I grew up in Barrio San Antonio across the tracks from Millville in Tucson and also in the National City area, in what is now South Tucson, around 33rd Street and 3rd Avenue.
I attended Miles Elementary School and then Mansfeld Junior High, which was mostly Anglo. I was a very small minority there. I don't think there was but one other Chicano in my class. I was there about a year before we moved to 33rd Street. Then I attended Wakefield Junior High. Talk about culture shock! It was predominantly Chicano. Although it was mostly a rough crowd from Barrio Libre, I didn't have too much trouble there. Quite a few "E" Company Marines came out of there, like Jesse Ybarra, Joe Romero, Gasper Eldridge and Arnulfo Mares. They were all my camada (age group). For that matter, I got along well, even at Mansfeld. I did well in school, grade-wise, and excelled in sports, so I can't say I was discriminated against. Larry Esquivel and Gene Rodriguez were also Marines that came out of Mansfeld.
Shortly after we moved to 33rd Street, I got a summer job working at the first supermarket in Tucson, Soleng Market. I got a heck of a deal. I worked 9:00 to 9:00, a twelve-hour day, six days a week, for $24.00. It wasn't too much money but I got to take a lot of slightly-aged produce home. During school days, I still worked there part time until I was fifteen.
Then I went to work for the ice company delivering ice. I'm probably one of the last persons that used to deliver ice to the houses. Few people could afford refrigerators. I also worked at the ice plant on 31st Street and 6th Avenue. My father worked there, too, as a refrigeration mechanic. He was good at his trade. Sometimes they would send him to Sonora, Mexico, to trouble shoot their operations over there. After Wakefield, I attended Tucson High. I played varsity baseball the first year, but I decided to drop out after that because I needed to earn money to support myself and help the family.
I flunked my senior year for lack of half a credit. I would attend school Mondays and Fridays and I'd work the days in between, still I was passing my tests and getting good grades. This one teacher couldn't stand that. She told me that if I didn't show up on Senior Ditch Day, she would flunk me. I said, "You can't do that! I'm getting passing grades." Well, I didn't and she did. So I had to go back to school after Korea for my diploma. Teachers could be very unforgiving in those days.
I was seventeen when "E" Company was activated. You know, that was young for an hispanic senior in high school. Even at Wakefield Junior High, I can remember guys being drafted for the out of there. Anyway, I had attended my first summer camp when we boarded the train to take us from Tucson to Camp Pendleton.
At Pendleton, I was sent to the Sixteenth Area to work at the motor pool. We were taking trucks, tanks and other equipment out of moth bars, changing the oil and greasing them. Oriol Armenta, Manny Paz, "Boy" Ortega, and I forget who else from Tucson, was there. Some of these guys were in supplies. They claimed I had lucked out. Yeah! I was working a sixteen-hour day!
Of course I was learning something all the time. Some of the stuff I learned, I'd probably never use again. Like, for instance, I learned to rig loads for a crane. But it was good experience for a seventeen-year old.
Unbeknown to me, my mother found out that seventeen-year olds were being kept out of combat and she wrote to the Department of the Navy, telling them I had lied about my age. Maybe that's why they kept me in the States.
Around December, I was sent to Camp Pendleton for advanced combat training, sort-of like being double promoted. I never went to boot camp. That was a three-month grind of learning heavy weapons and winter training. The last two weeks, we were bused out to the mountains around Bear Lake. We were dropped off in an area with snow up to our butts. They told us, "Men, this is home! Make it livable." We pitched shelter-halves and shivered through the day. At night, the "aggressors" would pull raids on us and knock down our pup tents. We beat up a couple of them, just to show them we didn't like it too well. After a week of that, we were ready to go into combat, just to get away from the cold.
Shortly after that, we prepared to leave for Korea with the Seventh Draft. I wish I could remember more details about that. "Challo" Franco could probably clue you in. He has a better memory. He was with me. You know, you go through so many adventures and you say, "I'll never forget this." But in time, you do.
Our ship was the Aikin Victory, manned by merchant seamen. We anchored in Kobe Bay and we were anticipating liberty there. I guess the captain got tired of waiting for the pilot to take the ship in and decided to do it himself. Well, he was doing all right until he ran into the dock, damaging it extensively. The harbor master was so pissed, he ran him off, all the way to Korea. So much for liberty in Japan!
So, we debarked at Pusan, Korea. I had gone through the Advanced Infantry Training Program at Camp Pendleton, the whole course; infantry tactics, mortars, machine guns, rocket launchers, anything having to do with infantry. I was ready for any hole they had to plug up in the infantry. So what do they do? They put me in the artillery with the 11th Marines.
Driving from Pusan to the front lines took us all day. Along the way, we passed an encampment where someone was shouting, "Anybody from Tucson?" It was Tommy Price. I waved as we went by. It was 7:00 o'clock at night and pitch black when we arrived at our destination. I was fast asleep when a 105 battery cut loose on a firing mission. Talk about a rude awakening! They were just one hundred yards from us.
They assigned me to headquarters with the artillery. I probably saw as many 155's and 105's as you did. I was never assigned to a battery. I was assigned to Fire Direction Center. That's where all the firing missions come in. From there, they were directed to a particular battery that was going to carry it out. I looked at all the charts and technical stuff around and thought to myself, "Am I going to be cooped up in this tent for a whole year?" So I asked if there was something else. I wound up at flash-and-sound-range, sort of a forward observer that is supposed to detect artillery visually or with sound waves. We'd be attached to front line troops most of the time, but sometimes we'd be all by ourselves on a tall hill.
On one occasion, I was with some of the guys from Tucson; Gasper Eldridge, Arnulfo Mares and "Fanel" Gallardo. I was sitting in a bunker with Gasper when a couple of Corsairs came to plaster the hill in front of us. "Look, Gasper! Isn't that purty?" I said, as some napalm exploded. He says, "Yeah, they're celebrating my birthday." It was October 14th of 1951. When I first arrived at that hill, I was climbing up to the top when I saw this guy coming down. He was wearing bright red lumberjack socks that stuck over the top of his boots. His walk was familiar to me and sure enough, it was Gasper. That guy had a knack for lightening up the situation with his demeanor, if not his guitar playing.
We had a real fine colonel for an officer. He really looked out for his men, especially us with the forward observers. When we got our beer ration, he always made it a point to save some for the front-line troops. One time when I got back from my post, I had seven cases of beer waiting for me. Another time, roaming through the rear echelon area, we spotted an electric generator which belonged to the dentist. So we came back on a moonlight requisition and took it for lighting up our rear post. Our colonel knew what we had done but he never said anything.
I ran into my cousin, "Quiqui" Parra, when he came through our lines sometime in April of 1951. He was an ammo carrier with a machine-gun platoon in the 7th Marines. When I saw him again, we were in a rest area. He was already a squad leader. This was in May. The process of elimination was working.
I never knew where I was at in Korea. We had hill numbers but that didn't tell me anything. The biggest city I saw was Chunchon and we burned it to the ground. Of course we never had an R and R, but the Army did. They even got to go all the way to Japan for their R and R. Must have been nice.
In October I was wounded. Four of us were headed for the outpost. We were walking single file about twelve or fifteen feet apart when out of the comer of my eye I saw this flash. Next thing I knew, we were picking ourselves up off the ground. The two guys in front were unhurt. The guy in front of me had his knee blown off and I had been peppered with shrapnel up and down my left side. A big chunk of wood was torn away from my carbine stock. I was bleeding from a head wound. When Tim Ryan saw me, he said, "Damn, Ed! You've been hit!" He went to get up to help me and fell flat on the ground. He didn't know his knee was missing. They sent one of those bubble-nose choppers to pick us up, the kind with the stretchers on the skids. I told them I wasn't that seriously hurt, that I would take the ambulance. The risk factor of the helicopter being shot down did not appeal to me.
I never knew whether Tim lost his leg or not. It's sad that you can become so close to your buddies that you would risk your life for them and next minute they're out of the picture for good.
I wound up in a field hospital in the rear next to an army artillery eight-inch battery. It was certainly not the place for someone suffering from shell shock. The doctor decided not to take most of the shrapnel out. He said it would do more damage than good.
I was assigned a cot in a ward where I saw this guy with a cast in one arm and a mop in the other. I asked, "What are you doing?" He answered, "What do you think? We have to keep this place clean. It's going to be your turn next." I thought, "Bull - - - - ! I'm not going to be mopping floors." I went to see the doctor to tell him I wanted out of there. So he gave me some antibiotics and instructions for changing the bandages and I hitched a ride back to my unit. I had it easy for about a week then went back to my regular duties. This was in October of 1951.
In February of 1952, I came off the line. My time was up. We were trucked to the seashore where an L.S.T. was beached. This sergeant came up to us and said, "See that ship anchored out there? Well, that's going to take you to Japan, and you see this L.S.T.? This is going to take you to that ship, but before it can do that, it has to be unloaded. So get busy!"
They had taken away all our cold-weather gear. All we had was field jackets. We worked all day and had to sleep on the L.S.T.'s well deck that night. It was cold and miserable! The next day we finished unloading and were taken to that nice transport that took us to Japan. We thought, "Boy, this is going to be nice, riding this ship all the way home." At Kobe we were given liberty. The first thing we were going to do was go to a nice restaurant and order a big steak with all the trimmings. But instead, we went on to the second thing. Civilization was great! We never did get our steak.
The sad part was when we were told we were going home on the Aikin Victory, the same scow we had taken coming over. We didn't mind that much. It was taking us home!
After the usual medical checkup in San Diego, I was released from active duty.
I went back to work at the ice plant when I got back home. Larry Esquivel was there, too. He had beat me home when he was wounded. Manny Palomino and his brother also worked there. Our boss was great! He told us that if we wanted to go back to school, we could pick our own hours to work. He went by the honor system. He'd pay us for eight hours. It was up to us to give him eight hours work. Most of the Korean vets working there graduated from college. I took a few college courses but passed up a good chance to get a degree.
I worked for the railroad for about three months until they shut down. I also worked as an electrician and for Hughes Aircraft Company. In 1955, 1 had applied for a job with the fire department. One day I passed the fire station by the library on Sixth Avenue. Rudy Arriaga and Tony Cordova were out there and they asked me if I didn't want to work for the fire department. They had been trying to get a hold of me for six months. So I worked for them for twenty-five years and retired as a battalion chief at age forty-seven. A year later I went to work for Hughes again. I was there thirteen-and-a-half years and retired as manager of Fire Protection and Physical Security with about one-hundred people under me.
I think I owe the Marine Corps a vote of thanks. It instilled in me self-confidence and self-discipline which helped me throughout my civilian life. One time I went before the promotional board to see if I qualified as a captain. They asked me why I thought I was prepared. I told them I knew I was prepared when I made corporal in the Marine Corps. I got my captaincy. It's amazing how much weight having been in the Corps carries on a resume or work application.