Otis Randle spent his post-secondary school years, from 1967 to 1971, in the United States Navy, providing naval support aboard the USS Ranger aircraft carrier while stationed in Vietnam.
He had it easier than others who had to fight the battles on land during a particularly long and brutal war.
Randle continued as a machine mechanic in the Navy and then worked for the Post Office after his military retirement.
And late last week, just days before Memorial Day, a new generation of American servicemen — sailors and Marines who were part of the 2022 LA Fleet Week festivities in San Pedro — descended on Randle’s home in South Los Angeles to repair stucco, repair replace roofing and generally brighten things up with a new coat of paint.
Along the way, they bonded and earned the gratitude of Randle, 73, and his wife, Elizabeth, 71, who were excited about the transformation of the two 1930s homes Elizabeth’s parents had previously owned.
The repair job on Thursday and Friday, May 26-27 was one of several off-site projects that service men and women participate in during LA Fleet Week, which began in 2016 but went dark in 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic.
The workdays were also part of Habitat for Heroes, a program overseen by Habitat for Humanity of Greater Los Angeles, which partners with other resources available to veterans, including Home Depot, to care for vet-owned homes.
More than 275 veterans and active-duty military personnel have benefited from the Habitat for Heroes program, which was established in 2011 as an outreach to help military vets repair and renovate homes.
For many retired homeowners, the need comes as they struggle with the rising cost of maintaining a home, something they could do during their working years but find much more difficult with steady income.
The drill also had a purpose for the young workers, said Marine Corp. combat videographer Sydney Smith, 22, who attended and documented the process.
The effort encouraged the two branches of the service, she said, to expand their capabilities to work together as a team.
“I thought we’d have Team Navy against Team Marine,” she said, “but they worked together very cohesively.”
The teams consisted of about 15 workers per day.
Crew members of the USS Essex and USS Portland—both in port in Los Angeles for the four-day LA Fleet Week event ending Memorial Day—joined the workdays, climbing ladders and brandishing pressure washers and paint brushes.
Among the workers was Naval Hospital First Class Harold Weinrich Harold Weinrich, 34, of Beaverton, Oregon. Stationed at Camp Pendleton, Weinrich said LA Fleet Week — the first he attended — is a “great way” for service workers to interact with the public.
He encouraged the public to visit the Fleet Week Expo area in San Pedro. Fleet Week continues daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. through Monday on the USS Iowa, 250 S. Harbor Blvd.
It had been a year, said Elizabeth Randle, that her husband contacted the Habitat program for assistance with repairs that they estimated would cost about $30,000 — money the couple just couldn’t afford to do without now that they were in their retirement years.
She’d seen how elderly homeowners so often couldn’t keep up with the high repair and maintenance costs and didn’t want their homes to be in that condition.
The property includes a back house, built in 1932, where a family member will reside, and the front house, built in 1938, where the Randles live. While the structures were basically in good condition, they needed new paint and other repairs, including sealing the windows.
“Everyone is so friendly and kind,” says Elizabeth Randle, who grew up in Hawthorne. “It really is a blessing. With all the craziness in the world, it’s good to see good people.”
Sergio Morazan, Superintendent of the Habitat Program, said the goal is to help U.S. veterans’ families extend the life of their homes while other resources can be found in the future, if needed. That, he said, will help them stay in their own homes.
“We were lucky to have Fleet Week here,” said Morazan, adding that this project, about 20 miles from the San Pedro Fleet Week site, was already on the books — just at the right time. Having more workers will help complete it faster, Morazan said.
As for the young workers, he said, they are learning new skills, bonding and learning about the importance of preserving items that may not seem worthwhile to them.
The projects usually last several weeks, Morazan said.
“Little by little it’s starting to look fresher and better,” he said of the houses. “And the whole neighborhood benefits from that.”