Saturday, January 19, 2008

Park will honor two heroes Rosa Parks and WWII soldier

Sat, Jan. 19, 2008
Sun Herald

GULFPORT --The mystery of World War II hero Harold A. Bezazian is solved in time for Martin Luther King Day celebrations that include the dedication of a Rosa Parks bench. Bezazian's name is on two 8-foot pillars at 30th Street Park, where the bench will be unveiled Monday.

Bezazian is not black, but a half-century ago his father created the park and two others in less-privileged areas, because he understood discrimination firsthand. With time, the neighborhood forgot the meaning of the Bezazian name, and the odd pillars now stand alone, without fencing.

Bezazian, a first lieutenant, died in March 1945 rescuing his 6th Infantry Division men behind enemy lines in Luzon. The Chicago native who'd received a Bronze Star for bravery died in enemy fire, but his rescue strategy worked.

Identical bronze plaques on the pillars simply state his name, birth and death dates and declare, "In honor of a hero."

Kristal Daniel, who organized the 1 p.m. MLK Day event at the park, saw the pillars but knew no more than what the plaques told her. As a member of AmeriCorps' Gulf Coast Conservation Corps, she felt the sparsely furnished park needed a bench.

"We thought dedicating a bench to Rosa Parks for her refusal to give up a seat and what that meant to the civil rights movement would add meaning to the King observance," said Daniels. "Now, we'll also mention Bezazian."

The Sun Herald contacted Bezazian's family in Chicago to learn why the lieutenant's father, John Bezazian, built parks for underprivileged and minority Gulfport children. The story begins in 1895 when the father immigrated from Armenia.

"Because of his swarthy skin, poor English and accent, my grandfather had a very difficult time his first years in America," said Paulette Bezazian.

He overcame immigrant obstacles and gained wealth from real estate and selling rugs. He had three children.

Harold, the youngest, who was born in 1911, went to good schools (Oberlin College and Columbia University) and pursued a short story-writing career. He was awarded a Pulitzer Traveling Fellowship for Europe, suitable for a man remembered by his family as a free spirit who loved children and didn't care much about material things.

The South Mississippi connection enters when he worked on his father's 520-acre tung oil farm, as an experience to make him a better writer. His father bought the farm near Gulfport as an investment in a subtropical region favored as a winter escape for Chicago's rich.

Unmarried and in his early 30s, Bezazian enlisted after Pearl Harbor. After his war death, the father financed philanthropic projects in his son's memory, including the Harold A. Bezazian Branch of the Chicago Public Library and the three Gulfport parks.

Note: Above are excerpts from the article. The full article appears here. Clarifications and comments by me are contained in {}. Deletions are marked by [...]. The bold emphasis is mine.



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