I grew up in the barrio El Hoyo west of the Southwest railroad tracks, close to the Santa Cruz River. The river was our source of firewood for cooking and for firing up the laundry tub. Every time it flooded, it would deposit another load for us. On wash day, everyone of us kids "turned to", chopping wood and keeping the fire going.
My dad was always working, mostly as a laborer. With eight kids to feed, his money didn't go too far. Whatever we earned selling papers and shining shoes, we had to throw into the pot. We really didn't have too much time to play games, but we did on occasion. We would play the usual kids' games or climb "A" Mountain (Sentinel Peak) in our bare feet.
I started school at Drachman, then Ochoa and Carrillo Elementary. I finished Safford Junior High but had to quit school when my father got sick. It fell on my older brother and me to support the family.
I turned seventeen on the 27th of May, 1950, and a good friend mine, Mike Romero, talked me into joining "E" Company. I didn't even get to attend one summer camp before the company was activated. They gave us ten days to take care of our personal business, but of course, all I had to do was say good-bye. My older brother wound up in the Army and we both sent money home.
Headed for Camp Pendleton wasn't only the first time I'd ever been o a train, but also the first time I'd ever been out of Tucson. When we were marched to the dining car with all that white linen and silverware, I was so green I didn't even know what it was for.
From Camp Pendleton I was sent to San Diego, along with about ten other guys from Tucson, for boot training. Gilbert Franco, Willy Valenzuela, Henry Parra, Joe Finley, Arnulfo Mares, Manuel Mares and Florencio Borboa were with me. There were five Borboas in "Easy" Company and I wasn't related to anyone of them. I suspect our platoon had it rougher than most because we were 80% Chicanos, undisciplined and smart alecky.
The Marine Corps has to tear you down to whale puke before they can build you into a Marine, you know. I remember this D.I. jabbing me on the shoulder and asking if it hurt. I'd say, "No, Sir!" After the third time, I figured he wouldn't stop until I said "Yes, Sir!" Then, he called me the equivalent of a sissy boy. In the end, in spite of me knocking down a stack of rifles, we wound up with the Honor Platoon Award. That night I slept with thirteen rifles in my bunk, my punishment for knocking the rifles down.
From boot camp I went to "Casual" Company for about a month and then to Camp Lejeune with the 2nd Division. I ran into Albert Armenta there. I stayed there until 1952, when I was released.
Back in Tucson, I found it hard to find a good job. After thinking it over, I decided to enlist in the regular Marines. I reported back to Camp Pendleton and in 1956 married Refugia Rivera.
My next assignment was Japan for a year and then Okinawa. I ran into Gasper Eldridge and Henry Valdenegro there. They had also joined the regulars. My outfit was living in tents then and they asked me to move in with them into a hut. I had to turn them down, mainly because I was senior man as a buck sergeant and it was easy duty. One time they were visiting at my tent when a typhoon hit us. We were tent bound for three days. We couldn't even go out to eat. We survived on a case of tuna, crackers, grapefruit juice and a Texas fifth (1/2 gallon) of vodka. Rough duty!
I was also sent to Vietnam in February of 1967, and came back in March of 1968. 1 can't say I was in the front lines because there were no front lines in Vietnam, just search and destroy. Besides, I was assigned to supplies. The rough part of this tour was that by this time I had three kids and I sure missed them.
Although I never made it to Korea, in 1951, I was involved in a division exercise where we did an amphibious landing on Vieques Island in Puerto Rico. In the exercise, the Army was the defender and the Marines were the aggressors. The Marines were successful and we were able to claim that we "won" the war. We got to go on liberty in San Juan. For that, we had to climb the cargo nets to go on board ship carrying our dress uniform in our pack, sail to San Juan and report back within eight hours. Not really enough time to get into any serious trouble.
Talk about getting into trouble. Gasper Eldridge, Benny Cruz and I went on Cinderella Liberty (unauthorized liberty) one time on Okinawa and the M.R's spotted us. We all took off running but Benny got caught. Gasper and I made it over the fence. True Marine that Benny was, he never gave our names. He got busted down in rank.
Another time, Gasper and I got a hold of a jeep and toured every inch of that island, even the caves. Don't ask me how we acquired the jeep, but it took us the better part of two days to explore the island.
Just before I was sent to Vietnam, I was a gunnery sergeant but I was given the job of the first sergeant in charge of the provisional training company. I was the only staff N.C.O. and I was getting all these privates out of boot camp. No N.C.O.'s. Two days before the training schedule was issued, I got four staff sergeants, fresh from the drill field-D.I.'s. That saved my ... day! I gave each a platoon and from then on, I steadily got more N.C.O.'s. Then I got a gunnery sergeant, same rank as me, except that he was a mess sergeant. I asked my C.O., "What am I going to do with him?" He says, "You figure it out." So I told the gunny, "You know how to figure rations, why don't you take the training schedule and figure what our daily ammo needs will be and keep us supplied." It's just wonderful how handy Marine training comes in. I made him my "go-fer".
In Hawaii, I had this major put in a requisition for a load of 2 x 4's. It was a routine requisition so it went through the usual channels. A week later, the major came in, wanting his 2 x 4's. So I told him that the requisition was running its course. He said, "I want it now!" So, I got a truck and took a working party to the Navy supply depot. There was a navy chief in a shack there but we sneaked past him and started loading. We were just about done loading when I saw the chief coming towards us. I told the guys, "Looks like we got caught! Start putting it back." When the chief got to us, he asked, "Just what the - - - - do you guys think you're doing?" I said, "Well, we had this material left over and I was told to return it." The chief yelled, "I don't need any more - - - - to worry about. You go dump it somewhere else!" So, I told the guys, "You heard him. Load it back up and let's go." The chief was happy. The major was happy. And, so was I.
You know the Marines are recognized as real scroungers, but I know a seabee that could have been a Marine. In Vietnam, we had an office in Da Nang that we used to work out of with "I" Corps and we used to have to haul in our own water in five-gallon cans. One night, I heard this seabee talking about his job running water lines. So I asked if it was possible to run water to our office. "Sure.", he said. "There's a main line running right by there." I asked him what it would take for him to get us water. He said, "A bottle of Johnny Walker Red. When do you want it?" Shortly after that, he showed up and within a half hour we had water in the office. Not only that, he had hooked it up to a drinking fountain which he had brought with him, still leaking water. I didn't ask him where he had "borrowed" it from.
When I was in Vietnam, I did a stupid thing. I took off on a jeep to get some information I needed on a weapon at the 1st Battalion, 1st Marines. I didn't think it was too far and I was told the road had been cleared of mines. On the way back, I was stopped by the M.R's and told that I couldn't use that road because a truck had just hit a mine. I was rerouted on another road which I wasn't familiar with. I didn't get back to Da Nang until it was dark and me without a flak jacket or helmet and only a.45 for a weapon.
The second time I had to go to the 1st Battalion, I went by helicopter. I took care of business and was relaxing on a bench waiting for my transportation when I was shaken by an explosion. It was a 155mm Howitzer that had just fired into the valley. I went up to this sergeant-major who was observing the shots with his binoculars. He told me there was a marine company catching hell down there. All the officers were out of action and First-Sergeant Alex Romero was calling the shots. What a small world! Twenty thousand miles away from home, I have a ringside seat watching a guy from Tucson, "Niggie's" brother, commanding a company in action. It was like watching a movie. His radioman was awarded the Medal of Honor for that action and Alex lived to manage the Marine Corps League Clubhouse in Tucson.
I've noticed that as we, the surviving members of "Easy" Company get older, we appreciate and respect each other all the more. We treat each other more like brothers. My departed friend, Ruben "Blackie" Carrillo, comes to mind. I met Sergeant-Major Guzman at a slop-chute (bar or RX.) and we got to talking. When I told him I was from Tucson, he told me that the best gunnery sergeant he ever had was from Tucson, Ruben Carrillo. He said he could count on him to take a company on patrol in Vietnam, accomplish his mission and bring all his men back, alive, wounded, or dead. That was quite an accomplishment when I remember that as a kid, he had such a hard time learning anything in school. I have a lot of respect for him. He knew his job and he was a brave man.
I have no respect for anyone that left the country to keep from going to Vietnam. I know it was a very unpopular war and they had all kinds of glorious reasons for being against it, but it boils down to the fact that they were cowards, willing to take all the good things this country has to offer without giving anything back. We were all afraid, but we had our duty and a greater fear of being branded a coward.
After Vietnam, I spent two years at the supply center in Barstow. My last duty station was M.C.R.D. San Diego in supply purchasing. I was there four years before retiring in 1974.
Back in Tucson, I worked two years for the University of Arizona in the stores department until I was called to work for the Tucson Unified School District running the bus fleet. I was there thirteen years. The last two years before I retired in 1987, I did the same for the Sunnyside School District.
Retired at fifty-five, I volunteered time to the homeless program for two years. During this time, I was a member of the Pima County Community Action Agency Board. We allocated social agencies in the county. Later, I was a member of the City of Tucson Budget Advisory Commission for two years.
My children, one girl and two boys, are grown now and I have eight grandchildren. The oldest boy is living with us temporarily, recovering from major surgery. My other boy is with the Tucson Police Department. My daughter is living in Okinawa where my wife and I hope to visit in June of 1996.
I am a life member of the Tucson Marine Corps League Detachment which was started by the old "Easy" Company members in 1970. I am also involved in the "E Company yearly reunions. This year should be a good one with more than one hundred members contacted.