War & Locale: World War II -- European Theater
Date of Birth:
By Cheryl Smith Kemp
"I have a letter from my Secretary of War that's saying that I'm a hero," said World War II veteran Frank Segura of an Oct. 31, 1945, statement about him by then-Secretary of War Robert P. Patterson.
"I think my buddies that didn't come back are my heroes," Segura added, noting that he doesn't consider himself special.
A wall in the Austin, Texas, home he shares with wife Alice Salinas Segura is adorned with the medals he earned during his service with the Army from June 13, 1943, to Oct. 25, 1945. Among them is the Purple Heart, given to all the soldiers who were wounded, injured or killed in combat.
When asked how he got wounded, Segura said he did not remember much and then sang parts of a song he recalled belting out with fellow members of the 104th Infantry Division, nicknamed the Timberwolves, during basic training at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas. According to Bill Davis, a military historian with the U.S. Latino and Latina WWII Oral History Project, the Timberwolves "formed at Camp Adair [in] OR on 12 Sep 42, moved to the Oregon Desert Maneuver area on 7 Aug 43, then to the California Desert Maneuver Area on Nov 43, [then to] Ft. Carson [in] CO on 11 Mar 44, Camp Kilmer, NJ on 16 Aug 44 and arrived in France on 7 Sep 44."
"The Timberwolves, they're on the prowl
They're on the prowl to kill
We're a hell of a gang to fight
Just follow us and see."
Then he put his head down and cried.
According to a 1986 Veterans Administration Statement In Support Of Claim by fellow Timberwolf Nick Antonacol, Segura got wounded when he was knocked unconscious by a German shell in early 1945 while on patrol with his platoon on the Rhine River in Koln, Germany.
"His face had burns and blisters, and he remained unconscious for some time … When he returned to our squad, at a later date, I remember him complaining about his back, and both of us experienced ringing in our ears periodically," Antonacol wrote.
"Soon after he returned to active duty, our squad was again on patrol, and an American tank shot a shell towards German lines just behind us. Pvt. Segura and I were last in line, and the shock waves from the cannon destroyed our hearing for several days after."
As a result of these and other experiences Segura had during his stint in WWII, he has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, nearly 22,400 veterans were receiving federal compensation for what was called "shell shock" back during their combat years, symptoms of which the VA's National Center for PTSD (http://ncptsd.va.gov) divides into four categories: reliving the event, avoidance, numbing and feeling "keyed up."
Since his time in the Army, Segura said he has had trouble sleeping off and on, and when he does, he often has bad dreams. When he first returned from Europe, he had combat-related nightmares, which fall under the center's "reliving the event" category.
"For a while, my bad dreams were about WWII. A lot of my buddies that I saw, they got killed. I had to leave'em, you know. They had to stay there," said Segura, sporting a black baseball cap with "Combat Infantryman" emblazoned on it.
"The first casualty I saw was a sergeant. He was shot in the head, right through the helmet, and I ran over there to see him. I turned him over and the helmet fell off and it was full of blood."
Segura recalled being surprised to see the man had gray hair. "I thought for myself, 'What is this old man doing here?' ... And the guys told me he was a regular Army soldier. He'd been in the Army all the time."
After that, Segura said he lay back during combat and scanned for snipers.
The deaths Segura witnessed caused a chain reaction, giving life to figurative casualties throughout his postwar years. For example, Segura lost his ability to earn a steady income. According to a 1989 doctor's report, he has held "20-30 odd jobs" since the war.
PTSD has been recognized only since 1980 as a clinical condition, making it a diagnosable disorder at that point. As a result, it's difficult to know what role ethnicity has played among WWII vets with the disorder. Research on Vietnam veterans, however, tends to indicate that ethnic minorities suffer a higher incidence of PTSD than Anglos.
For example, the National Center for PTSD cites a National Vietnam Veterans Readjustment Study that found "both Hispanic and African American male Vietnam theater veterans had higher rates of PTSD than Whites. Rates of current PTSD in the 1990 study were 28% among Hispanics, 21% among African Americans, and 14% among Whites. … Rates of PTSD among American Indian Vietnam veterans ranged from 22% to 25% (depending on the tribe)."
If applicable to WWII veterans, that's a double whammy for Segura, who's half Mexican American and half Lakota Sioux.
After getting discharged at the rank of private first class, Segura returned to Austin and to his wife, Alice, whom he'd married shortly before going off to war. Still together, they've raised 10 children.
"I think she could survive without me, but I don't think I could survive without her," he said.
During the war, it was Segura's job to sneak behind enemy lines, capture German soldiers and bring them back to camp for questioning. He says that without his intelligence work, the Timberwolves would have had trouble advancing and engaging in combat.
Segura grew up hunting and fishing in the brush along the Colorado River in Texas, so he knew his way around in the wilderness "and [would] never get lost."
"I never got killed, but sometimes I wish I had … like I say, I saw a lot of people get killed."
Frank Segura was interviewed by Brenda Sendejo in Austin, Texas, on Oct. 28, 2005.
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