Categories: Health Issues
War & Locale: World War II -- European Theater
Date of Birth:
Joe Myers Vasquez
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By J. Myers Vasquez
Robert Salcído recalls vividly his time behind enemy lines. The winter of 1944 saw him and his Army reconnaissance unit temporarily encamped in German-held territory. Wandering off by himself, Salcído came across a bomb crater that held a cruel reminder of the brutality of war.
At the far end of the crater, lay the naked body of an unknown soldier. The corpse had been cut in half at the waist, leaving only the lower half.
"I saw that thing and then I went back to camp and couldn't sleep for about three or four days," Salcído said.
To this day, nearly 60 years later, he carries with him memories of that grisly moment.
"To see something like that, you know, it stays in your mind," he said. "It's still in my mind."
Born May 26, 1924, in El Paso, Texas, Salcído was 4 years old when the nation began to buckle under the Great Depression. Because his parents were poor, his father hunted rabbits and other small game to sustain the family, which also included two brothers and three sisters. When Salcído was 8 years old, he says his father went out one morning to collect firewood for their small stove and unexpectedly died later that same day. His death remains a mystery, but Salcído says some attributed it to sudden pneumonia.
After his father's death, Salcído's oldest brother, Manuel Salcído, then 24, applied on the family's behalf to move into a newly built public housing project named the Alamito. Also, to supplement the family income, the young Robert Salcído got a job as a baker's apprentice for a dime a day and a bag of day-old bread, working there until he was 17.
Salcído graduated from Bowie High School in August of 1942 and within a week was drafted. Because of Salcído's ROTC experience in high school, he bypassed basic training; instead, he went directly to Fort Knox in Kentucky for armored force and reconnaissance training. Next, he went to Fort Meade in Maryland, where he trained in tank operation.
After Fort Meade, Salcído was sent overseas to Bristol, England. From there, he went to the shores of the English Channel, where he saw the bombardment of the Normandy beaches on D-Day. On June 12, or D-Day plus 6, Salcído landed on Omaha Beach as part of a tank battalion. His battalion lost a man in the advance, killed when he moved toward the enemies' pillboxes. In what was called the Long Drive, Salcído and his division then helped push the German forces back to Paris and, subsequently, to the West Wall, the last physical barrier to the German homeland.
Because of Salcído’s fluency in Spanish, he was transferred to the G2, Intelligence Section of the 746th division. He was assigned to a small unit of soldiers that performed reconnaissance missions behind enemy lines, where they’d take notes on what they saw and report back to G2 headquarters. At the time, members of the Blue Division, composed of Spanish volunteers, were fighting on the German side. Salcído's job was to translate for the Spaniard prisoners of war.
On Dec. 16, 1944, Salcído was taken to the hospital after developing symptoms of trench foot, an ailment akin to frostbite. During his hospitalization, he lost track of his unit and assumed everyone had been killed in the Battle of the Bulge. In 1996, however, Salcído found an old address of his unit sergeant, Stanley Kowalski, and sent him a letter. Salcído was pleasantly surprised when he got a call a few weeks later from Kowalski. Later that year, they met for the first time since the war at a veterans' reunion in San Antonio.
"We embraced each other. Tears started coming out," Salcído said.
They have remained in contact since.
In January of 1945, Salcído was sent to Camp Shanks in New York. He was then ordered to Colorado’s Camp Carson, a rehabilitation center where he was stationed from January to May of 1945. In May he received a medical disability discharge from the Army.
From there, Salcído went back to El Paso, where he attended a printer trade school where he excelled. After the first three weeks, he was appointed the journeyman of his class, and after graduating from the school in 1946, he applied for a job at Fort Bliss Army Base in El Paso. Salcído worked for six months as a janitor while waiting for a position to open in the print shop. He knew he got the job when the major in charge of the shop told him, "You fit in here like a glove." He stayed there for 31 years.
In 1946, Salcído married Dolores Salcído. They had three boys, all of whom became police officers. The two oldest are now retired, but the youngest heads El Paso’s Domestic Abuse Response Team, known as DART.
Even though Salcído is now retired, he still remains active. On April 18, 1990, he started the Sun City Graffiti Busters, an organization of volunteers, mostly teenagers, that works with local police and businesses to help clean up graffiti. Salcído's most personal cause involves burial honors for veterans. With more and more World War II veterans dying each year, requests for funeral honor guards have risen. A 1999 federal law mandates the military send an honor guard to a veteran's funeral when requested; however, supplying a bugler to play "Taps" isn’t mandatory. In the absence of a bugler, families instead are given a pre-recorded version of "Taps" to be played during the funeral. Salcido believes this isn’t right.
"It's just like putting salt in a reopened wound," he said.
Salcído has authored a petition requesting full traditional military burial honors -- including a mandatory bugler -- that has garnered more than 2,500 signatures. He has also written a poem about his campaign called "A CALL TO ARMS - A DEBT OF HONOR," which goes like this:
I went to a funeral just the other day.
To bid farewell to a comrade who had passed away.
My comrade, a friend of many, many years,
I said a short prayer and shed some tears.
‘Twas a National Cemetery, a garden of eternal rest.
Where soldiers lay and for our country gave their best.
My friend, he served his country well, from the beginning to the end.
At his burial, something was missing that I did not understand.
No taps from a bugler, or even a flute.
Whatever has happened to our twenty one gun salute?
Only a flag that was given, to the next of kin.
Also a compact disc with the version of “Taps” within.
Oh!, what “A broken promise,” of what’s suppose to be
true and real.
I hope my dear friend that you know how I feel.
Take this message with you, to the Man up above.
“I come before you Lord, with this message from the land.
A CALL TO ARMS - A DEBT OF HONOR.
Mr. Salcído was interviewed in El Paso, Texas, on February 2, 2002, by Joe Myers Vasquez.