Categories: Health Issues
War & Locale: World War II -- Pacific Theater
Date of Birth:
By Angel Flores
From a cardboard box, Albert Nieto rummages through old newspapers, postcards and other keepsakes that bring back memories from his days of service in the Army. One of the artifacts he pulls from the box is a sightseeing guide of the “Playground of the Orient” in the Philippines.
While on active duty at the headquarters of the 14th Anti-Aircraft Command in the Philippines, Nieto fell into what he describes as a “little depression,” which led him, along with a few others, to be taken to a recreation center as a way to distract them from the repetitive lifestyle they were living.
“At the time, we weren’t moving around, so a few of us were sent to the recreation center and it did the job,” the 83-year-old said. “They had great food and we could go golfing and just get away from everything, so we were in pretty good shape after we came back.”
It was during Nieto’s stay at the recreation center when he explored the “Playground of the Orient,” meaning he went on a tour of the city of Baguio, 250 kilometers north of Manila. Today, Baguio is billed the summer capital of the Philippines. After the tour was over and long after returning to the United States, Nieto would still have the guide stored in a cardboard shoebox, a memory of the time he spent serving his country during World War II.
Nieto grew up in Tampa, Fla., and graduated from Hillsborough High School. Both originally from Spain, his parents came to the U.S. from Havana, Cuba, in 1922.
Nieto was the youngest of three sons. His two older brothers, George and Oscar, both served in WWII. Nieto’s father, Edward, worked as a lector, or reader, in a cigar factory – a prestigious job that involved reading aloud from newspapers and books to the workers. In 1930 and 1931, however, the factory’s workers went on intermittent strike, so, finding himself jobless, Edward started working at La Prensa newspaper.
Around that time, Nieto began working as a paperboy; first on foot, then, after earning enough money to buy a bicycle, on a bike.
As a young Latino, he spent his weekends attending matinee dances at El Centro Español, an organization founded in 1891 that served as a center for community recreation and provided affordable health care for families living in the area. It was at one of the Sunday matinee dances that Nieto would later meet his future wife, but not until 1949, after he’d returned from the war. Nieto recalls that during the time leading up to his conscription, he and his peers were acutely aware of the possibility of being called away to serve in the military.
“[We] were very conscious of what was going on and a lot of people our age volunteered and the rest were drafted,” Nieto said. “It was an accepted thing that they had to go out and defend our country. We were very patriotic.”
For Nieto, the chance to show his patriotism and serve his country came Oct. 29, 1943, when he was drafted into WWII. He jumped into his initial training at Texas’ Camp Barkley without reservation, getting prepared for active duty in the supply section of the 14th Anti-aircraft headquarters overseas.
“We were pretty young and [thought] we could beat the world,” Nieto said. “We felt very confident. Of course we were scared, but we were confident that this was what we had to do, and we did it.”
In doing his job to defend his country in the Philippines, Nieto recalls he was able to do so free of discrimination and conflict.
“I was easy to get along with and I wasn’t looking for trouble. We had enough trouble with the Japanese,” Nieto said.
In his box of keepsakes, he also has a postcard written to his mother, Dolores Gonzalez De Valle, from the Hollywood Canteen on July 17, 1944, in which he tells her he’s having a great time in Hollywood while waiting to be shipped overseas. According to the Hollywood Canteen’s Web site, the club was open from 1942 to 1945 and served as a place for food and entertainment for the men and women of the Armed Forces. It was in this club where Nieto saw celebrities such as actress Joan Crawford.
Nieto also has a May 9, 1945, newspaper clip of the Guinea Gold, a publication that was run by the military service in New Guinea. The clipping’s headline reads, “Victory in Europe” in bold black letters on the front page. Although the clip marks the triumph of Europe, it would still be a few months until the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, on August 6 and 9, 1945. Six days later, the Emperor of Japan announced the surrender of his country.
After the war ended, Nieto departed from the Philippines in January of 1946 and arrived in the U.S. in February of the same year. H was officially discharged from the Army on February 26 at the rank of Sergeant.
Back home, he enrolled in the University of Florida, where he received his degree in business administration and accounting in 1949. One year later, he married Josephine Spoto. They had two children, Frances and Patricia, and remained husband and wife for 46 years, until Josephine died in 1996.
After the war, Nieto worked as a certified public accountant and established his own company, which, at the time of his interview, he still had. He’s also a member of a WWII veterans group that meets every Wednesday and Friday to discuss contemporary politics.
“We’re divided between the parties,” said Nieto of the group’s members. “But we don’t let politics interfere with our lives and the way we think. That’s the worst thing that can happen.”
Mr. Nieto was interviewed in Tampa, Florida, on November 11, 2007, by Ben Olguin.