Immigrant Heroism

An Immigrant Defends the United States

Being a part of the Immigration Clinic means being cognizant of the roads traveled by immigrants in the past. The following story was written by Professor Benítez’s father-in-law, Mr. Joe Salas, from Oshkosh, Wisconsin, who immigrated from México to the United States in 1926 and later served in the U.S. Army during World War II. Mr. Salas became a U.S. citizen after his discharge from the Army. He recounts his war experience here:

I was born on August 19th, 1921, in Purísima del Rincón, Guanajuato, México. My parents, siblings, and I immigrated to the U.S. in 1926 and settled in Gary, Indiana. I graduated from Froebel High School in June 1940 and my first job was working as a grocery clerk in a neighborhood store earning all of $6.00 per week. Within 2 years I was earning $25.00 per week. Little did I know that my next job would net me $30.00 per month, plus food and shelter.

By 1941 the war was raging in Asia and Europe. A couple of close friends enrolled in the Army and both landed in the Philippines. One was killed in late 1941 and the other was captured at Bataan and survived the infamous Death March. A neighbor and I went to enlist in the Marine Corps. He was accepted but I was rejected because I was not a U.S. citizen. When I got a draft notice from the Army in 1942 I was surprised to learn that I could serve, even though I didn’t have to, and I jumped at the chance to do so. I arrived at the 5th Army induction center at Camp Aterberry, Indiana, on September 9th, 1942. Within two weeks I was at Ft. Eustis, Virginia, where I took basic training. It was an artillery camp and I trained on all types of weapons from 155 mm rifles down to 40mm automatic anti-aircraft guns. I also trained in communications and learned to operate field radios as well as learning how to string communication lines. After basic training I landed at New Orleans, a port of embarkation for the American Theatre of Operations. There were German U-boats operating in the Caribbean and they were a threat to the oil refineries in the Caribbean Islands and to the Panama Canal.

We departed for Curacao, N.A., in March of 1943. In July 1944 we returned to the States and landed in Fort Hood, Texas. We became part of the 107th Cavalry Squadron. This was a regular Army outfit from Ft. Riley, Kansas, and they were mechanized early that year. I was trained as gunner on an M-16 tank that was fitted with a 75mm howitzer rifle and two 50-caliber machine guns. Following basic training, I headed for Hoboken, N.J., a port of embarkation for the European Theatre of Operations.

We landed at Liverpool, England, in early January 1945 and we went straight to France on January 16th, 1945. Our outfit moved to St. Nazaire, France, where a division of German troops were trapped. We got further training there in recon, which was the major focus of our outfit. We moved out after 2 - 3 weeks and headed for northwestern France. Since we were in the field at all times and we were a mobile outfit, I can’t trace the route we took through Europe. We participated in the northern France, Ardennes, and Rhineland campaigns and finally landed in Bavaria not far from Munich when the war ended in Europe in May 1945.

From southern Germany we went to Marseilles, France, for deployment to the Far East, where the Japanese had not yet given up. En route to the Far East the war ended and we re-routed our destination and landed in Newport News, Virginia. I got my first furlough in 3 years and returned two weeks later for my final discharge on October 15th, 1945. Uncle Sam gave me the American Theatre Ribbon, the European Theatre Ribbon with 3 Bronze Stars, the Good Conduct Medal and 300 bucks to get me started after 3 years, 1 month and 7 days of service.


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