'You had a purpose each day': 95-year-old East Bay veteran reflects on military career in Navy Reserves

WALNUT CREEK, Calif. (KGO) -- A Walnut Creek Senior Living Community is keeping their longstanding tradition alive by honoring their residents on Veteran's Day. This year was different from previous ceremonies, veterans and staff members were the only attendants of the ceremony to ensure safety and social distancing.

ABC7's East Bay Community Journalist Melissa Pixcar spoke with one of this year's honorees: World War II Veteran Karl Pister, the former chancellor of UC Santa Cruz and dean of UC Berkeley Engineering school. He spoke with her about his his nearly three decade long career in the Navy Reserves.

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At the young age of 17, Pister enlisted in the United States Navy Reserve exactly a year after the attack on Pearl Harbor. At the time, he was a freshman at UC Berkeley majoring in civil engineering.

"I was like most teenagers, I was interested in what the world was going to be like," said Pister. "At the time of World War II, every male of my age knew we had to enlist and fight for our country. It was a very strong sense of patriotism."

Through the Navy Reserves, Pister was able to complete his Bachelor's degree in civil engineering. In 1945, Pister was sent to Davisville, Rhode Island, a naval construction training center for Civil Engineer Corps Officers. In October of 1945, Pister was commissioned to Okinawa, an island off of Japan, and was assigned to a Naval Construction Battalion for eight months.

Pister and his tent-mate decided to come back to the Bay Area to complete his master's degree at UC Berkeley. Shortly after becoming a lecturer at UC Berkeley, he decided to earn his Ph.D at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

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Within five decades of higher education, he served as Emeritus Chair of the governing board of the California Council on Science and Technology, Chancellor Emeritus of the University of California, Santa Cruz, Professor at UC Berkeley, and Dean of the College of Engineering

From 1942 to 1969, he remained in the active Navy Reserves, trained weekly and retired with the rank of captain.

"I am grateful for the life that I have been given," said Pister. "The experience that I had in the Navy provided a structure for my life. It gave you a way to look at each day so you just didn't throw it away one day after another. You had a purpose each day."

VIDEO: Honoring Veterans through taps tribute
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From Memorial Day to Veterans Day, Jim Heisler plays the taps each night at sunset.

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