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Thread: Their turn to talk

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    Their turn to talk

    Their turn to talk
    By Tania Chatila, Staff Writer


    IRWINDALE - When Rudolph Estrada recounts his World War II days, he looks back on the "Mexican kid" who managed to disable a German tank, or "Tiger," with a bazooka.

    Estrada, 81, who was born in Chicago and served as a corporal in the 83rd Army Infantry, remembers telling his commander the infantryman " deserves a medal." The commander said, "Why? That's what soldiers get paid to do."

    The story is reminiscent of the attitude toward Latinos then and now, according to Ray Ramirez, third vice commander of AMVETS Post 113 in Irwindale.

    "People forget what Mexican Americans have done for this country ... The point is to be accepted," he said. "We still have to convince people."

    Ramirez is on a mission to get recognition for Mexican-American veterans, like his relatives who fought for their country during

    World War II.

    The post held a special taping Wednesday to preserve nearly a dozen San Gabriel Valley Mexican-American World War II veterans' accounts of their experiences.

    Ramirez's quest comes on the heels of a debate surrounding a Public Broadcasting Service documentary by Ken Burns, which critics say overlooked the contributions Latinos made during World War II.

    "I went to see clips of it in Beverly Hills a few weeks ago. ... The only Hispanics shown in Burns' video are in Sacramento at a packing house," the Vietnam War veteran said.

    But Ramirez's grievances did not start there.

    He has been writing letters and pushing for more recognition for Mexican-American veterans for more than a decade.

    In 1999, Ramirez wrote director Steven Spielberg arguing the blockbuster hit "Saving Private Ryan" was lacking mention of Mexican-American soldiers.

    And more recently, Ramirez sent a letter about the Burns documentary to PBS President and Chief Executive Officer Paula Kerger.

    After little was done to appease him, Ramirez contacted independent filmmaker Joseph Angier, who was already working on a California-focused World War II project for PBS to accompany Burns' series.

    Together, they coordinated Wednesday's taping for a one-hour documentary, titled "California At War." It is scheduled to air in August.

    "I was already on the horn to find Latino war veterans. ... The idea of Latinos having some heart in the state during World War II is a no-brainer," Angier said.

    "It wouldn't have occurred to us not to include Latinos."

    Angier said he was taken aback by the lack of Latinos in Burns' piece.

    Burns, who was in Paris for a film festival, could not be reached for comment.

    But a spokesman for his seven-part series, titled "The War," said the film was never meant to be a comprehensive history of World War II.

    "It looks at the stories of individuals in four towns sort of geographically spread throughout the United States," said Joe DePlasco.

    Officials announced Thursday that Burns' documentary will include additional content incorporating the Latino contribution to the war effort.

    Additionally, the film never meant to include or exclude any particular ethnic groups, DePlasco said.

    The four cities covered in the film are Waterbury, Conn., Mobile, Ala., Luverne, Minn., and Sacramento.

    But Gilbert Cadena, a professor of Chicano and Latino studies at Cal Poly Pomona, said he knows of plenty Mexican-American veterans in Sacramento.

    "In this time, in the year 2007, for Ken Burns and national journalists to completely ignore Latinos is just symptomatic of this narrow understanding in the United States," he said.

    It is possible that the Mexican-American experience during the war is often overlooked because when people think of multiculturalism in World War II, they think of the official segregation blacks faced in the military and Japanese-Americans faced in internment camps, said Martin Morgan, director of research at the National World War II Museum in New Orleans.

    "I think Mexican Americans get a little pushed to the side," he said.

    But the public should expect that filmmakers like Burns would be more ethnically sensitive when creating pieces such as "The War," Morgan said.

    "It surprised me that he didn't, just on his own by being sensitive and thoughtful, that he didn't say, `Let's look at the history of Hispanic-Americans,"' Morgan said.

    For some veterans, the exclusion is not significant.

    Angelo Guerrero's family is originally from Mexico, but the former World War II Navy motorman from Alhambra considers himself an American.

    Born in Los Angeles, he said he does not bother with ethnic designations.

    "When I joined the Navy, you were either white, black, yellow or red. I'm white. I was born here. I'm an American. I fought as an American and I'd do it again."

    But for other veterans, the omission is much more personal.

    "I do feel kind of left out," said Estrada, who now lives in West Covina. "It hurts me. It's like we didn't exist in World War II."

    Tony Aguilera, 83, does not talk about the 15 months he was held in a German prison camp when he was 17.

    "He can't even watch war stories, or war movies," his daughter Linda Strobehn said. "It makes him cry."

    Still, the Irwindale man felt strongly enough about recounting his other experiences that he went to the taping last week.

    "If we don't do this now, then who is going to do it?" Ramirez said.

    tania.chatila@sgvn.com

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    Re: Their turn to talk

    In the local paper of my home area of Ventura County, California,
    there have been a staggering number of recent obituaries or
    stories of Mexican Americans who served during World War II.

    - Chuck Johnston

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    Their turn to talk

    He won't soon forget
    Combat memories haunt World War II veteran
    By Tania Chatila, Staff Writer

    WWII Veteran Ben Diaz

    HACIENDA HEIGHTS Of the more than 80 Germans Benigno Diaz killed during World War II, one continues to haunt him a little boy.

    He was maybe 10 years old, Diaz recalls, and part of the Hitler Youth campaign to train and recruit Nazi soldiers.

    The boy was hiding out with two German gunmen who had been shooting at Diaz's company from inside a building in a small German town in 1945.

    "I spotted the two ... so I threw a hand grenade and what I saw later was that I had killed a little boy," Diaz said.

    He can hardly get through the story without forcing back tears.

    "I didn't expect that. I felt guilty. I still feel guilty. I had to turn away from his face because I didn't want to see it anymore."

    But Diaz can't soon

    forget those memories of combat as a young Los Angeles native serving as a private first class in the 65th Army Infantry division.

    He enlisted in 1943 at 18, and one year later, was shipped out to fight in France.

    At Camp Lucky Strike, a pep talk from Gen. George S. Patton readied him for the carnage of war.

    "He was a tough man, used to cuss a lot," Diaz said. "I remember him telling us not to get killed without killing at least one of them bastards."

    It was a motto Diaz, 82, would live by for the next year before being discharged in 1945.

    "He was a ranger, he was a 'Rambo' if you will," Diaz's son, Benigno Diaz Jr., 37, said. "He was a killer in combat. He had to be."

    But Diaz Sr. was also a hero, although he won't admit it.

    A Purple Heart and a Bronze Star for bravery are just some of several that sit in a memory box above Diaz's living room couch.

    He received the Bronze Star for trying to save a fellow comrade who was drowning in Germany's Danube River after a raid in 1945.

    "All hell broke , and bullets were flying," Diaz said.

    He was shot in the left shoulder and the impact of the bullet flung him into the water, where he heard another wounded GI yelling for help.

    "I went over to try and help him, and I got him to the edge of the water," Diaz said. "I remember he said, 'Mama.' Then he died in my arms, right there in my own arms.

    "I can never forget that. I feel guilty that I couldn't save him."

    Today, Diaz still has trouble talking about the deaths he witnessed soldiers being blown up by land mines and the memory of the lone GI who took his last breath in Diaz's arms.

    But he has come a long way.

    "He never really talked about it before," said Kimberly Rangel, Diaz's daughter.

    It wasn't until about seven years ago that Diaz began opening up about his time in combat.

    The Mexican American, whose father was from Aguascalientes, Mexico, was seeing a therapist for almost three years up until about four months ago, Rangel said.

    "He would have nightmares at night," she said. "He would wake up screaming, in cold sweats."

    One night, Diaz woke up punching his mattress. He had been dreaming he was fistfighting with a German soldier.

    Another night, he dreamt he killed a German who crashed his plane in the back yard of Diaz's Hacienda Heights home.

    "Yes, some things do haunt him," Diaz Jr. said. "War does change you. He says that quite often."

    In his old age, Diaz Sr. just wants to lay his demons to rest.

    "I wish I could forget it, but it stays in my mind. It's level enough, but I still can't talk too well about it ... But here I am, I guess. I'm still here."

    tania.chatila@sgvn.com

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    Their turn to talk

    For absent heroes
    World War II veteran remembers those who didn't make it home
    By Tania Chatila Staff Writer


    Untold stories of Mexican-American veterans of WWII

    WEST COVINA - More than 60 years later, Mike Palomo still has a small piece of the Japanese kamikaze plane that attacked his ship in 1944 in the Philippines.

    The burgundy metal fragment - part of the red, circular Japanese insignia on the side of the plane - has nine names etched into it.

    "Jack Lucas," "Soapy Riley" and "Keester" are some of those names Palomo scratched into the metal as a young Navy gunner's mate in World War II.

    Above them are the words, "They did not die in vain."

    "They died, I didn't," the 81-year-old said. "They were young guys, just like me. Sometimes I wonder what would they have done with their lives."

    Palomo was born in Sonora, Mexico, but was raised in California and became a naturalized citizen in 1946.

    He fought in eight major battles during World War II.

    Of those eight, the attack in the Philippines that took the lives of nine of his friends from the "greatest generation" stays vivid in his mind.

    "On a ship, whenever a suicide plane hits, someone's going to die," he said. "In war, we all expect to get killed. You figure, `I'm sorry he's dead, but I'm glad I'm alive.' ... That's war."

    But that was not something Palomo

    realized when he first enlisted in February 1943 as a 17-year-old from San Diego.
    Still in high school, Palomo followed friends who felt that, in the spirit of patriotism, they needed to fight.

    "I didn't really realize what battle was," he said. "I think we were too young to realize what the fight was even about, but we felt we had to serve our country."

    Nine months later, Palomo understood the reality of war during the Battle of Tarawa in the South Pacific.

    "After that first time, you know, you see all these dead Marines floating around in the water and you think, `That could be me."'

    Palomo also learned the pains of discrimination during his military days.

    As a Mexican American growing up in a border town, Palomo said he never experienced racism.

    It wasn't until he entered the military and watched African Americans serve in segregation that he, himself, was subjected to racial slurs.

    Palomo and other Latinos found protection from the discrimination as a group. At nights, they would gather to play music and sing songs.

    "I know he's been through a lot," his wife, Eva Palomo, said. "He's seen a lot. I always tell him he's lived a full life."

    In his West Covina home, Mike Palomo still has keepsakes from his wartime days.

    A string of four photographs taken from another ship show the before and after pictures of his ship - the USS Maryland - being attacked in an air raid in Okinawa, Japan.

    Palomo also has a shadowbox boasting his dog tags and all his commemorative medals from World War II and the Korean War.

    "His generation, they are dropping like flies now," said son Carlos Palomo.

    He - like his father - feels more needs to be done to voice the stories of Mexican-American and Latino veterans.

    "They absolutely deserve more recognition for the battles they fought and everything they sacrificed, especially for the ones that didn't make it home," he said.

    For Mike Palomo, the memorabilia helps to tell those stories.

    "I feel so proud that I served," he said. "I feel proud I was in combat. I've done my bit for this country. ... I earned my right to be here."

    tania.chatila@sgvn.com

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    Re: Their turn to talk


    Area veteran remembers WWII
    By Tania Chatila Staff Writer

    SOUTH EL MONTE - He compared them to "cords of wood" - the bodies of American Marines heaped in stacks, ready to be hauled off for burial.

    "They piled them up high," said John Torrez, 84, who served as a corporal with Platoon 165 in the 1st Marine Division during World War II.

    "Mop up" was a duty the South El Monte man always felt a little funny about doing.

    The bodies of Japanese soldiers from the Okinawa battlefield were thrown into a dirt hole - a makeshift mass grave.

    But American soldiers were taken to a cemetery.

    "You know, it saddens you to see all those young guys ... you feel sorry for them," he said.

    "Maybe you went through boot camp with them and then they are gone."

    As a 21-year-old from a small mining town in Arizona, Torrez had never seen such carnage before enlisting in 1944.

    Now, the veteran keeps snapshots of dead Japanese soldiers in a family photo album.

    It's

    a chapter in his life that defines part of his existence.
    "Everything is so vivid in his mind," said Torrez's daughter-in-law, Joann Torrez. "It's just been the last few years that he has gotten older and is not able to speak about it as well. But he was definitely a proud Marine."

    Before being discharged in 1946, Torrez spent much of his World War II days in Okinawa driving trucks and delivering supplies.

    "I remember one time, I was driving and I saw a little boy on the street," he said. "He was crying and all these ladies saw him but nobody stopped to help."

    The Japanese boy, who was probably about 5 years old, had a bullet hole in his foot.

    "He looked like one of my nephews," Torrez said. "I felt sorry for him so I picked him up, put him in the front seat of the truck and took him \."

    It was a humble act in a trying time.

    But not all of Torrez's memories are so fond.

    Although his unit did not see much combat, Torrez still shudders at the thought of enemy soldiers he killed in battle.

    Some of the stories he will not tell.

    "You feel bad," he said, remembering one young Japanese soldier who tried to sneak into a Marine camp at night. Torrez spied him making his way across a bridge.

    Then Torrez shot him.

    "He was such a young guy, but we used to think it's us or them," he said.

    By the time Torrez was discharged, he was a different man from the young, handsome Mexican American who went to war two years before, eager to kill Japanese enemy forces.

    "Growing up, I never really asked him much about it," said Torrez's son, Ernie Torrez. "I guess when you are a kid, you don't realize those things ... Now, when I look back, I think, `What an experience."'

    After World War II, John Torrez never served in the military again.

    Instead, he spent the rest of his life working as a mechanic and helping his wife raise their five sons.

    One war was enough.

    And while Torrez cannot admit to being proud of the things he did in wartime, he doesn't downplay the duty he did for his country.

    "I can say I was proud to have went into the service," Torrez said. "I did what I had to do, that's all."

    tania.chatila@sgvn.com

  6. #6
    Roberto Aqui
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    Re: Their turn to talk

    Quick...forward to Ken Burns.

    Actually, I hear he's busy modifying his doc. There were a couple of storied Latino Audie Murphy's from South Texas as well. Most heros in the world get little recognition.

    What kills me is how the US tried to make a hero out of that Lynch girl rescued in Iraq at the beginning of the war. Fortunately she wouldn't have anything to do with it, and it turns out the hero was the Iraqi Dr. who walked 15 miles of war zone to notify US troops of her existance and then had to walk the 15 miles back.

    Then they tried to make a hero out of Pat Tillman after he was shot dead by US troops. He was already a hero for giving up millions of dollars to enlist after 9/11. They don't have to make them up, they already exist.

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    Their turn to talk

    A veteran's story
    Former Navy quartermaster remembers combat in Pacific during World War II

    Untold stories of Mexican-American veterans of WWII

    WWII Veteran Bernard Leyva

    WHITTIER - For nearly six months before being honorably discharged from the Navy, Bernard Leyva hid a tattered, worn American flag at the bottom of his sea bag.

    The former third class quarter master had originally been ordered to deliver the flag for proper disposal more than 60 years ago.

    But it was an order Leyva did not follow.

    The flag had served as emblem aboard the USS Lang - the 1,500-ton destroyer ship Leyva called home for nearly three years during Word War II.

    "That flag flew from Ulithi to Okinawa to San Francisco," the 84-year-old said. "It meant a lot to me."

    It now sits in a special case in the Mexican-American's Whittier home office.

    In the small room - where two of Leyva's sons used to sleep - is an abundance of war and Navy memorabilia.

    It doesn't surprise Leyva's wife, Marie, who admits her husband of about 40 years uses every chance he gets to talk

    about his time in the service.
    "He's always telling all the kids, the grandkids, anyone who will listen," the 72-year-old said.

    "Join the Navy and see the world" - that was promotional slogan that had Bernard Leyva hooked at 20.

    As a young Los Angeles native living in Upland and working as a statistical draftsman for the U.S. Army, Leyva said he wanted to be all he could be at the height of World War II.

    "I didn't want to be drafted, I wanted to join up myself," he said.

    Leyva enlisted in the Navy in November 1943 and after two months of boot camp, went for special training to become a quartermaster.

    "I used to assist the ship's navigating officer," he said.

    As a quarter master, he also plotted courses, used magnetic compasses and trained in Morse code.

    "I stood a lot of watches up on the bridge," Leyva said. "When we were in the South Pacific, I would go up on watch for eight hours, then rest 16 hours, then go up again for another eight hours."

    It was on one of those watches in 1944 that Leyva had his first close encounter with a Japanese kamikaze suicide plane.

    "I looked through \ and way up high I could see the Japanese planes flying around," he said. "They spotted us and they were going to try to get us."

    Leyva warned his commanding officers immediately, who then ordered the ship push forward at full speed and on a zigzag course.

    "One plane came by and I could see the bullets hitting the water," he said.

    But the "Lucky Lang" - as it was nicknamed - was never hit. No one on board was ever injured during the war.

    "They would try to send up other destroyers to help us \but they all got hit," he said. "Our ship was unscathed. I don't know. God was with us I guess, but I didn't get it."

    During his time in the Navy, Leyva and the Lang engaged in several assignments including sweeping for mines along the Philippine coast and helping to protect transporter ships - with thousands of soldiers on board - reach Japanese shores safely.

    In the spring of 1946, Leyva's ship was ordered to return to Hawaii and San Francisco to load up supplies.

    His men never returned to the war zone.

    "We were just about to head back out to joint the fleet when Japan surrendered," he said. "I was relieved. I knew if we went back, it was going to be the most fierce battle."

    The USS Lang was sent to Brooklyn for decommissioning. It was then that Leyva made the decision to disobey orders and keep the ship's American flag.

    "He went in a kid and came out a man," Marie Leyva said, adding that she always thought her husband should have made a career in the Navy.

    Instead, Bernard Leyva returned to his trade as a draftsman up until his retirement in 1990.

    "It was so long ago now, it just seems like a dream, almost like a dream," he said of the war.

    But the encased flag and the abundance of memorabilia remind him it was real.

    "I was so proud, proud to have served," he said. "We fought for freedom."

    tania.chatila@sgvn.com

  8. #8
    Roberto Aqui
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    Re: Their turn to talk

    [[In the spring of 1946, Leyva's ship was ordered to return to Hawaii and San Francisco to load up supplies.

    His men never returned to the war zone.

    "We were just about to head back out to joint the fleet when Japan surrendered," he said. "I was relieved. I knew if we went back, it was going to be the most fierce battle." ]]
    =========================

    It ain't politically correct in some circles, but it was the atomic bomb that forced the Japanese surrender. Even the Japanese defense minister recently admitted the a-bomb saved lives and was inevitable.

    More people were lost in the firebombing of Tokyo or Dresden than died with the a-bomb. The realities of war always seem to be lost on future generations, which is why leaders always repeat the same old mistakes.

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    Their turn to talk

    War hero remembered
    By Tania Chatila, Staff Writer


    MONTEBELLO - Manuel "Memo" Zabala went into the service as one man and came out another.

    He saved the lives of seven men from burning tanks in Germany during World War II. The private first class was also involved in the discovery of a German "death camp" in 1945, where more than a thousand people had been massacred by enemy forces.

    "Here is a guy who had what it took," said Raymond Ramirez, a distant relative of Zabala's and third vice commander of AMVETS Post 113 in Irwindale.

    Zabala, who grew up in Montebello, died on Sept. 12 in Mexico. He was 87.

    But his legacy is strong. Family, friends and admirers peg him as a Latino World War II hero.

    "He was all man," Zabala's nephew, Ray Zabala, said. "He didn't want anything for free. When he was sent to do a job, he was going to do the best he could."

    Manuel Zabala grew up among a clan of nearly 100 relatives in Simons Brick Co. It was a brickyard that in the 1920s, '30s and '40s employed a predominately Mexican immigrant work force.

    At the company town, in the area that is now Commerce and Montebello, families of the employees lived in simple wooden houses, raised cattle and sent their children to a village school.

    "It was nothing but shacks and dirt road," Ray Zabala said.

    Manuel Zabala, who attended Montebello High School, was one of 15 children. Five of his brothers joined him in World War II.

    Only one is still alive. He lives in La Puente.

    "I think they are all role models because they were all asked to defend the United States of America," Ray Zabala said. "With no hesitation, they all went."

    Of the six brothers, Manuel Zabala was the only one to receive the Distinguished Service Cross the second-highest military award behind the Medal of Honor.

    It was for saving the lives of those seven men, government documents show.

    Manuel Zabala was with the 102nd Infantry Division in Germany in February of 1945 when an Allied tank was hit by enemy forces during an attack in the town of Hottorf.

    The tank went up in flames with five occupants inside. Zabala sprinted through enemy fire to the tank and pulled the five soldiers to safety.

    Shortly after, a second tank was disabled and again, Manuel Zabala saved two more men, Ray Zabala said. One of those men had a shattered leg so the private first class performed an amputation on the battlefield using only his trench knife and a scalpel.

    "I asked him one time, 'were you afraid?,' " said Marina Zabala, Manuel Zabala's daughter. "He just told me, 'I didn't have time to think about being afraid.' "

    Marina Zabala said her father never talked much about the war, though images from television and movies usually sparked random memories.

    Somewhere tucked away in Marina Zabala's home the same Montebello home her parents built in 1952 is war memorabilia from her father's time in the service.

    Among the items is a German Nazi flag stained with blood, she said. Her father took it from the German "death camp" his division helped liberate in April 1945.

    More than 1,000 political and military prisoners were killed there. German forces marched them into a barn near the town of Gardelegen, then set it on fire.

    "Two days later the Americans showed up ... They found the barn full of the bodies all burned up," Ramirez said. "And then of course when they found wounded people still alive, they gave them first aid and fed them."

    Manuel Zabala and his comrades also helped prepare the bodies of the dead for burial, he said.

    "I remember when my uncle finally came home (from the war)," Ray Zabala said. "He had a duffle bag and he said, 'Se fue Monchi, llego Pancho.' "

    It meant that he had gone into the service as one man, and had come out as another.

    "A few years back we got this letter to go to Olveira Street because they were honoring Hispanic veterans," Marina Zabala said. "They called my dad and everybody stood up. They were honored to be in his presence... That's when it hit me he had really done something great."

    tania.chatila@sgvn.com

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    Re: Their turn to talk

    Vet herded 20,000 captives Alcala assisted in mass surrender of German soldiers during World War II
    By Tania Chatila Staff Writer
    sgvtribune


    WHITTIER - His mission was to help about two dozen comrades herding 20,000 armed German soldiers who surrendered during World War II.

    At first, David Alcala thought it was crazy.

    But it wasn't long before he was driving his jeep up and down the massive line of enemy forces as they marched on the banks of the Loire River in September 1944 toward a prisoner camp.

    The Whittier resident and his fellow soldiers were ordered to make sure the captive Germans marched without incident.

    "I was hoping they wouldn't (turn on us)" the 86-year-old said. "If anything would have started, I wouldn't be here."

    Alcala's unit, the Intelligence and Reconnaissance Platoon of the Army's 329th Infantry Regiment, assisted in what is widely considered the largest mass surrender during the war. They were featured on an episode of the popular 1950s

    television show, "This is Your Life," with host Ralph Edwards.
    Alcala was the only Mexican-American in the platoon.

    "You know, I didn't even know anything about it until they called from that show," said Alcala's wife of nearly 60 years, Jane Alcala. "After my neighbors came over saying, `He's a hero. He's a hero."'

    For David Alcala's family, the story is almost overwhelming.

    "Twenty-three men shepherding 20,000 soldiers, that's amazing," Alcala's son-in-law George Kimura said.

    Alcala doesn't seem to think so. He said he was just doing his job in a war that initially didn't need his help. Before being drafted in 1942, the La Verne native unsuccessfully tried to join the military several times. Because of a hearing problem, he was consistently turned away.

    But in 1942, after all his friends had been shipped off to fight, Acala got a draft card in the mail. Then 21, he was a student at Chaffey College.

    "That's when I quit school," he said. "I took my F's and ran."

    The Army turned a blind eye to his hearing impairment and sent him off to boot camp. Alcala was eventually assigned to the Intelligence and Reconnaissance Platoon where his job was to scour enemy territory for vital military intelligence information.

    He was shipped overseas in 1944 and arrived in France about a week after D-Day.

    "When we landed, they unloaded us from the ship and there was fighting going on so we had to run inland and find a (fox) hole," he said. "The first hole I landed in there was a paratrooper, but he was dead ... That was very, very scary because it was the first thing I saw."

    Alcala called it a wake-up call.

    "We didn't know what we were getting into until that day," he said.

    Alcala spent the remainder of the war in Europe, mostly in France and Germany.

    In addition to his work with the German captives, he also fought in the Battle of the Bulge and was injured while driving a jeep in Germany in 1945.

    "We were supposed to go across this bridge to see what was going on on the other side," he said. "I put my leg out and then I felt my leg warm."

    Alcala had been hit just below his left knee with shrapnel. The injury earned him a Purple Heart and a ticket out of the war.

    Scars from the wound are still clearly visible on Alcala's left leg. He has no problem walking, but over the years pieces of the metal shrapnel have slowly seeped out of his pores.

    "It was like coarse pepper," Jane Alcala said. "These little black things would come out of his leg. I just think of pepper every time I remember it."

    Today, the retired school teacher spends much of his time with family. After 3 p.m., his Whittier home turns into an after-school meeting ground for several of his grandchildren.

    They revel at the war stories he tells, though he tries to downplay his time in the service.

    "I think these are a generation of people that don't really flaunt their heroics," Kimura said. "I think they are (heroes)."

    tania.chatila@sgvn.com

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