By David Muto
When Andrew E. Guzman tried to enlist in the Marines at 18, he was turned away and told to wait for the draft.
With remorse, Guzman said he’s fortunate he didn’t enlist on that day in 1944. Otherwise, he believed he likely would have been sent to the Japanese island of Iwo Jima, the site of one of World War II’s bloodiest battles.
“I was lucky that I wasn’t accepted,” he said.
Guzman reflected on his past with similar appreciation, frequently expressing gratitude for his wife and children – and even his participation in the war. He was eventually drafted, and his military experience, as he put it, “made me grow up.” The war shaped him, he said, and led him down a path toward a life of satisfaction, pride and love.
Guzman was born Dec. 12, 1925, in San Antonio. As a child, he liked playing baseball and shooting pool. He said he happily attended school with his brother and two sisters, while his parents’ laundry service allowed the family to live without significant financial struggle.
“[My parents] were wonderful people,” said Guzman, adding that the family never required government assistance. “They did a lot for us – all they could.”
Guzman said he never faced discrimination as a Latino in a predominantly white high school.
“I was in the [Reserve Officers’ Training Corps], so they treated me well, and they didn’t put me down,” he said. “They let me advance any way I could.”
After Guzman graduated from high school in 1944 at the age of 18, he was set to attend Texas A&M University, where he wanted to study petroleum engineering and later work in the field and in South America. But
his having been drafted and subsequently inducted into the Army that same year cut his academic plans short.
He completed basic training at Fort Hood, a military post in Central Texas, and was later sent to Fort Sill, in Oklahoma, where he received medic training. From there, he traveled at the rank of private 1st class with the 96th Infantry Division in April 1945 to Okinawa, Japan, site of the famed 82-day battle.
On the island, Japanese forces fought ruthlessly, said Guzman, who worked there as a surgical tech.
“They were so cruel and heartless . . . that they were killing some of our infantry medics,” he said, describing Japanese soldiers targeting the red crosses on their helmets.
“I thank the Lord that he allowed me to survive because, in my opinion, the Battle of Okinawa was the bloodiest battle” of the war, he said.
Fighting raged until June 1945, when Allied forces claimed victory, ending the conflict. Guzman was discharged from the 68th Medical Company, 96th Infantry Division on May 1, 1946, at the rank of private 1st class.
For his service, Guzman earned several awards, including the WWII Victory Medal and the American Theater Ribbon. He also took home a souvenir: the sword and dagger of a Japanese soldier he found dead on the battlefield.
“We lost 11,500 troops on Okinawa,” he said. “And we left seven cemeteries of our troops.”
Back in San Antonio, Guzman enrolled in school, where he trained to become an electrical technician. In 1951, he married Helen Ramirez, whom he met at a dance.
“The first time I saw her, she was dancing with somebody else,” Guzman said. “And I said, ‘That is the woman I would like to be my wife and the mother of my children.’ ”
The couple had a son and daughter. Guzman said that his children were able to grow up comfortably, never encountering the discrimination many Latinos faced in his younger years. The war and the Latino soldiers furthered their minority standing in America and opened doors for future generations, including Guzman’s own children.
“I was very proud to be a father, that I had . . . such wonderful children,” he said. “They were never any problem; they were never in trouble. They always did . . . the right thing and got a good education. . . .”
Latinos are now “treated as good as any American citizens. . . .” he said. “A long time ago, they weren’t even considered eligible to be members
of government. And now they are. They are even elected as senators and governors – and even president, if they want to be considered.”
Guzman warned, however, that today’s youth, especially young Latinos, must stay focused on their educational goals to succeed in life.
“They can do anything they want to,” he said. “But it is up to the Latino.”
Guzman’s thoughts again returned to gratitude for his present-day life. He was content, even while thinking back on the war in which he learned “life is very important,” he said.
“I will never be happier in all my life than I am right now,” Guzman said, “because of my family and children that I have.”
Mr. Guzman was interviewed in San Antonio, Texas, on May 3, 2008, by his granddaughter, Jessica Marie Thomas.