2018-12-05 / Front Page

December 7 is etched in local man’s memory

BY ALLEN ESSEX
Staff Writer


WORLD WAR II ARMY AIR FORCE VETERAN GUADALUPE ESPINOZA shows a few of his many mementos from his military service. Drafted in 1946, he served six years. He recalls the impact the Dec. 7, 1942, Pearl Harbor attack had on the lives of many Americans, including himself. (Photo by Allen Essex) WORLD WAR II ARMY AIR FORCE VETERAN GUADALUPE ESPINOZA shows a few of his many mementos from his military service. Drafted in 1946, he served six years. He recalls the impact the Dec. 7, 1942, Pearl Harbor attack had on the lives of many Americans, including himself. (Photo by Allen Essex) To most Raymondville residents, Friday is the day the city Christmas parade will come through the center of the Gateway City, with floats and candy and fire engines blaring their sirens.

But to 97-year-old Guadalupe Espinosa, Dec. 7 is the day, 77 years ago, when the Japanese navy attacked. They bombed Army barracks, airstrips, ships and aircraft, killing many sailors, soldiers, Marines, airmen and civilians.

Today’s politically correct school textbooks barely mention “the dastardly sneak attack” on Dec. 7, 1941, when a peaceful Sunday morning in Hawaii was turned into chaos and elevated World War II to a truly global conflict.

The United States was finally drawn into the war, sweeping aside efforts by American isolationists to keep out of the struggle.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt soon addressed Congress and the nation. The lives of people like Guadalupe Espinosa, as well as those on the home front, were changed forever.

“Everyone was talking about it,” he said of life in Raymondville.

He had dropped out of school after the fifth grade and struggled to find work during the Great Depression, working at the Raymondville Bakery, taking odd jobs as “hard times” lingered on in the already impoverished Rio Grande Valley.

“I wasn’t thinking about joining the Army,” he said. “I was drafted on Oct. 2, 1942.”

Soon he found himself in San Antonio for basic training, then on to Salt Lake City, Utah, where it was cold and the snow, wind and Army life got tougher, then on to Denver, Colo., where it was even colder. In Utah, he recalled tents with wooden floors and half-walls with canvas for a roof. A small heating stove rested on the wooden floor.

At Great Bend, Kansas, there was more training and a two-story barracks. He was in the Army Air Force, learning how to serve on a ground crew to support bombers, fighter or any type of aircraft.

Being shipped overseas was a long process, he said. It took three days to get to New York by train, then soldiers marched onto the Queen Mary, which had been converted into a troop transport.

He was assigned guard duty near the stern of the ship. He could watch the sea rise and fall.

“We were on the second-biggest ship in the ocean. I had never been on a ship before,” he said. “You could see that we were zig-zagging because there was a German submarine out there. They called it the Black Knight. They wanted to get the Queen Mary.”

It took the Queen Mary only four days to cross the Atlantic.

He was stationed at a base in England, learning aviation mechanical work and doing any work that was needed.

“A few of them were shot up,” he said of the bombers, transports, cargo planes and fighters, which had to be repaired quickly to get back into the air and back into the fight.

It only took four days to cross the Atlantic on the way over but when he came back on another troop transport ship, it was so overloaded, that the trip took 15 days. It had to steam slowly with the large number of troops aboard, he said.

Before the Normandy Invasion on June 6, 1944, his base in England was blacked out (lights out at night) and all their equipment had to be packed up for transfer to France, but the order never came.

Espinoza stayed in the Air Force for six years, from 1942 to 1948. Leaving the Air Force had become a separate service and uniforms changed from brown to blue.

He was glad to get back to Raymondville and tried to get his old job back at the bakery and tried to get work other places.

“It was just me, my mother and my sister,” he said. “ I couldn’t find a job, so I started my own bakery, the Espinoza Bakery, in the building right across the street. I built that building.”

He worked in his bakery from 1948 to 1980. He married in 1949.

Years after the war, while visiting family in California, he decided he wanted to see the Queen Mary, which was on display as a museum in San Diego. He took family members to see where his bunk had been. Of course, the ship had been converted back to its original purpose as a luxury liner after the war.

“I took them right there, showed them where my bunk was,” he said.

He may not remember every detail so many years later, but Guadalupe Espinoza remembers the importance of Dec. 7, 1941, as President Roosevelt called it, “a date which will live in infamy.”

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