My grandfather never talked about the War. In Spanish, he called it “la Guerra.” In the 1990s, as a World War II veteran heading into his twilight years, I was a teenager that wanted to know more about the War.
We read textbooks about it and watched short films of it during history class. My history teacher made it sound like the War was the biggest event in the history of the world. Maybe it was, but it was hard to see from someone who fought in it and never said anything about it.
Grandpa Abe was a Seabee. I was named after him. His first name was spelled Abran and his last name is still misspelled to this day on his military headstone. Most people spell our last names with one “r” instead of two.
I remember his funeral. The folding of the flag. The shots fired in the air. The salutes. The solemnity that comes with someone who gets a special kind of recognition for serving his country. I learned more about his service by being at his funeral and by reading about him in the newspaper. I didn’t know much from what he said about it because he never said much about it.
I wish he would have told me why he chose to enlist. Most boys did back then. He was a young Mexican-American living on the border. A smelter town where most people were laborers. Maybe he was like a lot of other boys of the time. Boys becoming men, just out of high school. No real work or life experience to tout. A country needed them. They signed up.
Over 50 million boys registered for the draft. Looking at his draft card from 1943, he’s listed as an 18-year-old. His father Elias Villarreal died in 1939 when grandpa was 14. He didn’t get to see him sign up for the service, be called into service, and to travel overseas. He would become a Navy soldier. The draft card records him as unemployed and with no phone. His mother Teodora is listed under the section “person who will always know your address.”
In March of 1944, his name appeared on a Navy Muster Roll. His service number was 8825425. His rank an S2c, a seaman apprentice. A low rank as he was just getting started. A border boy becoming…