Manuel Dichner had been lucky.
Enlisting as an aviation cadet in the Army Air Corps in World War II, he walked away, shaken but uninjured, from a crash landing on a training flight.
Assigned as a B-24 navigator, he flew 50 bombing missions over the Pacific Theater. The plane got hit, but “we never got any bad hits in the engine,” he says, downplaying the danger.
Tuesday, Dichner, 91, of Fresno, will be among veterans on a Central Valley Honor Flight to the nation’s capital to visit war memorials.
He’s looking forward to sharing stories, but this won’t be his first time to Washington, D.C. Traveling has been an avocation for Dichner, whose restlessness led him from selling encyclopedias to opening restaurants in the 70 years since the end of the war.
But this excursion, unlike others, will be difficult. Dichner came back from the war without a scratch, but in February, his left arm was amputated to remove a cancerous tumor, which has sparked a lawsuit.
He’ll need assistance on the Honor Flight.
“I can’t put my shoes on or my socks on,” he says. “Yeah, I will need help.”
A guardian will be assigned to Dichner on the Honor Flight and his son could join him in the capital. Dichner had hoped his companion, Maggie Hamby, would be the one traveling with him. But Hamby, 90, says helping Dichner with daily needs is becoming difficult. “I’m getting too old.”
Dichner is suing his Clovis internist, Dr. Carl Ahroon. According to the lawsuit filed May 4 in Fresno County Superior Court, the doctor failed “to timely diagnose a large malignant myxofibrosarcoma tumor on the forearm.” As a result, the complaint says, Dichner’s arm was amputated.
Monrae English, a Fresno attorney representing Dichner, says Dichner complained at a regularly scheduled appointment in September 2014 of a painful lump in the back of his left arm, but it was not until his next regularly scheduled appointment in December 2014 that Ahroon suggested he see a dermatologist. A biopsy showed the cancerous tumor, she says.
Lawrence E. Wayte, a Fresno lawyer representing Ahroon, says this is a “heavily disputed matter.” The complaint did not include appointment dates, he says, but the doctor maintains he made a timely referral. “There was no delay in recognition and referral to a specialist, and the specialist handled the matter from there, which I believe is standard medical protocol,” Wayte says.
Dichner says his life has changed since the amputation.
Giving up independence has been a challenge. Dichner has fixed his car so he can drive, but getting in and out of the vehicle is awkward. Before the surgery, he swam several days a week to keep himself fit. Now, although he’s right-handed, the loss of his left arm has made simple chores — from tying shoes to putting on a belt and cutting nails — nearly impossible without help. “I almost can’t get out of a chair,” he says.
He’s also had to give up cooking. Dichner’s abilities in the kitchen have served him well over the years.
A native of Indianapolis, Indiana, he become familiar with Fresno when his World War II bombing crew assembled at what was then Hammer Field. He came back to Fresno in 1947, sold encyclopedias and appliances and bought an appliance store before opening Peda Burger Drive-In on Ventura Boulevard in 1953.
Dichner had married and had three children. He sold the drive-in restaurant and become a financial adviser to have more time with his family. Widowed in 1971, he moved to Los Angeles, where he had relatives. There, Dichner found a way to combine a restless urge to travel with his passion for cooking. He’d buy a failing restaurant, make it successful and move on to the next fixer-upper. “I built them up and sold them, and took long vacations.”
In 2007, he moved back to Fresno to be near children and grandchildren. Dichner’s daughter, Pamela LaChapell of Modesto, says her father had a knack for creating new recipes with whatever was in the kitchen. “He just did an amazing job with everything he touched.”
Her father’s limitations from the amputation have been difficult to accept, LaChapell says. “He was 91 going on 70 before the cancer and now he’s 91 going on 90. It’s a change — it’s a change for all of us.”
The upcoming Honor Flight to Washington, D.C., is a bright spot, she says.
Dichner received a Distinguished Flying Cross, an Air Medal and three oak leaf clusters for his service with the 408th Bomb Squadron, according to a document from the National Jewish Welfare Board, Bureau of War Records. But he didn’t talk much about his experiences during World War II until about two years ago, LaChapell says. He said he didn’t think about the danger, she says. “He always thought he would come back from a mission.”