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War & Locale: World War II -- European Theater
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By Juan de la Cruz
As the only Mexican American in his troop, Anastacio Perez Juarez experienced problems not normally encountered by other soldiers.
Because of his limited English, even the simplest commands -- forward, march, halt, and others -- were a challenge for the young enlistee.
"It's like in music," he said. "If you don't know a note, you don't play. In the Army, it's the same thing. You got to walk at the same time the others walk."
He likened himself to being deaf because of his inability to understand the military jargon. When his troop was told to walk forward, Juarez kept walking and did not stop, he recalled. He would look back to discover that no one was behind him and would have to hurry to position.
His inability to understand relegated him to practicing the commands for 30 days straight every evening after supper. Once he learned them, Juarez marched with ease and with less frustration. That self-imposed training paid off and soon he was marching in unison with the rest of his troop.
The walking itself never bothered him much. After all, he spent most of his childhood walking long distances for lack of transportation. He often recalls himself and very few others not ever getting blisters. "I was used to walking and used to run fast," Juarez said.
Every soldier in any type of military service is identified with a unique serial number, and Juarez was no exception. He knew his number, '38090263,' as if it were a combination to his most valuable possessions. "I know more my serial number than my social security," Juarez said, chuckling softly.
Juarez was born on May 2, 1918, in the small South Texas town of Staples, near San Marcos, to Mexican parents Juan Juarez and Susana Perez Juarez. He was one of seven children raised on a farm picking cotton like most Mexican American families of the time. He says mules were used in lieu of tractors. The hours were grueling, but it was their livelihood.
"We used to work from sunup, to sundown," he said, the family's day beginning at 6 a.m. and ending at 6 p.m. His family received $5 for each bale of cotton, or five cents a pound. There were plenty of chickens on the family farm along with a little vegetable garden. Juarez can vividly remember his mother saying, "Go get that chicken and make some food out of it!" Overseas, if it wasn't chicken he was eating, it was turkey.
During basic training at Camp Crowder in Missouri, Juarez was given the nickname 'Chico' by one of his friends in the 250-member troop. Among those men, only one displayed bias toward him, Juarez says.
Although he proclaims himself a kind man, he says he always defended himself, but adds that he never used violence.
Juarez was part of the invasion in France, and admittedly was frightened. He bows his head while remembering the awful days that will never escape his memory.
"I can't tell you that we were never afraid, or that a person doesn't cry," he said. "But you do what you have to do."
When he landed in France by boat, Juarez says he was in water that reached his neck.
"As long as you're in war, no matter where you're at, you're in dangerous places," said Juarez, adding that the invasion was the most challenging battle he was ever in, and that he feels sorrow for France’s children and families who were affected by the war.
His own family was back in the United States hoping that he would return home alive. Juarez's girlfriend, Rafaela Navarro, also worried. She took comfort from his many letters, while he gained solace from the photograph of her he kept in his wallet.
He felt closer to home and family after meeting his cousin in Italy by coincidence. The cousin, Mauricio Juarez, was the son of his paternal uncle, who lived in Los Angeles. But shortly after meeting for the first time, the cousin was killed by a German bomb.
Juarez was discharged Oct. 8, 1945, having earned a medal for good conduct and a medal with five bronze stars among his commendations.
His girlfriend, Rafaela, spoke with her parents for permission to marry Juarez, and they agreed. The two were wed on Jan. 6, 1946, in San Marcos, Texas. Partly with the $300 he earned as part of his discharge, he built a house of his own in San Antonio, where he and Rafaela lived.
Juarez decided he no longer wanted to work as a farmer, as he’d done before the war, so he worked at Kelly Air Force Base in San Antonio -- 10 years as an auto mechanic and 20 years as an aircraft sheet metal worker.
The Juarezes eventually became parents to eight children: Mary Alice, Susana, Josefina, Ramon, Gilberto, Rosemary, Irma and Eduardo. Juarez notes with pride that his children all have attended college and earned post-secondary degrees or certifications. He and Rafaela now have 11 grandchildren.
Mr. Juarez was interviewed in San Antonio, Texas, on June 30, 2000, by Alicia Perez.