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War & Locale: World War II -- European Theater
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By Tammi Grais
Eliseo Navarro and his three brothers found a positive experience, overcame the hardships and returned home safely.
Born in 1925 in Asherton, Texas, a small town 100 miles southeast of San Antonio, Navarro suffered through a segregated world. The whole town was divided into Anglos and Mexican Americans.
"I had to go to the Mexican American school, and in 7th grade we were transferred to the Anglo school," he said. "There we were only allowed to speak in English. When my friends and I would go outside and play, we would speak Spanish. If we were heard, we would get in trouble by the teachers.''
Segregation was everywhere in Asherton, and Navarro just had to suffer through it.
Navarro's father, Aurelio, was a "a jack-of-all-trades ... he could do everything" Navarro said.
At a young age, Navarro, was making "colchones," or mattresses. The Navarro family also picked cotton in Michigan. When he graduated from high school, Navarro’s class only had three students; his cousin was one of them.
After graduation in 1943, Navarro went into the Army at age 18.
"Five of us from Asherton went into the service," he said. "And together we went to Fort Sam Houston."
Navarro went to basic training in Oklahoma, where he trained with an artillery unit. During training, he was given the opportunity to take an exam to enter the Air Force for pilot training.
Navarro passed the test and trained at Wesleyan College in Iowa; however, he would never fly in the war, as Eisenhower called off pilot training because no more pilots were needed. Immediately after that, he was sent to France and joined the 97th Infantry Division, fighting battles throughout Belgium and Czechoslovakia.
"I never fought at the front line but I do remember one time when I was driving a Jeep with my sergeant and we were holding German soldiers that were told to keep their hands up," Navarro said. "One soldier put his hands down and my sergeant shot him right in front of my eyes.
"Although I never made it to the front line, I felt the pain and hardships that my friends [on the front lines] felt," he said.
In July of 1945, he came back to the United States to Seattle, Wash., to prepare for war in Japan. The soldiers were all unsure of what would happen next. After the atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, and then Nagasaki three days later, his unit was shipped off to Yokahama.
Having been segregated all his life in Asherton, Navarro said he felt lucky the soldiers from the other states were friendly and interested in getting to know him. But the Anglo soldiers from Texas were less accepting.
"I really appreciated the service because it got me out of Asherton and allowed me to experience new people," he said.
He made a lot of friends, trying to make the best of his experience in the service, which he says he was lucky to have had.
"This was the best learning education I could have gotten,'' Navarro said. "I was thankful I was able to be alive and learn to understand different cultures."
After the war, in September of 1946, Navarro started school at the University of Texas at Austin. And in September of 1949, he was offered a job as a visiting teacher by the Superintendent of Eagle Pass High School, according to a written letter by Navarro. With money tight, he took the opportunity to teach and moved to Eagle Pass, across the U.S.-Mexico border from Piedras Negras.
Having passed an interesting existence with many life-altering experiences, Navarro said he feels lucky to have lived both during and after the war.
Mr. Navarro was interviewed in San Antonio, Texas, on October 13, 2001, by Venegas.