interview by Rudy M. Lucero
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I was born and raised in Barrio Anita, close to Oury Park. I attended Davis Elementary, Roskruge Junior High, and graduated from Tucson High School in 1949.
My father was born in Ojo de Agua near Cananea, Sonora, Mexico. In 1926 he came to Arizona to work in the mines and worked in different mines around the state until he teamed with a friend of his and went into farming. He wound up marrying his friend's sister, my mother, and was soon busy raising a family. He worked in different jobs, such as street paving and landscaping, then he landed a job with the Southern Pacific Railroad in the machine shop. The S.P. was THE job to have for steady income in those days. He was with them until he retired.
Remembering his father
As a kid I helped with the household chores--watering plants, cleaning the house and chopping wood. The last chore helped me develop my batting skills.
Baseball was the neighborhood game and I loved it, although I wasn't great at it - I enjoyed it. I lettered on the high school team and continued playing until I was 23 years old. Those were the days when baseball was a good pastime - nobody made big money at it and once you were done with it, it was time to go to work and earn a living.
There was a swimming pool at Oury Park, but I was not allowed to go swimming - "too dangerous! " my folks would say. To this day I don't know how to swim. So, I would join the other kids at the stock yards and play cowboy, riding the steers there, or hop a ride on the freight trains passing the barrio. Then, when the 4th of July came along, we lit firecrackers under tin cans and watched them shoot up into the sky. One day some bright kid used a bottle instead of a can - the explosion shattered the bottle. By luck, no one was seriously hurt.
Hopping freight trains
4th of July
I was still in high school when Albert Felix talked me into joining "E" Company of the Marine Reserve. My main interest at the time was a new pair of shoes and the clothing issue. Eventually I lost interest in the bi- monthly meetings and was placed on the inactive reserves. I was working for a rug and furniture cleaning concern when "E" Company was activated. Because of my inactive status I wasn't called up until September of 1950. It was three months of boot camp and then on to Camp Pendleton until May of 1951, when I was Korea bound. I credit the Marine Corps with affording me my first trip out of state, my first train ride (outside of my freight train escapades), my first boat ride and my first airplane flight.
I landed in Pusan, Korea, and was sent north by truck. "Operation Killer", up the center of Korea, had just come to an end. I ran into Bobby Fisher, who was just coming off the line. Then I also saw Nacho Cruz, Richard Noriega, Harold Don and Bobby Leon, alias "Silver Dollar". I'll never forget Bobby's greeting. He was standing in his foxhole as I went by and he looked me up and down and exclaimed "Hijo de la tiznada, como estas de Prieto!" (Son of the tainted one; God you're black!) It struck me awfully funny coming from Bobby, who got his nickname because he was so dark he was shiny - like a silver dollar.
My tour of duty in Korea was short, but memorable. Most of the time I didn't know where I was. The hill numbers escape me. My outfit was Baker Company, First Battalion, First Marine Regiment. We were involved in several fire fights and went on a few combat patrols, but we were luckier than most outfits as far as casualties went.
Several incidents have stuck in my mind - such as the time we were called upon to put on a mock attack on a hill to entertain some Congressmen and visiting dignitaries. We were naturally using live ammunition and some Marines were wounded by ricochets. In a sense, "Come on Marines, let's kill a few people so we can impress the troops!" Now the visitors had a war story for the folks back home.
Once, while the Company was in reserve, my buddies and I decided to go to Wonju. The slight problem was that we didn't know where or how far it was. We walked until it got dark. Off in the distance we saw a light, so we headed for it. It had started to drizzle. As we came near the light we could distinguish an army Jeep parked under it. Marines being the scroungers we are, our next decision was a natural one. As we drove away, with me at the wheel, we heard someone hollering to halt, then bullets started flying. We had outdistanced the rifle shots when I ran the Jeep off the road and in the mud.
At this point we split up - my buddy and I headed in one direction and the other two in another. We had walked some distance when we were picked up by a couple of Marines heading toward us. They told us if Wonju was our destination we were going in the wrong direction. When we came to the spot where "our" Jeep had gone off the road we saw the army in a large- scale maneuver, hollering to our two buddies to come out before they started firing. They came out with their hands up and it didn't take long to tie us in as part of the notorious gang. Back at the rest area they put us to work digging latrines - probably for not bringing back the army Jeep!
On another occasion, when the Company was moving up, the convoy was stopped when the Captain saw an army tent setup by the side of the road. He asked for twenty "volunteers" and started taking down the tent. When the Lieutenant called it to his attention that the tent was army property Captain said - "So?"
I have a lot of praise for the Marine close-air support. I remember the horror of seeing a North Korean hit by napalm, running his last breath, on fire. The Marine pilots would be attached to front-line troops to direct air strikes. I'll never forget the thrill of meeting my baseball hero, Ted Williams, who was a Marine pilot in the Korean War. He had come to our unit to hold classes on the purpose and application of close air support. I also witnessed an F4U Corsair shot down by ground fire on one of these strikes. Luckily, the pilot parachuted to safety.
When "E" Company was activated each man's enlistment was extended for a year. In November of 1951 I was sent home because my time was up.
Once home, I went to work for SingerSewing Machine Company. Then I joined the Tucson Fire Department from which I retired as a Battalion Chief after 26 years. Next, I got a job with the University of Arizona developing materials for bilingual education. After that I worked for the Unified School District implementing a fire prevention program.
I retired again in July of 1993 to a life of leisure - golf, fishing and travel. Although I keep myself busy remodeling my house I sometimes catch myself going through the want ads.
I consider the Marine training the best thing that ever happened to me. Discipline, respect, self confidence and patriotism were the virtues to which I was exposed and by which I try to live. I learned to take orders, as well as to give them, and I attribute my success in life to this. I miss the friendships developed in the Corps. At one time I even considered re-enlisting. A while back Rogers Broussard, a Marine buddy from New lberia, Louisiana, stopped by to see me and it was like meeting a long lost brother. We really enjoyed rehashing sea stories - we had a memorable time.
The Espirit de Corps lingers on - once a Marine, always a Marine.