Categories: Post War Service
Date of Birth:
Ruben Ali Flores
By Ruben Ali Flores
The bombing was over, the beach secured. Edward Lopez Prado watched as the waves rolled over the body of a fallen soldier.
It was Sept. 15, 1943, the day after the Salerno invasion on Italy. Salerno was considered one of the bloodiest operations of WWII, with heavy casualties. The 36th Infantry Division, Texas National Guard, was the first to engage mainland Europe and test Hitler's continental forces. Prado was assigned to Company C of the 131st Field Artillery Battalion of the 36th Infantry Division.
The night before, Prado's mission had been to get ashore, proceed up the Italian beach and find a highway Army Rangers had seized. At a barn 2,000 yards away, he’d receive coordinates of where his unit's artillery guns would be set up. But the firing was too furious, too hot; they couldn’t land.
The day after the Salerno invasion, Prado went to see three of his buddies, also from the 36th Infantry Division.
He’d learned from other troops they were dead. Their bodies were covered in coarse, standard-issue wool blankets. World War II had claimed three more lives.
That was more than 50 years ago, but the changes wrought by the war would continue to be a driving force throughout Prado's life.
As a child in San Antonio, Texas, he, his parents and his three siblings picked cotton all over Texas. They worked in the fields of Texas towns such as Waxahachie, Corpus Christi and Cibolo. School was considered a luxury during the Great Depression and the family needed his help. Although baseball, soccer, football and other sports were what he loved the most, working remained his top priority, necessary for his family's survival.
"At that time, when I grew up, they had a lot of these pecan shelling companies," he said, explaining that when he was around 12 years old, "I had to go to school and right after I got out of school, I went to work there in a shelling company."
After the 8th grade, he left school and never went back.
Then, much like his father, he began selling vegetables, potatoes and oranges door to door with the Model-T car he bought for $23.
When Prado was about 19 years old, his parents died. He soon landed a job with Standard Electric Company in San Antonio. There, he worked casting hot molten lead into iron molds to make battery posts. It was a "dirty job," and many men exposed to the lead powder became very ill.
When the chance came, he left the $9 a week at the battery factory for a helper position in a furniture upholstery company, even though it paid $6 a week. The work was "cleaner," less toxic.
But things changed.
By 1939, he and his younger brother Pete were living in Houston, Texas, with his older sister. He was working at a pool hall, "drinking and messing around." He started to feel he was headed down the wrong road; a road his father wouldn’t have accepted.
Prado decided to turn the tide.
On Jan. 8, 1941, he volunteered for the Army after being classified 1-A, which meant he was ranked "available immediately for military service." Since he would eventually be drafted, he opted for volunteering in the hopes of choosing a position in an artillery unit. Prado got his wish and was stationed at Camp Bowie in Brownwood, Texas. His younger brother Pete joined the Army Oct. 17, 1942.
In the beginning, the military proved to be a place where respect had to be earned. For example, the five Latinos in the Brownwood unit were put up in one tent. Although this signified discrimination to Prado and the other Mexican Americans, they agreed to "move on" and put that behind them.
Later, however, when his company was preparing for a Golden Glove boxing tournament, Prado saw his opportunity to prove he was an equal man: As a teenager, he and other neighborhood kids had learned to box from amateur boxer "Newsboy" Reyes.
"I knew that I could take care of some of the guys that were boxing there. I went in there," he explained, "and I knocked that guy out. They all opened their eyes."
Eager to recruit Prado to represent the company, many of the company's troops encouraged him to participate in the tournament. He refused.
"They're going to get the glory, and I'm going to get my face all beat up," he said.
Even though he decided not to participate, the atmosphere had changed: Life was better until the onset of war.
When Pearl Harbor was attacked on Dec. 7, 1941, he’d already been in the Army for 11 months. He spent the next two years on maneuvers in Louisiana and off the coast of Florida, North Carolina and Massachusetts. The full realization of war came after April 2, 1943, when he and the rest of the 36th Infantry Division were shipped to North Africa in preparation for the Salerno invasion.
With the strong Spanish influence on the North African coast, Prado was able to speak Spanish to some of his hosts.
"They looked like Mexicans, pero, they were Arabs," he said. "It surprised the heck out of me because they spoke Spanish."
In that unknown world, thousands of miles from home, the Arab people of Oran, Algeria, became a welcome surprise and an experience to remember.
Prado was one of the lucky ones who made it back. He does, however, have a daily reminder of the physical effects of WWII: Repeated artillery rounds from 105 Howitzer guns took a toll on his hearing. Nevertheless, the war was also a chance to show his love of country and to appreciate life with his wife and family.
"I felt it was my duty, even if I was a Mexican American, I was born here," he said.
Prado earned the Good Conduct Medal and a European Campaign Medal with one silver campaign star and two bronze stars.
Today, Prado and his brother Pete are members of Veterans of Foreign Wars, through which they continue their support and pay homage to those who gave their lives.
"That's why I belong to the VFW, to remember the ones that didn't make it and honor them," Prado said.
On Dec. 9, 1942, Prado was married to Bertha Cadena. They had three children. One of them, Edward Charles Prado, is a federal judge in the Western Texas District in San Antonio.
Because of his experiences during World War II, Prado learned self-respect and an understanding about the benefits of education.
"Now you have to have college education," he said. "We as Mexican Americans, we struggled and we worked hard to be recognized for what we are: human beings."
Mr. Prado was interviewed in San Antonio, Texas, on February 26, 2000, by Ruben Ali Flores.