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War & Locale: World War II -- European Theater
Date of Birth:
Joe Myers Vasquez
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By Anna Wong
Evident in his service to the United States, Teodoro De La Rosa is a man who’s proud and loyal to his country.
De La Rosa was born in the humble surroundings of Pharr, Texas. His father, Gregorio De La Rosa, was a migrant farm worker; his mother, Beatriz Cavazoz De La Rosa, a housewife. They didn't own any property, but as long as they worked at the farm, the family had a place to stay, De La Rosa said.
Every day started the same way for the family. In the wee hours of the morning, before the sun would rise, they’d go down to the canal and gather drinking water in their wooden kegs. From sun up to sun down, De La Rosa’s father and oldest brother, Guadalupe, would toil on the farm, earning 25 cents a day for their work. Despite their meager wages, the family never went hungry, even during the lean times of the Great Depression.
"I remember back in the Depression that the people in town were having a hard time, but at the farm, we had everything," De La Rosa said. "We had milk, butter, cornmeal -- everything."
While they had the necessities, the family lacked electricity, gas and running water, all of which were considered luxuries. Also considered extravagances were toys; sometimes on Sundays, the neighborhood children would make a ball out of rags and tie it together with string and play baseball, as there weren't any other toys.
De La Rosa went to school for a short time, but dropped out for good at age 13. He recalls that many of his school days were interrupted when his father pulled him out of class to help with the farm work. He also remembers the first time he earned his own money working as a child, "12 cents, one nickel and seven pennies," which he used to buy some grapes for himself and his mother.
Before the war, the school system didn't monitor the attendance of Latino children, so many didn't go to class. After dropping out of school, De La Rosa went to work in San Juan, a town next to Pharr, where he earned 35 cents a day picking oranges and grapefruits for a man who owned his own packing shed. He worked there until he was drafted and again after he returned from the war.
De La Rosa longed to serve in the U.S. Army. He went to enlist when he was 17, but officials turned him away, telling him he had to wait another year. Everyone thought he wouldn't be accepted, given his limited education and his deficiencies in English. But ultimately he was drafted.
De La Rosa was close to his mother, and speaks of her proudly. He said she treated him "like a king" after he passed his physical examination, cooking him the best meals she could make. But his memories of his mother turn sad when he recalls the time he was shipped out and saw her cry for the first time in his life.
"I'm going, mom," he remembered telling her. "And that's when she cried."
De La Rosa continued to look after his mother even during his tour of duty, setting aside $10 from his monthly $27 Army check to be sent directly to her. But his mother had other intentions: She saved the money for him to use upon his return rather than spending it on herself, as he’d intended.
"She didn't spend a penny of it," he said. "She saved it for me."
Even though he received training, the war ended while he was en route overseas; however, even without combat, he participated in some dangerous missions.
One of his earliest duties was to patrol the border between Austria and Russia. His company was known as the Circle C Cowboys because they had a C with a circle around it on their helmets. Each day, they would catch Russian soldiers who’d gone absent without leave. These deserters were often severely beaten when they were returned to their Russian commanders.
Another example of the dangers he faced came in Austria, when he learned that even walking alone at night could prove treacherous. During a stay at a hotel with a group of GIs, some military police came to ask if anyone was missing from their group. It turned out another soldier had been killed the previous night, and his body thrown upon the train tracks. De La Rosa had to try to identify the body, believing it may have been his roommate, who’d decided to sleep elsewhere for the night.
But the body wasn’t that of his roommate. De La Rosa, who was on duty the night the soldier's killers were captured, said one of the culprits was a farmer nicknamed "Red," who accepted cigarettes and candy from the GIs. Red turned out to be a Nazi, who De La Rosa learned conspired with other men to kill GIs traveling alone.
De La Rosa enjoyed his time in the Army, although he wished he’d experienced combat. He said he believes it was a great chance to learn, as well as offered him opportunities he might never have had otherwise.
"I got to see a lot of places," he said.
De la Rosa married Belia Palacios in March of 1947 and the two had four children: Juan, Juanita, Rolando and Roberto.
Today, De La Rosa takes pride in his status as a veteran, volunteering his time to work at military funerals as part of the honor guard. Even at his advanced age, he sometimes works two funerals a day, but he says he owes his fellow veterans at least that much.
Even his advice to younger generations shows pride in God and country.
"Stay in school, keep away from drugs," De La Rosa said. "After God, take care of your nation. Defend it."
Mr. De La Rosa was interviewed in McAllen, Texas, on April 6, 2002, by Joe Myers Vasquez.