Following Your Intuition May Just Save Your Life- Jose Salazar Jr.
I'm a World War II Veteran who served this country in a time when economic despair and patriotism was changing. It was a challenge to live in that generation when hardships were a way of life.
I was born in San Pedro CA. in 1924. I was the youngest of four; two sisters and one brother. I attended Barton Hill Elementary School until 1933. I experienced the economic depression of our society. I saw people jumping from buildings because they lost everything in the stock market crash. I thought of the things we lost as a family but we made adjustments. My father was laid off from his job in a foundry. I remember going to bakeries and grocery stores looking for day old bread or discarded food. I brought it home and my mother made us soup from the scraps.
We eventually moved to Woodlake in the San Joaquin Valley. I picked grapes at 1 cent a tray and averaged 150 trays a day, which was pretty good at that time, considering milk was 10 cents a quart and gasoline was 12 cents a gallon.
I went back to school and graduated from the 8th grade. Since times were hard, I eventually dropped out of school and helped my family's income by picking oranges and other fruits and vegetables.
Our lives were pretty simple then, until I heard of the 1941 bombing by the Japanese in Pearl Harbor, HI. I remembered one of those ships that were sunk. It was the Arizona. I remembered the sailors who gathered as many kids as they could when they docked at the Los Angeles Harbor near our old home in San Pedro and fed us a Thanksgiving meal onboard the ship. I was heart stricken to know that some of the sailors I knew died in that bombing.
I was inducted into the Army Air Corps in April of 1943 then attended basic training at Jefferson Barracks MO. From there I transferred to Mt. Home, Idaho and was assigned to the 453rd Bomb Group as a waist gunner on the B-24. Jimmy Stewart, a famous Hollywood actor was also assigned to the 453rd Bomb Group.
I really enjoyed this training, but I guess fate stepped in and changed my assignment when they found I had perforated eardrums. I was grounded permanently and reassigned to the Motor Pool. I was eventually shipped out to Europe aboard a British ship called the "Queen Elizabeth."
Near Attleborough, England, I drove aircrews to the mess hall, briefing rooms or the hardstands when their aircraft were ready to go. It was hard to be close to anyone because you had to deal with their loss if they never returned.
I volunteered and was picked for an unknown mission. I was assigned to the 1st Engineer Special Brigade. During this advance training, I learned to make bridges for water crossings; scale high cliffs and other type of maneuvers and tactics for our upcoming operation.
One awful morning, I found myself in the middle of "Operation Overlord." I remember it was cold and stormy that day, and the soldiers were scared and sick from traveling in the landing craft prior to hitting the beach. Later I learned it was called Utah Beach.
This experience is forever embedded in my mind. It was June 6, 1944. I was assigned to hit the beach on the second wave. I remember seeing the ramp go down, and I saw dead soldiers floating on the water as we jumped in. Some of these soldiers were missing body parts. I remember jumping into chest high water, and I started to release the non-essential gear I was carrying in order to make the shore before being shot.
After reaching the beach, I heard rifle and machine gun fire with an occasional mortar being launched, and heavy artillery firing in the distance. I followed the other soldiers to an embankment barrier wall. We went over the wall and moved further inland. It was scary and very confusing. I was so scared I didn't feel anything, not even numbness. I could hear soldiers crying and yelling for help, but we keep moving and digging in. I also remember there were airplanes flying low. I believed there were strafing areas to support the ground troops.
We started to push ahead further inland with resistance from the Germans. We were ordered to head toward St.Lo where I was with five of my squad buddies searching buildings when all at once we were pinned down by a sniper. Out of nowhere a small, white dog came to me. I tried to push this dog away, but it was very insistent. It tried to pull me by my pant leg, but it couldn't. I followed my intuition and followed the dog staying low. It led me to a place where there was an open field.
Shortly thereafter, I heard a big blast and ran to see if my buddies were okay. I found them all dead. I went looking for the dog, but he was nowhere to be found. I felt bad for my buddies and even worse because I was alive, and they weren't. By following my intuition, this experience forever changed my life.
We proceeded toward Paris, and the war ended ten months after the invasion of France. When I first learned the war had ended, I was in a village talking to other G.I.s. The local villagers came out and greeted us with cheers, hugs and threw flowers at us. Afterwards, we stayed at a Chateau and marched in Paris, France through the Arc de Triumph.
I boarded the USS Enterprise, an aircraft carrier in South Hampton, England and headed across the Atlantic Ocean to New York Harbor. I was never so happy to see the Statue of Liberty. It made me feel proud that I served my country. The war was over but not for me. I have lived with its horrific thoughts and memories in my mind for more than sixty years.