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War & Locale: World War II -- European Theater
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By Lisa Cummings
When President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Nationality Act of 1940 on October 14 of that year, Jose Galindo's life would never be the same. The act allowed Mexican-born residents to be drafted or volunteer for the U.S. Armed Forces.
Earlier that same year he offered to assist the United States Army and was rejected because he was a Mexican citizen.
Galindo received a Certificate of Naturalization, which allowed him to serve in the U.S. Army.
"I wanted to volunteer," Galindo said. "They wouldn't accept me because I was a Mexican citizen."
This temporary setback didn't keep Galindo from wanting to serve his country. Galindo never gave up hope for a chance to serve his country.
"I said, 'It'll come [his chance to serve] and we can show them that we [Mexican citizens] can do it just as good,'" he said.
The son of a businessman from Mexico, Galindo and his family moved to Austin, Texas, in 1921. He attended the Wooldridge School on 24th Street. Both whites and Mexicans went to Galindo's school; he remembered that blacks were sent to another nearby school.
Although Galindo's school was not segregated, he did remember tension between the whites and Mexican Americans. White students used to chant insults such as, "Jo Jo, go back to Mexico." But as the students got older most of the teasing stopped.
The taunting never discouraged him, he said. While growing up, he was proud to be able to speak his native language, Spanish, as well as English.
"I still felt proud that I spoke more languages than they [the Anglo students] did," he said.
Galindo's determination pushed him through high school. He said that despite the large class of 300, he and one other girl were the only "Mexicanos" to graduate from Austin High in 1938.
This same determination brought him to the University of Texas at Austin.
"I wanted to go to college... I loved music when I was a child, and I just wanted to go," he said.
He recalled being at UT in the College of Fine Arts when he heard a speech by President Roosevelt, assuring the students that none of them would be sent overseas.
"He said, 'I hate war. My wife, Eleanor, hates war so we [are] trying to keep you here,'" he said.
The Beginning of War
One year after Roosevelt's speech, Galindo had joined the Army and was on his way to Scotland to begin his war experience. He would serve with the U.S. Army's 982d Ordnance Depot Company, as a T3, or Technician Corporal.
This experience began with a great deal of unity in his company. Although he was the only Mexican, he never felt he was treated differently.
"Actually, when it came down to the brass tacks, we were all one family," he claimed, referring to the many details of soldiering.
There was a close bond between all of the soldiers, Galindo said - "especially the Jewish people, because they, you know, went through hardships. I guess, in a way, like we did."
With a lot of Italian Americans in his company, he also became close to them, noting that both he and his Italian Americans friends enjoyed music.
"We used to have music every night. We go on and play the accordion and the fiddle,'' he said. "They [the Italian-American families] used to send sausage; you know the Italian sausage? And everybody used to eat it. So it was one whole big family."
This alternate family often substituted for the soldiers' real families. However, for many nothing could replace their comfortable home lives. This was especially true for Galindo.
"Sometimes you wished you had a tortilla or hot sauce or tamale or the sweet bread that my mother used to make," he said.
"The main thing that would hurt us is we weren't used to staying from home that long," he said.
The constant fear made him reach for a higher power.
"I remember when we got on this English boat getting ready to go [to] the [Normandy] invasion, I knelt down and [prayed] to the good Lord," Galindo recalled.
After that, he said, despite the dangers of bombing and air strikes, he was never quite as afraid.
Religion played a huge part in overcoming most of his fears, he said. Going to sleep with fear each night, Galindo always prayed.
Galindo also said that before going to sleep during the war, he and his fellow soldiers would sing songs and talk about letters from home.
And there was fun sometimes.
"We had equipment for baseball, horseshoes," he said. "I think horseshoes was the most relaxing, because in Paris we used to have beautiful trees."
Galindo recalls playing horseshoes right behind the historical Chateau Vincent.
"It was beautiful," he said.
Horrors of War
Even with vivid, pleasant memories of horseshoes he also had many disturbing memories of the war. War was raw and ugly and unlike anything young men like Galindo had ever seen before. He recalled these unpleasant memories, particularly of burying the dead.
"They used to wrap the body and get one of the dog tags, one of the Cross or the Star of David, or whatever it was. And then they wrap 'em up in the sheets, and that was it," he said.
Life at Home
While Galindo and fellow soldiers were fighting, Americans back home were working together like never before to help finance and support their troops.
Americans were preserving everyday products through rationing.
Galindo's sister, Juanita, was struggling, trying to run the family tortilla business during a time of drastic rations. Gasoline, sugar and many other everyday-products were rationed, making it hard to run the business.
The country pulled together like never before. Galindo says Americans' motivation for helping was easy to understand: The government involved the people by inviting and encouraging their help.
"They even brought one of those German fighters here in front of the Driskill Hotel---small fighter," he said.
Government officials established collection sites.
"They used to have people throwing aluminum there so they could melt it and make new airplanes out of it," he explained.
After three years and one month, one glorious Christmas day in 1945, Galindo was discharged from the Army and sent back to his family just in time for Christmas dinner.
Life resumed in Austin for Galindo. He worked with the family business and struggled to keep it going.
"Banks would laugh at us!" Galindo said. He remembered trying to borrow from banks and not having the collateral.
"We just kept on going and going and going,'" he said, referring to the family persistence.
After the war, Galindo married a teacher. Emma H. Galindo Elementary School in South Austin was named after her. He remembered her work to get bilingual education implemented in local schools. They had one son, Joseph Paul, and shared 26 years together. After Emma's death, Galindo married Norma Govea. He worked in the tortilla business until his retirement in 1999.