Willie Valenzuela

Willie Valenzuela [image courtesy of Ruben Moreno]
Willie Valenzuela
[image courtesy of Ruben Moreno]

interview by Rudy M. Lucero

My mother came from Oro Blanco, near Arivaca, Arizona, and my father came from San Jose de Pima, Sonora, Mexico; he was a farmer and horse trainer with high ideals.

I was born in Amado, Arizona, and I remember cleaning the chicken coops and handling the milk cows at the ranch. I also remember how poor we were and going barefoot, yet we never went hungry because we planted produce and were even able to help the less fortunate. My father was very generous and would never accept charity for himself or his family -qualities I try to live by.

When my family moved to Tucson I attended Drachman, Ochoa and Government Heights elementary schools, Wakefield Junior High School and Tucson High School. As a kid I worked for Midtown Market after school and on Saturdays and Sundays, dusting cans and sweeping and I made enough money to take my younger brother and sister to the movies.

At 16 1 joined Company "E" of the Marine Reserves. I was working for Tony Urias Displays helping decorate store windows when "E" Company was activated and because of my young age and lack of experience I was sent to Marine Boot Camp while the older boys were assigned to Korea. To this day I am thankful for the Marine training I received. Now I was trained and ready to go and win a war but, with good luck, I was never sent overseas no matter how many times I volunteered. I was disappointed then, but now I thank my lucky star.

Back from the service, l again went to work for Urias. Later my brother talked me into joining the Carpenters' Apprenticeship Program and I took a side job hanging dry wall. Before long I started my own dry wall company. I have a successful business, a beautiful wife, six children, fourteen grandchildren, and consider myself blessed.

The latest feather in my cap is having been appointed Ombudsman (Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve) under the Secretary of Defense. My job is to provide legal aid and support for men called up for duty or training who run into trouble with their jobs or employers. I travel the country explaining the law to employers and meeting with Admirals and Generals and I get a kick out of this - I, who could never go beyond P.F. C. telling these people what's what! I don't consider myself the smartest man around and if I could do it anyone could.

Just before graduating from junior high school I went to see the principal, as spokesman for the class, to ask for a "Ditch Day". My request was denied but some of my classmates and I took the day off anyway. My leadership qualities were not appreciated so my classmates and I were expelled and not allowed to graduate and I had to make up my last semester while attending high school. I feel sorry for my classmates who never bothered to make up that last semester and I wonder if we hadn't been Hispanic wouldn't the whole thing have been considered "cute"?

As I mentioned before, I am thankful for my Marine training. I feel it put my life in perspective and gave me a feeling of pride in myself and what I do. I am convinced that if kids today could receive this kind of training - let's say starting in their junior year - it would straighten out a lot of the problems we are having today.

I appreciate your efforts in collecting these oral histories and would advise you to make haste, since we are losing members at a rapid rate. I recall Oscar Nunez coming to the League Club House not too long ago to say "goodbye". He knew cancer was taking him soon. Then we lost Oscar Paredes and Gilbert Ruelas. You never got their histories, either.

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