War & Locale: World War II -- Pacific Theater
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Mexican immigrants Antonio Jasso and Genoveva Ramirez Jasso, who picked cotton in South Texas, would see five of their sons go off to war.
Their granddaughter, Evelyn Jasso Garcia, set out to record their story, and that of her father and uncles. An associate professor at San Antonio College, she regrets she wasn't able to interview her uncles, but gratified her dad, Jose "Joe" Jasso lived to see the fruit of her research.
Born in 1881, Antonio learned to read and write from an uncle. He and wife Genoveva emigrated to South Texas from Zacatecas, Mexico, to work in the cotton fields of El Campo.
Three of their 11 children died in infancy. Four boys were born in a five-year span beginning in 1911 while the couple worked as sharecroppers. After two died and the remainder got sick, the couple sought a better life in San Antonio, Texas, where Antonio worked as a carpenter, while Genoveva opened portions of their rented home as a bed-and-breakfast.
While Genoveva battled depression after the premature death of her first daughter, she’s remembered as an indomitable matriarch. Family members marvel at her enterprise during the Great Depression: She also ran a parking-lot business created after persuading the landlord to allow her to clean up an adjacent, empty tract of land.
Antonio transported each son called for duty to the train station, accompanied by his eldest son, Jesus "Jesse" Jasso. At age 35, Jesse had been rejected by the military. He was anguished he was unable to join his brothers.
"When he was drafted, his oldest children remember their dad crying because he was declared ineligible," Evelyn wrote the Project. "He wanted to go to war with his brothers but he was 35 years old, married and with five children."
His ineligibility, however, provided the family with a patriarch after their father died of pneumonia in 1943, at the age of 56. Genoveva would die 25 years later at the age of 78.
In a grainy photograph published in the San Antonio Light long ago, the five boys gather in the living room of their modest home, clad in their uniforms and surrounding their proud mother around the sofa.
The photo alone speaks volumes about the Jasso family's contributions to the war.
The elderly Genoveva manages a wan smile for the photographer. And in the background, barely visible, a photograph of their deceased father rests on a side table.
"It would not surprise me if my grandfather, in his conversations with God, had asked Him to bring all his sons home safely from the war and ... take him instead," his granddaughter reasoned.
Indeed, the five Jasso boys would return home. And, thanks to a niece's diligence, their stories are forever preserved.
Frank Jasso was studious, lured to the field of journalism at an early age. He began at the bottom of the industry ladder, selling the local paper at the St. Mary's and Travis streets intersection in downtown San Antonio. At 13, he joined La Prensa mailroom and later became editor of Lanier High School's El Nopal newspaper. He attended Trinity University.
He was drafted into the Army Air Corps in May of 1942, primarily stationed stateside at Brooks Air Force Base, and wrote for Air Force magazine The Observer.
By now the writer of the family, when they planned his dad's funeral, Frank helped compose "mourning notices" for family and friends. The task of alerting his brothers -- one in Africa, another in Missouri for basic training -- fell on him.
Entreating the censor not to delay the letter, "¡Ya acabo papa!" [father is finished] he wrote them.
Frank was later shipped to England, where he worked in communications for the 8th Air Force.
After the war, Frank became a credit manager at Penner's Clothing Store in San Antonio. The League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) twice named him Man of the Year for helping to found its La Feria de las Flores annual scholarship fundraiser in San Antonio.
Frank died June 30, 1987. He and his wife, Anita Bonilla, had three children: Alfonso, Aida and Jaime.
Trinidad Jasso was the first to volunteer, joining the U.S. Army Air Corps on March 26, 1941, during the time of the Lend-Lease Act providing for U.S. aid to Britain and other Allies. In Ellington Field, Texas, he repaired aircraft carburetors -- the same job he'd hold for 30 years after the war at Kelly Air Force Base. A supervisor, he was often sent to Langley Field in Virginia to learn the latest technology repair work for C-47 aircraft.
He enjoyed dancing. One of his best partners was the wife of a cousin. Their flawless steps were remembered long afterward.
"I have never seen anyone dance better to "In the Mood" than Trini partnered with Mary Loera," sister-in-law Dorothy Seevers Jasso recalled. "They were just terrific."
Trinidad and wife, Alicia Cardenas, had four children: Patricia, Robert, Carla and Jerome. After 43 years of marriage, she died in 1991. Trini died two years later.
A high school dropout, Tomas Jasso volunteered for the Civilian Conservation Corps and was stationed in New Mexico. He was still in basic training there after the Army drafted him in January of 1943, and was unable to attend his father's funeral.
Tomas served in the engineering corps as a demolition specialist in the China-Burma-India Theater. He helped build the 500-mile Ledo Road from India to Burma, which connected with the refurbished Burma Road in attempts to wrest control of China from the Japanese.
He returned home a changed man. Reluctant to discuss his war experiences, he turned to alcohol. He worked as a bicycle courier and as a janitor at a school district.
Among the brothers, his is the tragic tale. But in childhood, there were happy moments.
His nephews remember a time when they accompanied Tomas downtown to meet Fess Parker, who played Davy Crockett in Walt Disney's "Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier," which aired in the 1950s. A local newspaper took a photograph of Parker with Tomas and the boys in their coonskin caps.
Tomas is remembered as having lived un dia a la vez [one day at a time] until his death of a cerebral hemorrhage at the age of 56.
Antonio Jasso dropped out of high school to help his mother after his dad died. But in 1944, at 17, he volunteered for the Navy, participating in the American Area Campaign in the Asiatic Pacific after training in San Diego, Calif. He spent 15 months at sea as an apprentice seaman, later promoted to Seaman 1st Class. In the Philippines, he transported U.S. troops to shore on landing-craft carriers. He was honorably discharged July 1, 1946.
He obtained his GED after the war. At 19, he married Eloida Gomez in Seguin, Texas, a brief union producing two children: Linda and Eddie.
Antonio worked as a surveyor with the Texas Department of Transportation, and then in Pasadena, Calif., where he met Dorothy Seevers, his second wife. The couple had two children: Tony and Elena. He later returned to San Antonio with his family.
He was "the family BBQ expert," one relative recalled; his soft chicharron tacos were quickly consumed at family gatherings. He died in October 1995.
The Jasso family contributed more than their sons to the war. Their daughters also played a part on the home front.
Lydia Jasso Tamez, born August 17, 1925, was a junior at Fox Tech High School when Pearl Harbor was attacked in December of 1941.
During the war years, she remembers registering citizens for their ration coupons at a local high school. The coupons were used to purchase items such as sugar, clothing and gasoline. Rationing gasoline was an effective way of conserving rubber, which was in short supply.
She recalls her grandmother proudly displaying a special flag with five stars, each star representing a son participating in the war effort.
Lydia graduated from high school -- the first woman in the family to do so -- and later graduated from Johnson's Beauty School, housed in the Majestic Building in downtown San Antonio.
She married Raul Tamez in 1951 and the couple had three children: Saul, Sonia and Sylvia.
Isabel Jasso was born in February 1938 and was raised by her grandparents as their own daughter. Although she was very young, she did what she could to boost the morale of her older brothers.
Evelyn wrote that "Mary Nell," as Isabel was called, would send photographs and short notes.
Family members also credit Isabel with boosting Genoveva's morale.
"Mary Nell was my mother's life," Lydia wrote. "Her love for my mother gave my mother life."
Isabel died in March of 1969; she had one daughter, Carol Jasso Nguyen.
Evelyn writes that she is proud of her family and the legacies they left behind: "...legacies of hope, faith, love, family, heritage, tradition and patriotism."
She encourages everyone to preserve their family's rich history.
"I wholeheartedly regret that I did not interview each of my uncles while they were alive," she wrote. "It is my hope that my regret will motivate others to ... start interviewing their dads, their parents, their tios and record their WWII stories and experiences. Do not wait another day."
Tribute by Tony Cantú, based on family records and interviews provided by Evelyn Jasso-Garcia