Kansas MemoryKansas Memory

Kansas Historical SocietyKansas Historical Society

Interview on experiences in World War II

Item Description Bookbag Share




Loren Pennington: This is a Flint Hills Oral History Project World War II veterans series interview with Mr


This is a Flint Hills Oral History Project World War II Veteran's Series interview with Mr. Ambrose Lopez, who resides at 215 West 4th Avenue, in Emporia, Kansas. The interviewer is Loren Pennington, Emeritus Professor of History at Emporia State University. Today's date is April 27, 2006. The interview is taking place at Mr. Lopez's home.

This is tape 1, side A.

Loren Pennington: Mr. Lopez, I should say for the record that you and I had never met until a few days ago when we arranged this interview. Nevertheless, I will try to make the interview as informal as possible. I would like to have you begin by telling us where and when you were born, who your parents were, and what they did for a living.

Ambrose Lopez: I was born December 7, 1925, at Emporia, Kansas. My dad was Sylvester Lopez and my mom was Damasia Lopez. My dad came from Mexico and he was working here in the section for the Santa Fe in 1925.

LP: When did your mother come here?

AL: He [my father] brought my mother later. Two or three months after my dad was here, my mother and my brother came over on the train. They met my dad here in Emporia.

LP: And you've been here ever since?

AL: We've been here ever since.

LP: You said your father first came to the United States when?

AL: The first time he came to the United States was in 1921 when he came to Neva, Kansas, where my sister was born. He went back to Mexico in 1921. He came back to the U.S. in 1923 and worked in the Arizona cotton fields. Then he went to California and worked over there in the vegetable farms. He went back to Mexico. He came back again in 1923 and was on the gang that the Santa Fe had in Yuma, Arizona, and one of my brothers was born there. He again went back to Mexico in 1923 when the Santa Fe cut the extra gang during the winter; he came back the next year in the spring. He went through Emporia on the extra gang and then went back to Mexico when the gang was cut in December for the winter. He came back to Emporia in 1925. He got in a section and he worked there until he retired.

LP: Why did your father and mother come to the United States? What was their reason for coming?

AL: My dad came because of the better conditions here. They came because they were having the revolution over there then. He wanted to get out of Mexico. They came because of the work they could find here.

LP: The job opportunities?

AL: The job opportunities because my dad was a poor; his family was poor.

LP: How many brothers and sisters did you have eventually?

AL: Five brothers and two sisters, seven of us.

LP: So you grew up in Emporia?

AL: I grew up in Emporia.

LP: Where did you go to school?

AL: I went to grade school at Sacred Heart School and I came out in 1942, I graduated.

LP: From what?

AL: The eighth grade.

LP: You say you went to Sacred Heart. Were you a member of the Sacred Heart congregation or were you a member of St. Catherine's?

AL: We were a member of St. Catherine's.

LP: Didn't they run a school for a while?

AL: No, not then.

LP: Now, you went to school at Sacred Heart. Later on, St. Catherine's, where you were a member, ran a school. Did your wife go there?

AL: My wife went there in September of 1942.

LP: That was after you got out of school?

AL: I got out in May of 1942.

LP: What did you do after you got out?

AL: That 1942 I worked the summer in the extra gang for the Santa Fe. Then I went back to school when school started. I think it was in late August or September. I worked and I went that year in the ninth grade at Emporia Junior High School. They had [grades] seven and eight and nine there. I went to the ninth. Then in 1943, I worked in an extra gang again. Then I went back to school in 1943. I went half a year, a little more than half a year. Then I quit and went to work for the Santa Fe in Edgerton on an extra gang, a steel gang, for about a month. Then I came back and got a job here in the section in Emporia. I was here off and on because in the winter they used to cut us off and we had to go to Neosho Rapids. Then later we went to Lebo.

LP: You were just being moved around?

AL: Yes, on account of seniority.

LP: What was it like to grow up in the Mexican-American community here in Emporia? Can you tell me about that?

AL: I really didn't pay too much attention to it. We weren't allowed to go to a certain part of the movie houses. We had to sit in a certain part of the movie houses apart from the white people.

LP: In other words, there was some prejudice against Mexican-Americans in the city?

AL: Yes.

LP: That's interesting what you bring up about movies. I understand there were three movies in town at the time. There was, what we might call, the expensive Granada, and the Lyric.

AL: The Strand and then the Lyric.

LP: The Lyric was the cheapest.

AL: Yes.

LP: Which one did you go to?

AL: I went to the Lyric mostly and the Strand. My dad used to take us when they had that Wahoo. My dad used to like to go to that.

LP: What was the Wahoo?

AL: It was like a bingo. You had cards.

LP: This was part of the movie.

AL: They would stop the movie.

LP: We used to have that in my town, too. They used to have a giveaway every so often. They'd have a drawing and this sort of thing.

AL: The Lyric used to give away plates to the women, plates or cups, those glass plates. They used to give theme to the women.

LP: I remember that too in my hometown.

AL: I remember we used toI didn't have any moneyso I used to charge. They used to charge me ten cents for the movie and five cents for popcorn.

LP: Where did you get your money?

AL: My dad used to give me a quarter every two weeks, so I ended up with two movies.

LP: Did you work as anything as a kid or did you make any money anyway?

AL: No. I didn't really work too much. We picked up some bottles, milk bottles. I think it was a nickel and pop bottles were two cents. We'd pick up some copper.

LP: This was especially during the war. During the early days of the war.

AL: Yes. But that was in the early 1940s. That's the way I went to the movies and saw the westerns. The Lyric was where I went most of my time.

LP: That's the cheapest one.

AL: Yes. It's only a dime.

LP: Somebody told me it was nickel. Not that cheap?

AL: I don't remember it was a nickel, but I know that popcorn was a nickel.

LP: You said you worked on the railroad while you were still going to school. After you left school, you were working on the railroad. Obviously, things are going to pot in the world, so speak. You've got Hitler on the rise in Europe and Japan and the Far East, all of this sort of thing. Did your family pay much attention to what was going on outside the United States?

AL: No. I don't think my dadthey didn't understand. He couldn't read English. He understood when somebody talked to him. My mother didn't know how to read either. She never went to school. She didn't know to read in Spanish or English.

LP: Did you yourself pay much attention to that? You were going to school.

AL: Not really too much until Pearl Harbor.

LP: That's kind of interesting because your birthday is Pearl Harbor day. So the attack on Pearl Harbor happened on your sixteenth birthday?

AL: My sixteenth, on Sunday. I remember we went up to our church. They had a Jamaica Mexican supper on that day. I was up there about four o'clock. Somebody said, ``Hey, they bombed Pearl Harbor.'' I didn't know where Pearl Harbor was.

LP: What did you think when you found out about it? What did you think about America being in the war?

AL: I didn't really think too much. I thought I was too young for me to go. They used to say, ``Oh, we're going to beat them in six months. We're going to beat the Japanese in six months.'' I said, ``I'm only sixteen. I won't be able to go.''

LP: It turned out it wasn't six months at all.

AL: That Monday we heard Roosevelt say that speech.

LP: You listened to President Roosevelt's speech in school?

AL: Yes.

LP: What did you think of his speech? Can you remember it?

AL: I can remember some of it where he says infamy.

LP: The day of infamy.

AL: That's what I remember about him. Then he asked Congress to declare a state of war with Japan.

LP: [After] Pearl Harbor you continued to work for the railroad then?

AL: Yes, in 1943 until December 7th. I was eighteen and I had to go sign up for the draft. I did and then they called me about the middle of January. I went to Leavenworth and I passed my physical for either the Army, Navy, or Marines. I told them I wanted to go to the Navy. They told me to go back home and we'll call you. I went back to work and that time I hurt my back lifting some rails. Finally, my pastor sent me to a chiropractor and she worked on me. I felt all right. Then I went to Kansas City. They sent me to Kansas City for the Navy. When we were there, some big old Marine came in there and he said, ``I want two volunteers.'' Nobody volunteered, so he picked me and another guy from Emporia. So here we are the next day going to San Diego.

LP: You found yourself in the Marine Corps.

AL: Yes. I had to call my mom that I wasn't going to the Great Lakes. I had told her I was going to go to the Great Lakes. I told her I that was in San Diego.

LP: What did she think of that?

AL: My mother didn't think too much of it. She didn't want me to be in the service, but she couldn't do anything about it.

LP: You're at San Diego at the Marine Corps base there for boot camp, right?

AL: Right.

LP: What did you think of boot camp?

AL: They used to tell that it was real rough. I don't think it was that rough. They used to take us out to the beach and march us in the sand. It's kind of hard to march in the sand.

LP: It's kind of hard to march on Iwo Jima later on.

AL: Yes. We had a guy who they called him the gooney bird. He was always in trouble. He couldn't keep in step. He couldn't make with a rifle.

LP: Couldn't do the manual of arms?

AL: Yes. Now they had him a lot of times running around us as we were marching and he was running with his rifle at port arms.

LP: Doing extra duty?

AL: Not really. He was just running around. It was hard running in sand with the rifle. But later on when we went to [the rifle range], I only qualified as a marksman and he qualified as an expert. He was the only one in the platoon that qualified as an expert.

LP: So he had something going for him.

AL: He had something.

LP: What kind of a rifle were you using at that time?

AL: M1s.

LP: When the Marines landed at Guadacanal they had the old Springfield `03 bolt action and they didn't get M1 rifles for quite a while. But they did have the M1 by the time you were in boot camp.

AL: Yes. We got the new ones. I remember we got new ones and we used that all during boot camp. After boot camp, about seven or eight weeks, we got out and I went to machine gun school at Camp Elliot. It's about ten miles west of San Diego.

LP: This was for advanced training.

AL: Advanced training. They took away our M1s and gave us new carbines.

LP: Did you have .30 caliber machine guns?

AL: They were .30 caliber. We had those water cooled and air cooled, .30 caliber. We trained always with them. Anyway, we trained and if anybody made expert, they were supposed to get a 72 hour pass. Here I am, I make expert on the machine gun crew. I was the only one that made expert and they didn't give me no pass. The one that got a pass was one of my drill instructors. He got a pass.

LP: Because you got expert?

AL: He borrowed a dollar from each guy. There were sixty in the platoon. He went with the 72 hour. He never did pay it back, either.

LP: This was your drill instructor?

AL: Yes, one of them. We had three of them. We had a corporal and two pfc drill instructors. But I never thought too much about it.

LP: Did you as a Mexican-American run into much prejudice in the Marine Corps?

AL: No, not at all.

LP: You were just like everybody else?

AL: Yes.

LP: When you said this Marine Corps instructor hit you for a dollar, he hit everybody for a dollar?

AL: Everybody. He got sixty dollars.

LP: That paid for his leave and he had a good time probably.

AL: Most of my friends during boot camp were from the East.

LP: Were there other Mexican-Americans in your unit or were you one of the few?

AL: I was the only one.

LP: You were the only one. But this didn't cause you any problems?

AL: No. I was the only Mexican and one Indian from Arizona. The rest were white guys. We never got into it.

LP: Never had any trouble?

AL: No.

LP: It was different than in Emporia was at that time?

AL: Yes. The guy was Kenneth Miller. He was one of my best friends. He was from Ohio and he said to me ``Where are you from.'' I said, ``I'm from Kansas.'' He said, ``You mean the dust state that I went through and I didn't see anythingit's all dust?'' That's what he used to tell me.

LP: Do you remember the dust storms of the 1930s?

AL: Yes.

LP: How were they here in Emporia?

AL: They were pretty bad. I remember one in the 1930s, 1936 I think. You could hardly see. I remember we walkedI lived about four blocks from schooland I went home and came back and boy you couldn't see anything. It was dark like night. I went back to school and you had to cover your nose so you wouldn't breathe some of that dust. But that was pretty bad that day anyway.

LP: How was the food when you were at boot camp and in advanced training?

AL: It was real good.

LP: I don't imagine it was real Mexican food though?

AL: No. We had good food. They treated us pretty good at boot camp and advanced school. Well, it was here in the States. They had good food.

LP: I don't imagine you hung around too long in the States after finishing that. You probably shipped out for overseas duty. Is that right?

AL: That's right.

LP: Tell me about that.

AL: They used to tell me when I would go to boot camp that I had to learn how to swim. I didn't know how to swim. They'd said, ``If you don't learn you're not going to go overseas until you learn how to swim.'' Then when I went to advanced, they used to tell me they tried to pull to get me to swim and I couldn't do it.

LP: You couldn't learn to swim?

AL: No.

LP: So you never learned?

AL: They said they weren't going to send me out there, overseas, but I got out of advanced machine gun training. Close to the end of the June I went on a weekend pass. I was supposed to be back on Monday because we were going to load up on Tuesday and I didn't come back until Tuesday. So they put me prisoner at large for missing one day.

LP: You were AWOL as the saying goes.

AL: Yes.

LP: By the way, I don't think I remember. What date did you actually enter the service?

AL: I went in February 17, 1944.

LP: So we're down to June now and you're getting ready to go overseas. Where did they send you?

AL: We went on board ship June 29, 1944. They used to feed us twice a day because there were too many Marines. That's all we ate twice a day. We went to Pearl Harbor.

LP: Do you remember the name of the ship?

AL: No. [I can't] remember.

LP: How big a ship was it?

AL: It wasn't too big.

LP: It wasn't an ex-passenger ship?

AL: No.

LP: It was a regular Army transport.

AL: It was probably some freight ship or something. It's an old one and had wooden decks.

LP: Do you have any idea how many men were on the ship, just as an estimate?

AL: There were about six tiers of bunks on the bottom. I would say maybe five hundred.

LP: Five hundred, and you're heading for Pearl Harbor. How was the trip?

AL: Awful. I got sick. I didn't throw up, but I couldn't eat. All I ate was an apple and some crackers, an orange in those seven days. Seven days it took us to get to Pearl Harbor.

LP: When you got to Pearl Harbor what did you do?

AL: We got off and they sent us to some kind of camp. We were in the camp two weeks, because I went to Honolulu twice on the Saturdays. We were only about five miles from Honolulu.

LP: How did you like Honolulu?

AL: I don't know. It's all right I guess. I remember we went and got a haircut and there were women from Japan. There were women and young girls cutting hair for five bucks.

LP: For five dollars?

AL: Yes.

LP: That was an expensive haircut in those days.

AL: They just wanted that because they were girls. I went around. When we came back after the two weeks, I'd made new buddies. When we went they went different ways and I went different ways, even the ones from boot camp and machine gun school. They all went to different divisions and different places than I went. We got aboard and we went to Guam. We were aboard ship about twenty days.

LP: Were you assigned to a particular division yet?

AL: No, I was replacement.

LP: How was the trip to Guam? Any better than the trip to Honolulu?

AL: I didn't get sick then. My stomach didn't. It wasn't too bad. In the Kwajalein Islands, we were there for seven days just parked on the ocean.

LP: You stopped at Kwajalein on the way?

AL: We stopped there for about seven days waiting for more troops and different ships to go on the convoy because once we started I know they told us, ``You better get in the aisles; there's Japanese subs around us.'' They told us to put on our lifejackets and told us not to button our helmet, just to leave them open. Nothing happened though.

LP: You go from Honolulu to Kwajalein?

AL: Kwajalein and from there we went to Guam.

LP: What did you do on Guam?

AL: We got off, and then they assigned us to the Third Marines.

LP: Third Marine Division.

AL: 1st battalion, B Company, 9th Regiment of the Third Marine Division. Of that company I was in the machine gun platoon. There were six of ussix guns, six squads; there was one platoon and six squads of Marine machine gunners.

LP: Did you do further training on Guam?

AL: Yes. We trained every day.

LP: How long were you on Guam?

AL: I got there in the first part of August. We trained and finally we went down to the south part and we swept the island to the north. I think we killed about 300 Japanese.

LP: Guam was secure but you still had some Japanese on position out there.

AL: Yes. There were a lot of Japs.

LP: You were involved in the cleanup, so to speak, on Guam.

AL: Yes. We'd patrol it. We patrolled from August to November; we went on patrols, either regiments or companies; when we went to the south edge it was the whole division. We went all the way to the north end. [Interruption.]

LP: Ambrose, we were talking about Guam and you were in the cleanup operations of Guam. What opinion did you have of the Japanese enemy at that time?

AL: We saw a lot of them dead when we were on our patrols. The bullets were in their uniforms and shoes. We saw quite a few. I never did actually see any alive, because the attack overran them or we didn't go where there were that many. They kept moving. But we used to see a lot of them [dead].

LP: Did you feel any kind of animosity or hatred toward them?

AL: No, I didn't. They hadn't done anything to me yet.

LP: It was just the job you had to do?

AL: It was just the job we had to do. I remember when we first got there, going back, I ate coconuts, the green ones; we drank the milk. The dry ones we'd eat the coconut. I got sick and they told me, ``Uh-oh.'' I went to the hospital and they told me, ``You've got appendicitis and we're going to send you back to the States.'' I said, ``That's good enough for me.'' But I just had a bad stomach for a week. Finally they sent me back to the company.

LP: Where did you go from Guam?

AL: We trained there all that year, 1944 until February [of 1945], when we went to Iwo Jima.

This is tape 1, side B.

LP: You went to Guam and you're getting ready for Iwo Jima and that brings us up to February and March of 1945. I asked if you went in on the first wave. What did you say to that?

AL: I said, no. We got off four or five days after. They invaded the 19th [of February]; I remember that. The Third Marine Division was in reserve. We were supposed to go to some other island. But when they invaded the 19th they got in trouble, the two Marine Divisions, I think the Fourth and Fifth. They unloaded one of our regiments. The 21st Regiment got off on a Wednesday, so they went up there in the front lines. The 9th Regiment got off on Saturday.

LP: That's you, the 9th Regiment?

AL: That's me. We were there, right there, close to where they started, where they invaded. A lot of the marines were still there, lying there. They hadn't picked them up, the dead marines.

LP: So you landed in the middle of dead marines?

AL: Yes. They landed with the first wave, and some of them got killed. They didn't pick them up until at least five days later. The island wasn't too wide there because the two divisions and our regiment were in a line across from one end to the other and then behind us. We stayed there that night. The next day, on Sunday, they took us and relieved the 21st. We went into the front lines.

LP: What was it like to be in the front lines on Iwo Jima?

AL: I really didn't think too much.

LP: You didn't feel you were under great stress or anything?

AL: No. We didn't see any Japs. We used to hear them at night, but we didn't see any there that time. I was the number two gunner. One guy was a number one and I was a number two and four other guys were the carriers. They'd carry the ammunition. We just followed our corporal. We had a corporal for a squad leader. Wherever he went we followed him.

LP: You didn't really run into the Japanese opposition?

AL: No

LP: Nobody was shooting at you?

AL: They used to shoot those mortars. I remember the first night, from where they had Mount Suribachi, [they fired] the screaming mimis, they'd call them. They used to land where we were at. I know that one of them landed and covered me with sand or whatever they called thatvolcanic ash. That's what it was. They landed pretty close, but they didn't hurt me nor anybody in our company.

LP: That was the Japanese that were firing these screaming mimis?

AL: Yes. They called the Japanese that too. They were shooting away from that mountain not too far away, maybe a mile or two. They were up in that mountain or hill, whatever they called it.

LP: Mount Suribachi.

AL: At any rate, we were there. We followed our corporal the next day. We went so far, but we weren't the front line. We were behind the infantrymen, the riflemen. They usually got into trouble, and we would set up our guns, or at night we would set up our guns in case they attacked us.

LP: In other words, you were part of the defense rather than the ones that was actually moving forward.

AL: Well, we were going right behind them.

LP: You were going right behind them but you're not the absolute front men.

AL: No; the rifle squads were the ones that really got hurt.

LP: Did your unit suffer many causalities, your 9th Regiment.?

AL: I guess so. A few got shot going over a hill.

LP: The rifleman took the brunt of that?

AL: A rifleman going over a hill, I saw it and I guess he got shot, slumped, and didn't get up any more. We were there; the second or third night, we stopped for night. There were about four tanks that were knocked out. You could hear the radios. The Japs were shooting. We were right there. We duckedholed there for the night. The first Jap I saw came out of a cave; he was running. I don't know where he was going; he was coming towards us, but some other guys were on the left of us. There were some more marines in a foxhole. They got him, they shot him. He had a grenade in his hand. We saw that the next day. That time I got scared but otherwise we didn't see too many. I know we used to hear them at night. That fourth night, we moved and we were digging in. It was already dark. I don't know what time we were finished digging but those foxholes were hot.

LP: You spent the night in foxholes?

AL: Yes.

LP: Dig one every day?

AL: Every night. We didn't move at night, just in the daytime.

LP: How deep were the foxholes you dug?

AL: I don't know. Not too bad. About three or four feet. But they were hot. You'd sweat because the ashes were hot.

LP: How many men could you get in one of your foxholes?

AL: Two. There were two to a foxhole.

LP: I've heard some say that in a real pinch, you could get three or four in, if there wasn't anywhere else to go.

AL: It depends how big you made the foxhole. We only had two. We had the first gunner and I was the second gunner with the machine gun. Then we had another two with the ammunition and another two with other ammunition. That's about six or eight men to a squad.

LP: Any incidents you can tell me about on Iwo Jima that stick in your mind?

AL: One day we were advancing and the number one gunner was going in right behind [the corporal]. It was the corporal, the number one, and me, and then the other guy. When we went over a little knoll, he got shot on the back. The corpsman just put on sulfa and treated it and he stayed there. A couple of days later he got infections so they sent him back and they made me the number one gunner. I was scared that I'd miss. I don't know who he [the wounded gunner] was shooting at, but he got it in the back and I was right behind him. But it didn't wound him that bad. Another day a lieutenant was behind us and some officers. I don't know what they were talking about. But they were there. I think he was the company commander. All I heard was, ``Pop!'' I turned back and some sniper got that lieutenant in the neck right through here. I remember that scared me because you couldn't see that sniper.

LP: In short, you could get killed any time.

AL: Yes. You couldn't see them really in battles.

LP: You could think you were safe but you weren't.

AL: Otherwise I never thought too much about it.

LP: Did you stay at Iwo Jima to the end of the fighting there?

AL: Yes. We used to go and relieve each other, the 21st and the 9th, one would go up there and then the other one would relieve and then we'd go back.

LP: Where was back? To another part of the island?

AL: We would just go back. That island was only about [two by] four or two by five [miles].

LP: You're exactly right.

AL: You couldn't go too far back. They would say, back from the line of fire, the lines. We would go there and stay a night or two. They called it rest.

LP: I know what you mean. I used to teach a class in World War II in the Pacific and when I talked about Iwo Jima I pointed out that Iwo Jima was almost exactly the size of the city of Emporia in area. Think of 35,000 men in the city of Emporia trying to kill each other. I'm talking about Emporia before it expanded way out there. When I first came here Emporia's size was about the same as Iwo Jima.

AL: That's why they killed so many marinesbecause they were too close together.

LP: The enemy is right there.

AL: Our division lost over a thousand.

LP: Killed?

AL: Killed. We lost 6,000 in the three Marine divisions, killed.

LP: It was a very expensive campaign.

AL: Yes. I say because the island was too small for that many troops. Three divisions.

LP: Between you and Japanese, you've got about 35,000 men there.

AL: Yes.

LP: Where you in any other battles in World War II after Iwo Jima?

AL: No. We came back to Guam. We were training some more until in August when the Americans dropped the atomic bomb.

LP: You were training for the invasion of Japan?

AL: Yes.

LP: You didn't go to Okinawa?

AL: No. That was two marine divisions.

LP: Were you still with the Third Marine Division at this time?

AL: Yes. I was in the Third all the time.

LP: So you're training at Guam when the atom bomb came down. What did you think when you heard of the bomb?

AL: I didn't think too much about it because I didn't know what an atomic bomb was until a friend of mine told me and tried to explain. I guess he knew something about it. He had something in school about it. He told me what it was but I never thought nothing about it.

LP: Do you think it was a good idea to use it?

AL: Later when they dropped [the second] I thought it was a good idea.

LP: It was going to let you go home.

AL: I thought it was, but I didn't come home.

LP: True. But at least you probably weren't going to be in another battle like Iwo Jima.

AL: Yes. The Division was disbanded around November or December, and we just went to headquarters. I worked in the ice plant and made ice for the troops.

LP: Where was this?

AL: On Guam. I was on Guam nineteen months. Most of my time, except the time I went to Iwo Jima, I spent it right there on Guam.

LP: When did you finally come back from Guam?

AL: We started sometime in February. I don't remember when, but we got a little before March 1, the latter part of February.

LP: This would be 1946?

AL: 1946. I got separated from the Marine Corps the first of March. We were only back four or five days before we got separated.

LP: How was your trip back?

AL: It was real good. We were in a big old Liberty ship, one of those new ones. It was real fine.

LP: Not like going over?

AL: No.

LP: No seasickness?

AL: I didn't get sick coming back.

LP: Were you glad to get back to the states?

AL: I was.

LP: You were only in the states a few days before you got discharged?

AL: I got discharged.

LP: Did you think of staying in service or joining the reserve?

AL: Not really. We didn't think too much about the reserves then. We just got out. My brother lived in California and came for me at the base. I stayed there a few days and then I came back to Emporia.

LP: Before we come back to Emporia, let me ask you some general questions about the war. Did you have an opinion about America's wartime leaders like President Roosevelt? Did you have an opinion of President Roosevelt?

AL: Not really. I just knew he was our president and we just needed to fight the Japs. I didn't think too much about the Japs like some of them.

LP: Some of the Americans really hated the Japs, but you didn't?

AL: No, because I really didn't. They'd shoot at me but I never got a hit. So I never did see them really.

LP: How about President Truman? Do you think dropping the bomb was a good idea?

AL: I thought it was a good idea.

LP: You still think so today?

AL: I still think so today. There are a lot of them that don't think so, but I do. I think it probably saved my [life], and then quite a few thousands of soldiers or marines from getting killed, besides the Japanese getting killed.

LP: So if you would have been President Truman you would have dropped the bomb?

AL: I would have.

LP: Did you have an opinion of General MacArthur, the supreme commander out there?

AL: Well, I didn't think too much about it. I just wonder how come they took him out and they let Wainwright take over there on Bataan to surrender to the Japanese. But I guess Roosevelt thought that MacArthur was a good general. He wanted to save him for the invasion back at the islands.

LP: As you are part of the Navy and the Marine Corps, your real commander out there is Nimitz.

AL: Nimitz was our commander really.

LP: Did you have an opinion of him?

AL: Not really. I never did see him.

LP: They were too far up the line.

AL: Too far up the line. We had our own generals that came into the Third Marine Division.

LP: Who was your commanding general? Was it Alexander Vandergrift?

AL: No. He was the commander of the Marines Corps. I can't remember the general we had. LP: Was it Holland Smith?

AL: I think so. We had that one, but they changed them every so often. But I didn't pay too much attention.

LP: How about your immediate officers that commanded in your regiment? What was your general opinion of them? Did you think they were competent?

AL: I didn't know with the regiment. The captain, he was pretty good. I can't remember the name of him. We had a lieutenant for the machine gun crew. I can't remember his name. I remember one, a company commander, Limy [name uncertain], he got the Medal of Honor at Iwo Jima. I didn't know that until I got back out of the service and they gave us a book. The Marine Corps printed a book of the battles they were in. They had his name there. I knew him because he was our company commander. He got the Medal of Honor.

LP: Did you communicate much with your family while you were in the service? Did you communicate with your father and mother and your brothers and sisters?

AL: I would write to my mother, but it took a long time to hear from them or from me. I would write in English and my younger brother would tell them what I wrote. They had the V-mails.

LP: E-mails is what we have today. Now I can send a letter to somebody and they get it in five minutes.

AL: Yes. I don't know what my mother thought about it. My older brother went in late 1944, I guess, or early 1944. Then my younger brother, he went in January of 1945. There were four of us in the service. I don't know what my mother thought.

LP: What was the highest rating that you achieved?

AL: Just a corporal.

LP: You were a corporal. Did you receive any decorations or citations or awards of any kind?

AL: Not personally, but our regiment got the Presidential Unit Citation.

LP: This was for Iwo Jima?

AL: Yes. For Iwo Jima.

LP: How do you feel about your years of service as you look back on them?

AL: I'm glad I went.

LP: You're glad you went.

AL: I wanted to go. Remember I told you at the beginning that I hurt my back? They asked me if anything happened but I didn't tell him. Because I [thought], if I tell them they're going to send me home and I don't want to come home. Finally, up there in San Diego it went away. I never had any more trouble with it. I never had trouble until 1955.

LP: You're glad you went?

AL: I'm glad I went.

LP: Let me ask you this. Assuming you were the same age and it happened again, would you be willing to go again?

AL: I probably would.

LP: In other words, you're proud of the fact that you were in the service?

AL: Yes.

LP: I don't think anybody could fault you for that.

AL: I didn't volunteer because I've met some Americans who never thought anything about volunteering. I never thought anything about the war then until they called me. But I went willingly. I didn't say, ``No. I don't want to go.''

LP: You were telling me you had three brothers who served also.

AL: Yes.

LP: Did they all get back all right?

AL: Yes.

LP: Did any of them get wounded?

AL: No. My brother was in the defense. Both of them, the older ones, were in defense battalions.

LP: When you got back to Emporia, in the first few weeks and days, how did you feel about being back home?

AL: I felt pretty good.

LP: Did you come home to your parents' home?

AL: Yes.

LP: Did you go to work right away?

AL: No. I laid around for a couple of weeks. Then I went back to work.

LP: Did you go back to work with the railroad?

AL: Yes. I was working for the railroad before I left for the service.

LP: Was your seniority still good?

AL: My seniority kept going during the war.

LP: I take it you spent the rest of your career with the Santa Fe Railroad.

AL: With the Santa Fe Railroad.

LP: What was your position finally at the time you retired?

AL: I was section foreman here in Emporia when I retired. I came to Emporia in 1973 or 1974.

LP: How long have you been a union member? Were you a union member before you went in the service?

AL: No. I didn't belong to a union even when I came back. They had a small union. They didn't really force you.

LP: In other words, not everybody belonged to the union?

AL: No, not everybody belonged to the union until we went in the bigger union, the AFL-CIO. Then we had to join. They'd take it out of your paycheck.

LP: In other words it became a union shop. Everybody joined

AL: Yes. Everybody.

LP: Were you satisfied with the union? Did you generally support the union?

AL: Yes. They helped us a lot because we were the youngest ones and we worked here and there according to our seniority. The less seniority you have, the less you work. The more seniority, the more you work. So we kept going from Emporia. I went all the way from Emporia up to Turner and worked up there; I used to work there in the wintertime.

LP: You say up to Turner. Is that up by Kansas City?

AL: It's just out of Kansas City by Argentine. That's as far as our division went.

LP: So you moved around within the division?

AL: Just the division, from here to Turner or from here to Topeka and then all the way to Edgerton. South we went all the way to Chanute. That was our division. Then they had another one coming out of Wellington.

LP: Let's talk about your family a little bit. When did you get married?

AL: I came back, like I said, sometime in late March [1946] here to Emporia. I started going out with my wife again. I used to go with her way back in 1938.

LP: She was a girlfriend from way back?

AL: From grade school, from 1938 and 1939. We kind of went our ways in the early 1940s and 1941. But when I came back in 1946 I started going with her again. Finally, we decided we were going to get married. We got married September 28, 1946.

LP: How many children did you have?

AL: We had three boys and three girls, six. One boy died an infant, a young boy. He was only about three when he died.

LP: The other five are still alive?

AL: They are still alive.

LP: What are they doing?

AL: My oldest is an assistant for the police department here in Emporia.

LP: What is his name?

AL: Michael Lopez. My oldest daughter, is a housewife in Wichita.

LP: What's her name?

AL: Mary Jane Lopez. She is Morena now.

LP: How about your other children?

AL: I've got Barbara. She's in Omaha. She works for Mutual of Omaha.

LP: What's her last name?

AL: Tobar.

LP: You've got another daughter. What does she do?

AL: Nancy. She works here in Emporia. She lives here in Emporia.

LP: Her last name now is what?

AL: Smith, Nancy Smith. She works for IBP. My other son, he went to KU and he came out with a master's degree from KU. They finally got him to join the Air Force, so he got a commission. He went to Lubbock, Texas. Then he went to Wichita Falls.

LP: He spent quite a bit of time in the service, did he?

AL: Yes. Then he got a promotion to captain. He went to Warner Roberts [Air Base] in Georgia. He was down there for about eight years. He finally resigned.

LP: What's his name?

AL: William James Lopez II. He's the II. The first one that died was William James. So we call this one the II, William James II. He got out of the service and he stayed there.

This is tape 2, side A.

LP: We were talking about your children. Do you have any of your other descendants who were in service?

AL: Yes. I have a grandson, Philip Rodriguez. He was in the Air Force and my grandson Michael was in the Air Force for four years.

LP: Have you taken much interest in veteran affairs since you've been out of the service?

AL: When I got out of the service we couldn't join the VFW or the American Legion.

LP: Is that so.

AL: We couldn't. So they had some guy in Wichita who started a forum, a Mexican GI forum they called it. We had one here in Emporia for a while.

LP: Did you join that?

AL: I joined that one.

LP: Do you belong to any of the veterans organizations today?

AL: I do, when they'd let us. I've belonged to the American Legion since 1969. I am a paid-up member of the VFW. I think they do more than the American Legion. But anyway, I belong to both of them.

LP: They wouldn't let you in at first?

AL: They wouldn't let you in.

LP: As far as discrimination goes, do you think it's better today than it was earlier here in Emporia?

AL: I think its better, but I don't know if its because of the people or because of the government. The government made them. It's government action that [ended] the segregation. We couldn't go to the restaurants.

LP: You couldn't go to the restaurants?

AL: No.

LP: Even after the war?

AL: Not even after the war. Not even the beer joints.

LP: What did you do if you wanted to go to a beer joint?

AL: They'd set you in the back or you'd bring it out.

LP: Somebody once told me that he went to a lot of bootleg places in Emporia in the 1930s and 1940s.

AL: I never really went to bootleg. They used to have one here on Commercial Street. There used to be a beer joint. Then there was a cut-rate grocery store. We used to go in there. We'd set in there in the back and drink. I didn't think too much of it but some guys did. We drank up there but I didn't really get much anyway in the early 1940s and even when I was in the service. I didn't drink over there. Remember they gave us a case before we went to Iwo Jima, a case apiece of beer. Some seventeen-year-old kid from MinnesotaI call him a drunkardhe drank and drank. He would badger me and I sold my case to him for twenty dollars. I didn't drink it. Then afterwards they used to give us, every other day two beers, and I used to give them to the guys that drank. I never did drink nor smoke too much. I smoked a little bit when I was in the service, but not too much until later.

LP: You say things have gotten better [in Emporia], but it may have been through government action more than anything else?

AL: That's right.

LP: Do you feel now that Mexican-Americans in Emporia are less subject to prejudice than they used to be?

AL: Yes.

LP: You can go anywhere you want to go now in Emporia.

AL: We can go anywhere you want to go. But I can tell some prejudice, even in the Catholic Church.

LP: Do you still belong to the same church?

AL: No. I belong to Sacred Heart now.

LP: You think there's some prejudice at Sacred Heart?

AL: Yes.

LP: Of course if you were at St. Catherine's then probably no.

AL: No, because they're all Mexicans. But in Sacred Heart, you can tell some of the people are still prejudiced. You can tell by the way they act. But otherwise it's not too bad.

LP: You don't feel any qualms about going into any grocery store in town?

AL: No. You can go anyplace. You've got money, you can go anyplace.

LP: How has your retirement been?

AL: It's been pretty good. I didn't think I was going to live this much. I retired in 1987 at 62. It's been all right.

LP: Your pension has done pretty well by you?

AL: I've done pretty good. Lately I've been getting sick.

LP: What you are doing is getting old like me.

AL: Getting old. In 2004 I had a blood clot. Last year I had a bypass.

LP: I've had a bypass, too.

AL: But they tell me I'm doing all right, so I don't know.

LP: I will say this: from talking to you, I'd say you're certainly doing well up here [in the mind].

AL: They only thing that happened to me the last time was my eyesight. When I had the bypass I lost part of my eyesight. I can't see too well, especially to read.

LP: Here just a year ago, we dedicated this monument down at St. Catherine's Church and your name's on it. What do you think of the monument?

AL: I think it's all right; it's just a little bit too late. A lot of them died already.

LP: Are you pleased to have your name on it?

AL: Yes. But I think they should have had it back in the late 1950s when the veterans were still alive. Since then, most of us have died. I don't know how many there are left.

LP: There are nine of you left in town. There may be some others left who don't live here anymore.

AL: Probably some. There was one in Wichita who was from here. He went from here to the service. One in Minnesota, he was from here when he went to the service. He's still alive.

LP: Are you in touch with any of the people you were in the service with?

AL: No. I used to be in touch, but I lost track of them. We used to send Christmas cards and different cards with that guy named Miller. His name was Miller, Kenneth Miller Jr. He was from Ohio. I don't know how we lost track. I've been trying to see if I could find him but I don't know how. I remember the last time he was in Ohio. He was a doctor, an eye doctor. We lost track, and that's the only one I kept track with him.

LP: These guys were not Mexican-Americans.

AL: No. They were white guys. I didn't know any Mexican-Americans in the service. I met a few, but they were from Texas. When we were in Honolulu, there were about eight Mexican-Americans in the camp. But they all were from Texas and California. They all went different ways and I went a different way. There were different divisions. I lost track of them, too. I don't remember from boot camp, machine gun schoolI remember Miller because we used to hang around. But he went with me to the Third Marine Division, too. I don't remember the guys I used to hang around with in Camp Elliot.

LP: Where was that?

AL: It was about ten miles north of San Diego. We were the last marines to train there. They gave it to the Navy. We used to go to the movies. Some of those marines used to make a lot of trouble with the Navy. We were the last marines. The marines had Camp Pendleton until later; that's where they went to train after we left.

LP: As you look back on your experiences in the Marine Corps, do you think this has had an affect on the rest of your life? Has it changed your life in any way?

AL: I think it did.

LP: How?

AL: It made me think that I had to live by the rules. In the Marine Corps we lived by the rules. You have to live by the rules and don't get in trouble like some do. I thought it helped me.

LP: Do you think you live by the rules as a result?

AL: I think I do. Not all of them but most of them. [Laughter.]

LP: Obviously, during the time that you were growing up and the time that you were in service and in World War II, the United States was changing its outlook on the world. The United States went from a country that was pretty much isolationist to one that was heavily involved in world affairs. We still are heavily involved in world affairs. What do you think America's role in the world should be?

AL: I don't think we should get involved in all the countries of the world.

LP: If we look back on World War II, I take it you think that that was a war that was necessary and justified?

AL: Yes.

LP: What do you think about since that time, like Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and so forth?

AL: Korea, they attacked us. We didn't go first. They attacked the South Koreans and we were there. Vietnam, I don't know. They went up there and that's the one that got us involved. I don't think they did [attack]. We went in there and got involved.

LP: What do you think about Iraq now?

AL: Now I don't know if it was the right thing to do to go in. But at the time I thought it was the right thing to do.

LP: You thought at the time going into Iraq was okay. But you've had some second thoughts?

AL: Now I do. You know they say the President lied. I don't think he lied. I think he just got the wrong information. He goes by the people around him that tell him all that, give all that information. Somebody just gave him the wrong information. He really thought probably that Saddam had weapons [of mass destruction].

LP: You don't blame the President?

AL: I don't blame the President.

LP: We've talked about a lot of things today and we're ready to close. But before we close, is there anything you want to bring up that I haven't asked about or you haven't talked about?

AL: I'd just like to talk about my son that died. I say it's my fault, but he got sick at Christmas. He was in church, and he got sick and complained that his stomach hurt. We went to my brother's in Kansas City that day. He complained. We came back and took him to the doctor. The doctorhe was a baby doctorsaid it was stomach flu and all that. Finally they called another doctor and they told me that appendix had busted on him and they didn't expect him to live. And he died. I blamed the doctor. He was a baby doctor. He should have known. He said that babies don't have appendicitis, but he did and he died.

LP: So you feel badly about that?

AL: I feel badly and I still miss him, but you can't do anything about it now.

LP: I think we all have things like that that we regret and can't do anything about. Anything else?

AL: No, about my youngest; now I'm glad and I'm proud of him. He graduated from KU and then he got his master's there at KU. That's when he went and joined the service. When he served over there in Warner Roberts, he decided to go to that school. He went down to Gainesville, Florida, and got his doctorate from here. We went, we flew in a plane, me and my wife and my son. We flew from Wichita to Atlanta. Then we drove from Atlanta to Warner Roberts. That's an airbase in Florida. These ceremonies were over there in Gainesville at Florida University. That's where he went, nice school. We went down there when he graduated. I'm proud of him.

LP: I think you should be.

AL: He went to KU two years. He went two here and he went one year at KU. He went to Florida and he messed around over there in Orlando in that Disney World. He worked there a year and I kept after him and after him, ``When are you going back to school?'' I kept after him and he finally went back next year. He finished there and he got his master's there at KU. I'm proud and then I'm proud he got his doctor's degree over there at Florida.

LP: Anything else?

AL: No, I'm just hoping he does good. He's working down there in Florida.

LP: I want to thank you very much for the interview. We much appreciate it.

AL: I thank you.

Interview ends tape 2, side A, count 204.

Item Description

Copyright © 2007-2019 - Kansas Historical Society - Contact Us
This website was developed in part with funding provided by the Information Network of Kansas.