of flying for the Marines, Paul impressed the Navy enough with his flying that he was asked to train the new, incoming New Zealander pilots. That also meant that he would have to get up to speed and learn to fly the TBF Avenger aircraft. As Paul was taking a test flight in the new aircraft, the plane seemed to malfunction as he approached the landing strip. The Marines buried him, with full honors, on the island.
His parents received a letter regarding Paul, “A few days before we were to leave the New Hebrides, one of our most enthusiastic and skillful pilots was lost when the torpedo bomber which he was flying crashed. Lt. Kezerian, known affectionately as the ‘Hawk’ was an officer and friend we could ill afford to lose and a superb pilot as well. His loss blighted the enthusiasm we felt at finally leaving Espiritu.”
In 1948, the Kezerians were able to raise enough money to have their son returned and buried in the Murray City Cemetery.