interview by Annie M. Lopez
I was raised with my brothers [ER2] and sisters [ER3] at 426 East 18th Street in Tucson. Our dad left home when we were young, but we all had jobs and pitched in and bought the house.
I went to Safford Elementary where I made the football team (Safford Huskies) and the baseball team. I did go to 1-C, but don't remember who my teacher was. At that time my English was fair, but later on we were scolded and spanked for speaking Spanish. Old man Dietz - the official "executioner" - would tell us to bend over and touch your toes. I grew up and went to school with Hector "Tripas" Garcia, Eddie "Salado" Rillos, Joe, Manny, Ernest, and Irene Gallardo, Gracie, Ida and Tiny Pellon, Joe Quinlin, the Padias, Munguias and Cooneys. For 25 cents I could go to the movies, have popcorn and have a nickel left over.
I was the youngest in the family, and when Pearl Harbor was attacked I was selling newspapers - I sold the "EXTRA". When I was in high school I played football with Jesse Ybarra and Bennie Rincon, but I liked to horse around and they kicked me off the team.
I was 17,when I went to join the Reserves and Ernie "Banti" Gauna went with me. We got green tee shirts and shoes! We had our physicals and l was accepted, then Gabriel Campos, Gabriel Bustamante and I wanted to join the real Marines in Los Angeles. We hopped a train to L.A. where they took the other guys but told me to get back to Tucson where the Reserves were being activated.
The 1st Regiment, of which I was a part, left San Diego on the U.S.S. Noble. They landed us on the wrong beach so we had to get back on the landing craft (L.C.V.P.). I was the radioman and runner and carried a small radio over the seawall. I had to contact Baker Company but couldn't reach them by radio so I ran my butt off the get to them. There was smoke and fire and some dead North Koreans. It was already getting dark when we landed and dug in. Some of the guys in Able Company were James Wood, Oscar Salcido, Bert Rincon, Ray Rios, Harold Don, David Arellano, Henry Trujillo, Henry Valdenegro, Eddie Rillos, Marty Ramirez and Emilio Ramirez.
The next day we headed for Yondungpo and dug in by the side of the Han River. We were surrounded by a couple of tanks and since we didn't have any rockets or anything everybody stayed still. The tanks went back and forth and then went farther south where they were knocked out by another Company that had bazookas. We opened fire on the North Koreans as they were trying to cross the river. That was the first time I shot someone. We were just Able Company - the 5th Marines were to the left of us.
Another time we were attacking a hill where the Chinese had us pinned down. We were on the right flank, the middle portion was open, and the rest of the guys were on the left flank. I had my BAR (Browning Automatic Rifle) and so did Henry. Henry tried to get his grenade out but couldn't pull the pin. At that time a grenade thrown by the Chinese exploded right in front of us and we fell back with the concussion. We got up and started firing at the Chinese at the top of the hill and I got my grenade and threw it. Henry got hit in the butt and I got hit in the leg. No one recommended us for anything.
We were up on a hill near Kojo-I remember there was a railroad-when we were hit real bad. It had turned dark at about eight and about ten or eleven they came up the hill where we were sleeping and sneaked up on us. They came so close we could see their heads. We were fighting all night long. One of the guys next to me got hit on the helmet and it ricocheted and then hit him in the shoulder. He was lucky! Baker Company was also hit real bad and lost quite a few people. Bobby Fisher and Robert Quiroz were in Baker Company, which was also caught asleep. They by-passed us and went ahead. A couple of their squads were lost.
When we went up north the worst night we had was when we were on Hill 1081. It was snowing and we took the hill late at night. We threw out the dead Chinese who were in the foxholes and dug in. In the early morning we suddenly heard an airplane coming, a Navy Hellcat. Our air panels and flags were set but the airplane strafed us. He made one pass and took off. An Air Strike Observer took the number on the plane - however, nothing came of this.
I saw Tom Price only once, on one of the hills, when we had just secured Seoul. I saw Niggie then - he was picked up by a helicopter. The enemy downed the chopper and he was put on a truck which was ambushed. Niggie got shot in the legs. Niggie was in the 2nd Squad and he and Henry got hit the same day.
We all came back to Pusan and then southwest to Masan. When we were at Hamhung they got one or two squads from Able Company to give security to one of the ships. We were tired and filthy dirty. The Captain said "We got you guys here for security; take a bath for as long as you want; I'll call the mess hall. You can have whatever you want - milk, orange juice, beer, whiskey". Then they gave us bunks and we slept all night. It felt like we were in heaven. The next day they took us off the ship.
After Masan we started all over again. I ask myself - at Hamhung, when we were all retreating - all the Canadians, British, Army and Marines - why did we have to leave all the space there? Lose all that ground? We had all our carriers and destroyers by the sea. Why couldn't we have set up when we were there? Why did we fall back and come back again? We were tired, but we had all our battleships there and the enemy was tired, too. All of our troops were back and we lost all that ground!
You ask about the Army? The 7th Division and some of the South Koreans were poorly trained. We were always going over to help them and they would "shag ass" (retreat).
During "Operation Killer", about April of 1951, we were someplace up in the hills again when I was contacted to see if I wanted to go home now or in the morning. I said "hell, no - if we get in a "fire fight" I might lose my ass out here so I'll walk back now - I'll take my chances walking back at night". So I did - I walked back all night to where some of the guys were set up in tents. The first tent I went into I saw Vincent Suarez, who was in transportation, and he fed me some chow, gave me something to drink and told me to hit the sack.
Guitars - when we weren't in combat, on Christmas - I don't know where they got the guitars but we all got together. The guys got plastered and we would sing. It was all a good and bad experience and I grew up real quick in one year.
I came back and went to high school. It was a little strange. I was older. That's where I met Frances. I went for three semesters and then went to the U of A for a semester, but I just couldn't do it. I needed a lot help. I was still working for the newspaper company, but later I saw an ad for the post office and took the test and passed.