Latino WW2 Vets companion stories, Day 2
More companion stories from the Latinos and Latinas & WWII Oral History Project that echo the theme of “last night’s episode” of The War, When the Going Gets Tough. These are stories of the war in North Africa and Italy, and of being shot down from a plane.
Joseph Diaz made it to Naples when Mt. Vesuvius was erupting.
Pvt. Diaz was the only Mexican in his unit, which included Audie Murphy, the most decorated combat soldier in World War II. Mr. Diaz said Murphy admonished the soldiers not to waste ammunition.
Once he landed in Morocco there was no time to travel slowly. His division moved into Tunisia, where fighting subsided, and Pvt. Diaz thought he was heading home.
Unfortunately, there was more fighting to come against Germany’s Gen. Erwin Rommel. By marching or riding on tanks and trucks, Pvt. Diaz quickly moved into Palermo, Italy, where soldiers were rebuilding the area. From Palermo, Pvt. Diaz headed to Naples and reached the beaches at a dangerous point. He recalled the hot ashes and lava pouring down, and the boats that eventually saved them.
“The day that we landed, Mount Vesuvius was erupting,” said Diaz. “We were fortunate to get out on the boats.”
During his quick maneuvering across Africa and into Italy, Pvt. Diaz recalls the mild weather and the heavy fighting for one year. His unit was moving so fast, he said, the artillery soldiers did not have time to put their guns down to set up. [Read More]
Andrew Tamayo fought to defend his country, but also questioned his country, as well.
Mr. Tamayo said Pearl Harbor Day was unforgettable for him. “As soon as we found out that war had been declared,” he said. “I told my mama I wanted to enlist.”
His mother was opposed to her son volunteering. But Mr. Tamayo was determined that he wanted to fight and defend his country.
Mr. Tamayo was sent to Camp Roberts in California for basic training. He was ultimately assigned to the 39th Field Artillery Battalion (105mm Howitzer), 3rd Infantry Division. He said there were a few Mexican Americans in the unit, men who would become like his family during the war.
On Nov. 8, 1942, he and his division assaulted North Africa at Fedala and won the campaign in Tunisia.
On July 10, 1943, Mr. Tamayo’s battalion assaulted Sicily. It was while fighting there that Mr. Tamayo said his reservations about the war began to creep into his mind.
“This is when I began changing my mind about helping these gringos,” Mr. Tamayo said. ” I remember how they used to treat us over here (in the United States).”
He recalled the racist treatment that the Tamayo family had experienced back in San Antonio and Houston. He remembered how his mother could not get a better job because she told people she was Mexican.
“My mother was not Mexican,” Mr. Tamayo said. “She was half Italian and half Spaniard. She was white, but because she told people she was Mexican she could not get a better job.” [Read more]
Miguel Encinias became a pilot, and flew 40 missions before being shot down and taken prisoner of war.
“After Pearl Harbor, there was a great demand for pilots, navigators and bombardiers,” Mr. Encinias said. He applied for the cadet academy, although it seemed a pipe dream to both him and his friends.
“It was hard to aspire to things like that because being a pilot was considered kind of elite,” he said. Mr. Encinias surprised everyone when he was accepted.
“All the time I was in training I never met another pilot who was Hispanic,” he said. “The washout rate was 50 percent.”
Upon graduation, Mr. Encinias became a pilot and an officer. He was involved in the “tail end of the Tunisian campaign,” and went to Sicily and Corsica. By the time he was shot down over a German airbase in Northern Italy, he had flown 40 missions and shot down three airplanes.
“I wasn’t scared of being shot down, I wasn’t scared of being a prisoner… I was scared of being a prisoner in Nazi Germany because I had heard about that area and about the Aryan stuff, and during the Olympics how they had treated Jessie Owens,” he said.
Mr. Encinias was shot down and spent 15 months in a German prisoner-of-war camp, near the Polish border on the Baltic Sea. A friend of Mr. Encinias built a radio from parts he bartered for with the German soldiers.
“We bribed guards with cigarettes…they were worth their weight in gold.” Mr. Encinias said. [You. must. read. the. rest]
See also the Veterans History Project companion stories for Episode 2, When the Going Gets Tough