Categories: Post War Service
War & Locale: World War II -- Pacific Theater
Date of Birth:
By STACI SCHUTZE
Guadalupe G. "Joe" Ramirez, a Marine who served in the South Pacific during World War II, was so affected by the experience that, to this day, he has nightmares and worries about wasting water.
Born in Los Angeles on Sept. 28, 1926, Ramirez faced many obstacles. His mother, Esther Guido Ramirez, died when he was 11 months old, leaving him, an older brother and three older half-sisters.
After his mother's death, his father, Tirso V. Ramirez, moved to Mexico, where he worked on a ranch and as a tailor. After third grade, Guadalupe Ramirez moved to Tucson, Ariz., with his stepsister Elvira Osuna so that he could attend school and learn English. He would return to Mexico during the summers to visit his father and help with chores around the ranch, such as taking care of the animals.
He dropped out of school when he was 13 and took a job as a newspaper delivery boy to help his stepsister. It was at that point that he stopped returning to Mexico during the summers to visit his father.
Ramirez noted that his brother had been drafted into the Army Air Corps and also served in the Pacific Theater.
"He was brought back in 1945 when my father died," he said, "but I didn't know."
After the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, President Roosevelt declared war on Japan, thus launching the United States into World War II.
Ramirez was only 15 years old but, he said, he couldn't wait until he turned 17 so he could join friends who had already enlisted in the Marine Corps.
Ramirez turned 17 in 1944 and went to meet recruiters but was disappointed to find out that, at 106 pounds, he didn't meet the weight requirement of 110 pounds. However, within a week, he managed to meet the requirement.
"I tried not to go to the bathroom, and I ate a lot of tortillas, beans and bread," he said.
Shortly after he was accepted, Ramirez was sent to boot camp at a Marine Corps depot outside San Diego.
Eventually, he traveled to Camp Pendleton and then to the Marshall Islands in the Pacific, to begin communications training for the Marines. The islands had been captured by the U.S. forces in 1944.
The training was exhausting, Ramirez said. He would wake up at 4:30 a.m. and train until the drill instructors decided that it was time to stop.
After being stationed in the Marshall Islands, he was then moved to Saipan to undergo infantry training.
During his assignment in Saipan, he had to be much more aware of his surroundings, he said.
"Anywhere you went, you took a rifle with you," he said.
His final destination was Okinawa, Japan. He was part of the Pioneer Combat Engineers Battalion of the 2nd Marine Division. When questioned about specific dates of his service, Ramirez said he couldn't remember.
"We didn't keep track of dates," he said. "You knew the sun came up and that you were alive. That's all that mattered."
The Okinawa campaign lasted from March 26 to July 2, 1945. Ramirez recalled landing in Okinawa in April 1945.
One of his most vivid memories was of April 1, 1945 - D-Day for Okinawa - when Ramirez's ship, the USS Hindsdale APA-120, was bombed by a suicide aircraft with 500-pound bombs.
The Hinsdale played a significant role in World War II - in January 1945, the ship sailed to join the Iwo Jima invasion force at Saipan and participated in the initial landings at Iwo Jima in February, The ship remained off the beachhead for over a week, putting troops and supplies ashore and acting as an auxiliary hospital ship for casualties. The ship also delivered casualties to Guam in March and then returned to Saipan to join the force preparing for the Okinawa invasion.
Historical accounts of the attack describe the plane crashing into the USS Hinsdale, killing 15 men and causing another 40 to be missing or injured. Although the ship nearly sank, it still managed to carry out its mission to Iwo Jima.
The ship was later overhauled; its final voyage was in November 1945, to bring Pacific veterans back to U.S. shores. She was later decommissioned, and her name was stricken from the Navy Register.
The USS Hinsdale received two battle stars for World War II service.
"If they had hit the holds, I wouldn't be here, 'cause we had gasoline, oil and ammunition coming out of our ears," Ramirez said.
Although he retired from the military in September 1964, Ramirez said his experiences had a strong effect on his life, even to this day.
"When I sleep at night, those are the kind of dreams I still have, and I've been retired from the Marine Corps for . . . years," he said. "I ask my Lord 'When am I gonna stop this?'"
Not all was bad, though. Ramirez said he made a lot of friends, although there were not many Hispanics like himself. He encountered a bit of racism, he said but can't remember it ever being a big issue.
"We called (each other) 'men,'" he said.
While serving in Saipan, Ramirez said he slept in tents near foxholes in case of an attack. For meals he ate C-rations which consisted of Spam, pork and beans, chicken and veggies, stew and crackers. A cigarette accompanied each of the three meals.
Although food was important, the most important thing was water, he said.
Ramirez recalls times when he would go six to seven hours without water. Even today, he said, he still finds himself conserving water.
"I can't remember the last time I had water (today) . . . it shouldn't be that way, but you get used to the system," he said.
Ramirez retired from the Marines in 1964 after serving 14 years and seven months overseas; 23 of those months were spent in the Pacific during World War II. He also was stationed in such places as Cuba and Korea.
Ramirez married Virginia Tellez, and they adopted two children, Henry and Joseph. Today, Mr. and Mrs. Ramirez reside in Tucson.