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War & Locale: World War II -- European Theater
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By Melissa Drosjack
As an Army entertainer, Ernie Quiroga had a very special audience during World War II – people liberated from concentration camps.
"I entertained persons that were in concentration camps and I always wondered why they were always in a daze," Quiroga said. "You couldn't tell too much, because they were in a daze."
Quiroga recalls playing his accordion, trying to aid their recovery.
"I was playing my accordion and one number that I played was a typical Mexican song -- Besame Mucho," Quiroga said. "They were still in a daze."
Survivors included Polish and Russian prisoners, he says.
"They were very silent in a stupor way," Quiroga recalled. "They had just been freed by U.S.A. troops. They were still in a trance, still recuperating from those long years in the concentration camps."
Quiroga played his accordion for the survivors in their bunkers. He recalls them being in bad shape; they’d been starved.
Quiroga was born in Dallas, Texas, on March 2, 1927, and moved several times. The family, which included six children, went from Dallas to Chicago, winding up in San Antonio, Texas, when Quiroga was of high school age. He remembers the day he was drafted: April 19, 1945.
He went to Little Rock, Ark., for basic infantry training. His records indicated he was a musician, so he was placed in a company of entertainers.
"We were all entertainers, in one way or another," Quiroga said.
Although only 18, he was shipped to Germany along with occupation services.
Quiroga says being the only Latino in 2nd Special Service Company, 3rd Army (unattached) wasn’t an issue and he was treated well.
With his accordion, he was able to travel within Germany, although he was always entertaining the troops and concentration camp survivors with the band.
"I didn't see too much, but we were always traveling," Quiroga said.
"That was during December, 1945, and I remember we were stationed in the hotel and we would open up our window and see the mountain peaks."
Quiroga was discharged in 1946 at the rank of Technician Fifth Class. He came back to the U.S. on a boat to New York, and then returned to Chicago.
Quiroga continued his musical career, attending the Chicago Musical Conservatory for two years and playing with different groups on weekends. He says he knew all the famous Latino music stars of the time.
While working in his father's printing business, Quiroga continued to do musical gigs on the side. He eventually took over the Monterey Press, Imprenta Printing shop.
Quiroga married Beatrice Larios in 1947 and the couple had four sons. Beatrice died March 29, 2000.
Quiroga says it’s important for his grandchildren and other youth "to awaken" and understand the importance of WWII and "what has transpired."
"I think our youth is interested in finding their heritage," Quiroga said.
Mr. Quiroga was interviewed in Chicago, Illinois, on August 1, 2002, by William Luna.