I was born on the 20th of March 1929 and grew up in the barrio on 17th Street, between Meyer and Main and different barrios around Tucson-Kroeger Lane-like that.
I acquired the nickname "Chapo" from my friends in the barrio because I was short. I had fun when I was young and have many good memories. I didn't get into any more trouble than the rest of the kids. My main job at home was to take care of a small herd of goats. I would tie a leash on the main goat and lead her towards the Santa Cruz River. The rest of the goats would follow. There was always something green growing there. Sometimes I would go swimming in the irrigation ditch that ran by the river while the goats would graze. I would also take my trusty sling-shot which I made from a mesquite branch fork and rubber from, an old inner tube from a car tire. Sometimes I would kill doves and bring them home for my mother to cook. We also kept chickens and rabbits at home, which we would also eat or sell. Can you imagine the city letting you do that now? But it all helped to see my mother and father and ten children through the depression.
My father, Atenojenes Cortez Navarro, was born in Tepatitlan, Jalisco, Mexico. My mother, Amada Caro, was born in Mexico City. They met here in Tucson where my mother's family had stopped on their way to Prescott when they ran out of money. Up to this point, my mother had intended to become a nun. At the age of twelve, she was in a convent in Nogales. However, my father ended up marrying her. They were married at the Santa Cruz Church on 6th Avenue and 22nd Street. My father started out as a cowboy but in Tucson, he worked as a cook.
I started school at Drachman, then graduated from Safford Junior High. After that, "Bobby" Leon and I joined the Marines. This was in 1946. We were stationed together in Hawaii. Manny Moreno, Nacho Cruz, Hector "Yuni" Dorame, Johnny Felix and Joe Ochoa were also there at the time. Bobby and I extended our enlistment another six months in order to get a 30-day leave, all the way to Tucson. Up to this time, I had kept my nose clean and had even made corporal. At the end of my last six months, I decided to celebrate and wound up overpartaking of the "sauce." I then took a notion to go on liberty and wound up in a fight with the gate sentry. I swung at him and missed. He took his .45 out and shot in the air. Then two more over my head as I took off running! Of course I was caught and charged before the officer-of-the-day. I got off easy considering the offense. Since my ship was loaded, and ready for the states, I was allowed to board, but I did lose a stripe.
We came back on the U.S.S. General Wiggle. "Bobby" Leon took off for Colorado to see a girl he had been writing to for two years instead of coming back to Tucson with me. Next time I saw him, we were both back in Tucson. Either he didn't like the girl or she didn't like him. I don't know which. Manny Moreno married Maclovia Quintas. Joe Ochoa died in a car crash soon. after we got back to Tucson.
Upon my discharge, I was put in the active reserves with "E" Company in Tucson. The same thing happened to "Bobby" Leon, Nacho Cruz and Manny Moreno. That's how we all wound up on the train headed for Camp Pendleton on July 31, 1950.
At Pendleton, I wound up in Dog Company, 2nd Battalion along with Bobby Leon, Manny Moreno, Hector Garcia, Ruben Moreno, and Ediberto Lopez. Also in the 2nd Battalion were Raul Reyes, Efren Moreno and Hector Leon.
We organized and did a little bit of training at Tin-Camp-Two at Camp Pendleton. Before too long, we were on board the President Jackson on the way to Japan. Lieutenant Foor, our platoon leader, decided I was going to be his runner so he would coach me on terrain and map reading.
We arrived in Kobe, Japan and our battalion was sent to Camp Otzu for more training since we were supposed to be in the first wave on Blue Beach. Of course we knew nothing about all this planning until it was all over with.
Back in Kobe, we boarded the L.S.T. 1123 that was combat loaded and with amtracks in the hull. Just before we boarded the amtracks, I passed by the galley (kitchen) and loaded my pockets with onions. I loved onions!
We landed with light resistance and pushed on to our objective, five miles inland. While we were in Korea, Lt. Foor wanted us to call him "Bugsy." And boy, did he emphasize the point when someone called him Lieutenant!
We no sooner were settled in our fox holes when Lt'. Foor tells me, "I want two good men to go back to the C.P. and bring back some communication wire." I said, "I'll get you two good men." As I turned to go, he grabbed ahold my shoulder and said, "I want you to go!" I thought to myself, "I was afraid of that!"'
So, I got my "volunteer" and started for the C.P. when someone fired at us. I ran back and told the Lieutenant and he passed the word, "Two men coming through! Hold your fire!". Next shots we heard were not from an M-1! By luck, we hitched a ride with a tank that was headed our way.
When we got to the C.P. area, we found that it wasn't fully established and no wire, so we headed back to our lines, pooping and scooping. It was close to 7:00 when I got back and reported to "Bugsy." He said, "Yeah, I heard. Sorry you had to go for nothing." Then he asked, "What the hell is that smell?" It didn't take me long to figure it was a combination of rice paddies and crushed onions.
The road to Seoul is a blur in my mind. I know I was running my legs off and not getting much sleep. The next thing I remember, we were in a tire factory in YongDung-Po. This guy was looking north from a window when he got hit. I think his name was Edwards. He had a nasty wound on his neck. I thought the shot came from a sniper on the tall smoke stack because it was brought down that same day with an explosive charge but maybe it came from the 5th Marines who were attacking south toward us along the river dike. Then we were straffed, probably by one of our own planes. Ruben was hit by a brick on the back and everyone dove under the machinery. "Bugsy" and Hector Garcia dove for the same machine and they were both struggling to squeeze under it. Lt. Foor says, "Garcia, go find youself another place!" Being the undisciplined rebel reservist that he was, he said, "The heck with you. You find,another place!"
That night, we dug in on a nearby hill. "Chief" Oberg, our sergeant said, "Come on, Navarro, let's go win us some medals!" "Go get someone else, Oberg," I said. "No, Navarro, you need the experience," was his answer. So down the hill to some hut we went. By luck, we didn't find any North Koreans, but we did come across a mamasan doing her laundry, so we took our clothes off and gave them to her to wash.
We headed back to our lines in our skivies. As soon as we got there, we found out we were moving out so back we go to pick up our partially washed, wet clothes. Our clothes soon picked up all loose dirt laying around. It all left me wondering to what good use I could put all this experience to.
Once we crossed the Han River and into the outskirts of Seoul, I could hardly stay awake. I remember, like a dream, curling up in a doorway and a woman covering me up with a couple of blankets. Early next morning, we were on the attack.
Hector "Tripitas" Garcia was having trouble with his M-1 so I helped him put it back together again. We pushed on into the city streets where I saw Jimmy Fisher, the Tucson Company corpsman on his way back to the 5th Marines to tend to the wounded.
Shortly after that, a mortar shell landed in front of me. It took out about four of us. I was the only one left standing. Both my arms were hit, one was broken. My left foot instep was a mess and I had another nasty wound close to my groin.
"Chief" Oberg came and looked at me standing there, tore a door off the hinges and layed me down on it. When the corpsman came by, I told him to take care of Flores first. He looked like he was hit bad but the corpsman said I was worse. Then I told him to check my groin. "Aw," he says, "You're still all there!" He shot some morphine in me and gave me a little bottle of brandy. Then they loaded us in a jeep and took us to a field hospital by the Han. There I asked them for more brandy and got it. I lied that the corpsman that had attended me was out. From there I was taken to Kimpo Air Base. Between the brandy and the morphine, I wasn't feeling any pain, but I was sure hungry. I could smell the hot chow but they wouldn't give me any because I was scheduled for surgery. I wound up in an Air Force hospital in Japan. I think it was number 118. Then I was sent to Tokyo General for seven or eight days.
Back home in California, I arrived at General Travis Hospital just in time to miss a Bob Hope show. That's where he cracked the joke about being as nervous as President Truman in a room full of Marines. You know, because of what Truman said about the Marines having a bigger propaganda machine than the communists and that all we were was the Navy's police force, headed for a police action. The Marine lieutenant that was telling me all this 1ooked very normal and I couldn't imagine where he was wounded. When I asked, I found out. He was lotally blind from a concussion.
I was wounded on September 27, 1950 and I was attached to the hospital until I was surveyed April 30, 1952. In that time, they performed one surgery after another on me. They took a five-inch piece off my shin bone to splice onto my right arm. They did the best they could with my left foot but it was never, the same. My thigh healed quite well. So did my left arm. I was peppered all over with slivers of schrapqel but they healed well, too.
When I got where I could get around, I becamse corporal of the guard and in charge of liberty passes. I was in favorable position to help the Tucsonans as they came by. "Prunie" Trujillo, "Popeye" Corral and "Niggie" Romero were some of the wounded that came through the hospital. I even had some people offering me the use of their car for a special liberty pass.
I received my discharge with 60% disability on April 30, 1952 and taking advantage of the G. I. Bill, went into training as a dental technician. Seven years into that and I decided to go into something else. Vacation time had a lot to do with my decision . I was only getting one week off a year. I had to forego two years in order to take a three-week vacation in Mexico.
I then got a job as a carpenter at the North Island Naval Station. I liked that much better. In 1973, I became a locksmith and worked at it until 1978.
On the side and after I retired I worked at the race track in San Diego and at the sports arena for the Padres and the Chargers. My wife, Mary, gave me four wonderful kids, two boys and two girls. They are doing just fine.
You know, after being in the Marine Corps, and the Korean War, I was prepared for anything life had to hand me.
One last thing which I thought was funny but which tells you a little bit about how the Marine Corps works: I was on an Army transport, the General Wiggle along with some Army personnel. The sea got rough and we were all getting seasick. An Army detail comes in our hold with crackers and sliced lemon. Our officer stopped them, wanting to know what this was about. He was told that whenever they would have rough seas, they would pass these out to fight off seasickness. Our officer said, "Get that stuff out of here! I don't want you molly-coddling my men! These are Marines! They have to tough it!"