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Rodolfo"Rudolph"Saenz, Sr.

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Categories: Ending the War

Date of Birth:
12-15-1912
Interviewed by:
Alfred Saenz
Military Unit:
Navy

Rodolfo"Rudolph"Saenz, Sr. (408-01-600)

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By Lynn Maguire

Through the experiences of being a sharecropper, sailor, father, and landowner, Rodolfo "Rudolph" Saenz has learned the most about education, even though he never passed the sixth grade.

Saenz, along with his parents and five siblings, harvested from land that belonged to someone else.

"It wasn't easy, but it was the only way to survive," Saenz said.

Now in his late 80s, he remembers playing baseball and wrestling with the neighboring children; children of all races. The only segregation he recalls at school in Williamson County was the separation of boys and girls.

Saenz's sisters didn’t have formal schooling.

"What they learned was at home," he said. "My sisters had to cook, attend to the house."

Then one day, on what seemed to be an ordinary trip to the post office, Saenz ran into his future bride, Maria Luisa Ortiz.

"She swept me off my feet," Saenz recalled.

They left the post office together and went to the park. Saenz calls the walk to the park their first date. They married in August of 1940, when he was working as a machine operator at Taylor Bedding Co. in Taylor, Texas. He and Maria Luisa eventually had a son and daughter.

But in 1943, at the age of 30, Saenz joined the Navy as a seaman first class, leaving behind 1-year-old Rudy Jr. and 3-month-old Emma. Saenz was stationed in San Diego, Calif., for three weeks, where he trained quickly to be "rushed" out to sea.

"When you go there, you've only got one thing on your mind," he said. "You do the best you can."

Saenz then went to Oregon, where he joined with other sailors on the Havre, a Patrol Craft Escort (PCE 877) commissioned Feb. 14, 1944. Patrol Craft Escorts were frequently used in place of destroyers, which took longer to build. Saenz said his "duty was to escort convoys to war."

Pearl Harbor was his first destination aboard PCE 877. After leaving Pearl Harbor, he left to support the Marines and Army troops in the invasions of Iwo Jima and Okinawa.

As a gunner's mate, it was Saenz's responsibility to assist the boatswain by adjusting the gauge on the depth charge to explode at a given depth whenever the ship's sonar detected a submarine on the screen.

"They were afraid of us because we were faster than they and a good aim with a depth charge [that] could tear them apart and sink them," Saenz recalled.

J.R. Fleming was Saenz's best friend aboard the PCE 877. Saenz described Fleming as a "big tall guy" from Alabama, with the "darkest hair [he'd] ever seen."

"He was good to me and I was good to him," Saenz said. "He was my best friend."

When asked about discrimination aboard the ship, Saenz referred to another Latino sailor, who thought he "got picked on because he was Mexican." Saenz says he disagreed with his assessment because he himself was Latino and "got along great with other shipmates."

"He [the other Hispanic sailor] never combed his hair; he would come to duty with his shirt tail hanging out," Saenz said. "That's why they made fun.

"You got to be clean, shaved with a white hat on," he said. "Shirttail hanging out ... that don't belong in the Navy."

During Saenz's time on PCE 877, he wanted to learn something to help him when he got out of the service, so he went and spoke to his Captain about learning more about machinery. Due to Saenz's lack of early education, he was told he’d have to do more schooling aboard the ship before he could be trained. Saenz says he declined the offer because he was toward the end of his 14 months of sea duty.

The PCE 877 was one of the many Allied ships present in Tokyo Bay during the Sept. 2, 1945, surrender ceremony.

"One of my proudest moments was standing on my ship looking over on the [USS] Missouri and seeing the Japanese surrender," Saenz recalled. "I was so happy the war was over."

Saenz was discharged from the Navy on Nov.29, 1945, at the rank of Seaman First Class. For his service, he earned a WWII Victory Medal, American Campaign Medal, Asiatic Pacific Campaign Medal, Philippine Liberation Medal, and Philippine Presidential Unit Citation, as well as other honors.

"When I left for the service, I was working with machinery [at the Taylor bedding company] all of the time," Saenz said. "When I came back, they offered me the same old job."

Saenz said he was surprised to learn that he "got paid and promoted with the others, even after being away for two years."

He continued to work at Taylor Bedding full time after the war. Then Kerr-Ban Manufacturing Co offered him another full-time gig. Saenz accepted, but kept his job with Taylor Bedding, working from 8a.m. to 5p.m. with Taylor and then from 5:30p.m. to 2:30 a.m. as a night supervisor with Kerr-Ban.

When he’d go to the bank to cash his check, the bank clerk would shake his head in disbelief.

"Guy at the bank told me, 'I don't know how you do it,'" Saenz recalled. "I told him, 'You can do it, too.'"

The bank teller would respond that those hours would "kill him," recalled Saenz, to which he’d say, "It ain't gonna kill you; it didn't kill me!"

When Saenz retired, he bought the 20 acres of land he helped his family sharecrop so many years before.

"I [gave] my children more than I had: an education," he said.

Saenz remembers he and Maria Luisa going to the local bank to apply for an educational loan for their eldest son, Rudy Jr., to attend the University of Texas at Austin, and the banker telling him that they "didn't do that" without giving an explanation why. According to Saenz, the banker then ordered them to "get out.”

"The way he said it hurt me more than anything else," he said.

Rudy Jr. instead received a loan directly from the University of Texas at Austin, and eventually graduated with a degree in engineering, Saenz says.

Saenz and Maria Luisa have worked hard their entire lives to give their seven children the opportunity to receive an education.

"I always worked," he said. "Never dawned on my mind I was working too hard."

The couple started a scholarship in honor of their daughter, Emma, who died in 1990 of breast cancer. The scholarship helps students whose families need a "little hand."

"I'm very proud because of the kids we helped," said Saenz, noting that he keeps in close contact with the current scholarship winner.

Mr. Saenz was interviewed in Taylor, Texas, on March 25, 2003, by his son, Alfred Saenz.

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