interview by Annie M. Lopez
I grew up around West Sixth Street and North Main Avenue, where Tucson Electric Power Company is now located. I attended Davis Elementary, Safford Junior High and Tucson High School, and graduated in 1945. I then joined the Navy for three years (1945-1948) and graduated from the University of Arizona in 1962 with a Bachelor's Degree in Elementary Education. I received my Masters in Education in 1966 and was awarded my Doctorate in Curriculum Instruction and Bilingual Education in 1977 by the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. During this time I worked for the Post Office for twelve years.
There were six children in the family- my father, a World War I veteran, died when I was six years old and my mother married Nacho Calvillo, who worked in construction.
We lived near the railroad tracks and the first recollections I have are of the "trampas" (vagabonds )coming on the trains. As for chores, l didn't have too many, but I remember chopping wood. I was seven or eight when I started working; I delivered newspapers and sold them on the street, I worked in grocery stores, Karl's Shoe Store and Steinfeld's Department Store, so I did a lot of work rather than chores. I remember going around picking up cardboard boxes, and the vendors in the summer selling fruit from trucks - I would earn some money by selling buckets of oranges, making five cents per bucket. A couple of times l lived with my grandmother in Calexico and I would go with the other boys to the packing houses and swipe tomatoes, lettuce and melons and sell them at three for ten cents. The biggest thrill was to find an area where they grew fruits and vegetables and go in there and get them - I guess they'd call it "steal" them - to sell. They would come chasing us with "escopetas" (shotguns) and shoot at us.
I was in the Navy for three years as a Navy Corpsman (then called Pharmacists Mate) and I spent 21 months in Guam and came out in 1948. In 1949 my brother Bobby, a Sergeant, helped initiate "E" Company and they needed a corpsman, so I joined. My job consisted of physical and medical duties, but I never had any formal training to be a Marine Medical Corpsman, although there is a special school at Camp Pendleton to train Navy Corpsman into Marine Corpsmen. If the truth were known, I spent 21 months in Guam delivering babies.
In June of 1950, when the Korean War broke out, I had started working for the Post Office. On the 4th of July I got married and on the 20th of July I was activated.
Everything was hectic - most of us were not sure what we were doing. In my case, I had to quit the Post Office and my main job was to get the medical records straight, making sure all of them were up to date, and pack up all the gear.
Like everyone else, we got to Camp Pendleton on the train and we got lost and ended up in the 14th area. I ended up in Delmar with other medical personnel and then went to San Diego. I didn't see the rest of Easy Company because we were not in the same units.
When we boarded ship our job was to get the sick bay ready. I spent a couple of days in Kobe and the next day there was a big typhoon. I left Japan about the 28th or 29th of August with the 5th Brigade, which became the 5th Marine Regiment. I was probably the first of the Tucson Detachment to land in Korea, where we spent about ten days in Pusan, and then they loaded us aboard ships.
I can trace my route through Korea like it was yesterday. We made the Inchon landing on the 15th of September and the next morning was my birthday - I was 23 years old. From then it was pushing on to Seoul. We fought and beat the Koreans who were there. There was a river by the Kimpo Airbase and when we heard that there was a big shipment of replacements to help us out I went by the river to wait for them to show up. Lo and behold, there came Raul Reyes and some of the Tucson guys who were surprised to see me sitting there waiting for them.
As soon as we cleaned up Seoul and the cease-fire was called many civilians started coming out, some out of holes. The place was a shambles and there were thousands of people. We ended up at a school. Because l had on a bloody uniform they thought I'd been shot and I had a hard time proving that I wasn't - I had to take my clothes off to show them. Then we got word that MacArthur was to fly in and they took us up the mountain to protect him.
From there we went back to Inchon to board the ships to go to Wonsan. Someone took a group picture of us that later appeared in the Tucson newspaper. We spent about a month going back and forth and eventually went up the east coast and finally landed in Wonsan and started our push north to the Yalu River and Chosin Reservoir - "Operation Yo-Yo" they called it. They were trying to clear the mines out of Wonsan Harbor and by that time the South Koreans had taken Wonsan, so there was no big rush.
We got very close to the Yalu River when we decided to stop and have Thanksgiving dinner - turkey, shrimp, bread, jam - it was great and we ate like pigs and really enjoyed ourselves.
A couple of days later the Chinese hit us, half a million of them in one night. When I heard the call for corpsman I went up the hill and was shot in the thigh. I was singing "Ay Jalisco no te rajes"* as they carried me down the hill to the aid station. All my friends came along and gave me little medicinal bottles of brandy and I was lifted by helicopter to Hagaruri, where I spent a couple of days. The place was dangerous and in the morning the airstrip was covered with bodies. Next, they flew me to Wonsan and next to Japan, where I spent a couple of weeks in Atsu and in January it was back to Korea.
My unit was up north by then, around Seoul, so I joined the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines. The Commanding Officer was Colonel Holladay, who was our Company Commander in Tucson, and I spent a few months there and then asked to go back to the front lines where my friends were. They sent me back.
In May we left Korea and came back to the States. My brother, Bobby, was on the same ship and we landed in San Francisco in the early part of June, then came home for a couple of weeks. I asked to be stationed in El Centro and after a few months there I was discharged in September of 1951.
The reason I did not leave sooner, there is always a shortage of medical personnel. The Marine Corps is still part of the Navy and unfortunately you lose a lot of Corpsmen because we do nothing until the shooting starts and then there is a high mortality rate.
What stands out in my mind is an incident when a unit was ambushed and we were going to get them out. A tall Marine came walking toward me with both of his eyes hanging out almost to his waist - apparently a concussion grenade had exploded near him. I asked the Captain for a helicopter to get him out and was turned down, which got me mad. I told the Captain that if it was a General wounded he wouldn't hesitate to call in a helicopter and was threatened with a Court Martial but nothing came of it. I don't know what became of that injured man. A lot of people didn't know I had spent three years in the regular Navy, and I was constantly in trouble.
When I returned to the United States I went back to the Post Office where I had started in 1950, and spent twelve years as a mailman around Anita Street and Contzen. I had the G.I. Bill so I went to school at night, worked during the day and also worked at Crown Liquors. At that time I was between the ages of 25 and 35. I was also in the Reserves, had two children, kept going to school and graduated from the University in 1962. I started practice-teaching at Tully Elementary and taught there for seven years. I went to the University of New Mexico and it took me seven years to do my dissertation and receive my Ph.D. I was Principal of Mission View, Roberts, Hollanger and Brichta elementary schools and retired four and a half years ago.
At present I am with AARP, Los Descendientes, Sister Cities, and have been working with Tucson Youth Development since retirement. I work part time and help young people find jobs.
I remember the 20-year reunion after we got back. Tom Price was in charge of it and on our 4Oth reunion I was Co-chairman with Gilbert Ruelas. It was an honor to serve in that capacity. The reunion was held at the Ramada Inn and people from all over the United States attended. There will still be a lot of us around for the 45th.
After we came back in 1951 Colonel Holladay was in the Company here, which had been reactivated. I joined the Reserves and retired in 1976 as an E-8 (MasterSergeant) after 25 years of service. Joe Trujillo was the only one to make E-9. Mares, Eldridge, Bert Rincon and Bobby Leon all made E-8. The Marine Corps has been good to me and I think I might have stayed in for 20 years as a regular.
*Title of a Mexican song.