Fortino S. Quintana's dream was to be a pilot for the Air Force. Quintana's dream was never realized, however, due to ear problems later attributed to a tumor.
Since he couldn't fly, he did the next best thing: repairing and maintained airplanes as a member of the 810th Air Division at Biggs Air Force Base in El Paso, Texas, a training center for B-17, B-24 and B-29 crews during World War II.
Quintana was born August 12, 1926, in Terlingua, Texas, the oldest of six children of Tomás Domínguez Quintana, a cowboy from Redford, Texas, and Carolina Salínas Quintana, the daughter of a rancher. Quintana’s love of the outdoors was nurtured by his childhood landscape. Terlingua, located in West Texas’ Big Bend Country, means "three tongues," referring to the three language influences in the area: English, Spanish and American Indian.
Quintana spent his childhood and young adult life working on ranches and farms. He left Redford Grammar School in 1942, after the fourth grade, to begin work on the Dan Horroun Farm in Málaga, N.M. The money he made supplemented what his father earned traveling from ranch to ranch in the Western United States.
It was Quintana’s familiarity and skill with the land and livestock that kept him away from the major combat theaters of WWII. He didn’t enlist until Feb. 26, 1946, due to the influence of two people -- Dan Horroun, the farmer whose land he was managing at the time, and his mother.
Quintana registered with the U.S. Selective Service on August 12, 1944, his 18th birthday, but because Carolina needed his support, he continued to work on the farm. He impressed his boss so much with his hard work that Horroun sought a deferment for him during the war. Quintana’s duties included feeding and caring for the livestock, as well as driving the team and wheel tractor and 3-ton Caterpillar truck he learned to operate in a day.
In all of Eddy County, N.M., there was only one Caterpillar, one truck and one tractor that all farms shared due to rationing of supplies during the war. Most of the farms' products were also dedicated to the Army. Although Quintana was a hard worker on the farm, he felt there wasn’t a future for him there, and he wanted to join the Armed Forces.
So after fulfilling his commitment to his employer, Quintana enlisted to serve in the Army Air Force. He was in the military for three years and was stationed in the European Theater. He was the only Quintana family member to enlist.
Once in the Army, Quintana realized he needed to get an education. A fast learner, he received his General Equivalency Diploma in two years. He also earned his Aircraft Instrument Specialist certification from the War Department on March 7, 1947, while stationed in Middletown, Pa.
Carolina became ill while Quintana was out of the state and passed away before he could be granted leave of absence. For the rest of his life, he carried the sadness of not seeing his mother before she died. He wrote a poem, "Madrecita" (mother), expressing how much he missed her and how much he wished they could sit together and have “un café” (a cup of coffee).
Quintana was promoted to Sergeant before being honorably discharged March 1, 1949, at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio. He re-enlisted May 28, 1951, at Biggs Air Force Base.
Quintana continued his service in the Air Force, completing his air training certificate of proficiency in Aircraft Mechanics, specializing in B-29 airplanes, in April of 1952. He rose to Staff Sergeant, then transferred to Biggs Air Force Base in El Paso, Texas, where he was assigned to the 810th Operations Squadron. He was honorably discharged, a second time, on March 4, 1953.
He earned the WWII Victory Medal for his military service. During his time in the Army Air Force, he attended and graduated from El Paso Technical Institute.
In October of 1955, Quintana began to work for Phelps Dodge Refining Corp. in El Paso, where he demonstrated the steady work ethic he’d had as a child. He was employed by Phelps Dodge for 20 years before a labor union strike forced him out of a job. Rather than betray his coworkers and accept his job back, Quintana declined the offer and took odd jobs as a maintenance worker, janitor and attendant.
In 1954, while a mechanic at El Paso International Airport, Quintana met Bernarda Lazcano, who was working at Casa Hogar, a kindergarten school in Juarez, Mexico. After a year of courtship, they married in Las Cruses, N.M., and eventually had four children.
Quintana was a hard worker all his life. During his years, the landscape of Texas changed not only socially, but economically and politically. His steady commitment to a life of dedicated work laid the foundation for his family to thrive in the new environment.
He loved the horse races, playing his guitar, and food. Although he seldom talked about his life in the military, the memories he did share were those involving the massive food halls in the Army. With a twinkle in his eye, he’d describe all the spaghetti and biscuits that filled the long tables. He’d gesture, arms open wide, to emphasize how big the tables were and how much they were served.
Quintana died in 1995 and was buried in Fort Bliss National Cemetery in El Paso.
Mr. Quintana’s tribute was written by his granddaughter, Yazmin Lazcano.
Date of Birth:
WWII Military Unit:
U.S. Latino and Latina World War II Oral History Project