Armando "Boy" Ortega
I grew up in the Barrio Hollywood area of Tucson. Besides chopping wood and tidying up the yard, I didn't have any chores outside of going to school. That was a chore in itself!
My father was born in Hayden, Arizona, and my mother was born in Winkelman. When the family moved to Tucson, my father went to work for the V.K. Ranch which had the Sunset Dairy. This was during the Depression. My father was a good provider. He worked long hours and although we may not have had shoes for our feet, we always had food on the table.
My school days started at Flowing Wells, then El Rio, which is now Manzo School, then Davis, then Roskruge Junior High and Tucson High School.
I came to join "Easy" Company in November of 1949. My cousin, Salomon Contreras, told me about it and how you would be issued a fun allotment of clothing and shoes which I needed for school. Let me tell you, there was a lot of Marine green being worn around our high school.
I graduated in May of 1950 and was working for Arizona Maintenance on their production line making evaporative coolers when "E" Company was called up. I had never attended a summer camp.
I didn't have much preparing to do before we left, not like some of the guys that were married. All I remember is saying my good-byes at the train station and taking off with the rest of the company.
When we got to Camp Pendleton and "E" Company was disbanded, I wound up in the supply depot, packing equipment headed for Korea. Then I was sent to "Tin-Camp-Two" for infantry training. I was never sent to San Diego for boot training, even though I had no previous service, or for that matter, any other kind of military training. Maybe their train of thought was that if you didn't know what was coming, you wouldn't be afraid. As for esprit de corps, I must have gotten it through osmosis.
After they had made a Marine out of me, we shipped out of San Diego for about a twenty-one day trip, finally landing in Pusan, Korea. It was the latter part of May 1951 when I was assigned to the battle line with the 11th Marines, an artillery outfit. I was a wireman. My job was to string communication wire between the battery and the forward observer.
I didn't get to see much front-line action but there were a few incidents that stuck in my mind. I was on a wire-stringing detail once, when we came upon an area where some Marines had been brought down from battle. There must have been about twenty-five or thirty dead, laid out on stretchers, covered with their ponchos. That shook me up some.
Oscar Quiroz from Tucson, although not from "E" Company, came as a replacement to join my outfit. He is "Botete's" (Robert Quiroz') brother. He was fifty to seventy yards from me when he was wounded by an in coming shell. He had already been evacuated a half hour before I found out he was hit. I didn't get to see him again until we were back in San Diego.
In the beginning, we were kept pretty busy because we kept moving the guns forward but later on, when the front lines stabilized, we had more time on our hands. I got to see a few of the guys from Tucson. Gasper Eldridge, Rudy McKenzie, Eddie Lovio, Freddie Grijalva and Tony Canez were some of the "E" Company guys I ran into. I remember being at a rest area by a river where the water was crystal clear, a first for me. It was really pretty. Gasper broke out his guitar and a large group gathered to hear us sing. There must have been at least ten of us from Tucson. Gasper was a fantastic guitarist! What a great morale booster!
There were some bad times and some good times in Korea. Hearing that your friends and buddies had been wounded or killed was always sad but there was always joy in running into someone from home that you knew. All in all, I would say that 90% of the people I met over there were nice people, people you could be friendly with.
The last three months I was in Korea were kind of easy, as long as you didn't step on any mines. We had three or four wounded by them. The chow wasn't bad. In the beginning, we had one hot meal a day and "C" rations. Towards the end of my tour, we were having three hot meals day.
I was sent home in March of 1952 on the same ship that I came in - the General William Weevel. I was there almost eleven months before returning to San Diego. We were given a physical examination and mustered out in about ten days.
Once back in Tucson, I went back to work for my old boss and started an apprenticeship in sheet-metal working under the G.I. Bill. I married Bertha Suarez and worked for three or four sheet-metal contractors, built a nice house in Menlo Park area and started raising a family. Then work got scarce. In 1964, 1 had to sell my house and move to California where work was available.
I bought a house in Riverside, California, where we raised three boys and two girls. I worked at my trade for forty years. The opportunities were there for work. The weather was good, not too hot, but I missed Tucson. I'll probably never move back. My kids are all rooted in California. Unusual, but my three boys followed my trade. They are all journeymen sheet-metal workers. One of my girls is in marketing kitchen equipment. The other works for an investment company in Los Angeles. My wife never pushed me about moving back. She likes it out there. She's still working for a school district as an instructional aide.
All in all, we've made a good life for ourselves. Belonging to the union all these years paid off. I have a good pension. We're not rich but we are living comfortably.
We've traveled a little bit - to the East Coast, Florida, and Washington D.C., where we visited the Korean War Memorial. Impressive!
I've never regretted having been in the Marine Corps. It taught me a lot: discipline, getting along with other people and appreciating the gift of life.