By Alyssa Armentrout
When an officer interrupted training to ask, "Does anybody here play the trumpet?" Antonio Campos stepped up and raised his hand.
"I play the trumpet," he replied. Campos ended up getting assigned to one of nearly 500 Army bands that served during World War II.
He performed for the troops and played at Army dances in places like Italy and Egypt. He was the only Latino in his band.
Born on March 26, 1910, Campos was raised in Mexico as an only child. His mother kept house and his father was a farmer, enjoyed playing the violin.
In 1923, Campos and his family picked up and moved to Devine, a small Texas town 30 miles southwest of San Antonio. He was 13 years old. Instead of attending school in Devine, he helped his father in the fields, planting corn and cotton.
They lived on two other Texas farms during the 1920s, but in 1929 the family headed north to Chicago.
"I don't know why [we left Texas]," Campos said. "Probably looking for better work."
They lived in the Halsted area of Chicago, near the University of Illinois, where Campos went to work on the Ohio Railroad. He attended school at nearby St. Francis Church, where nuns taught him to speak in English.
Halsted had a big Latino community back then, Campos says, but the area around St. Francis Church, now called University Village, has changed over the years. He said that, as far as he knows, it is now occupied largely by younger adults living in townhomes.
After the railroad job, Campos worked at the Chicago stockyards, loading boxcars with meat. Then, a letter came from Uncle Sam in 1941.
"I don't remember exactly" what was in the draft notice, he said.
Campos said that he left for training in the Army infantry almost immediately.
He also says he doesn't remember seeing any other Mexican-Americans during training, although he had no difficulty making friends.
"[We all got along] not too bad," he said. "And the food was OK."
Finally, after moving to Oregon for more infantry training, Campos found his niche in the Army. He had been playing the trumpet for years in local Chicago bands, so when an Army band in his area was looking for a trumpet-player, he jumped at the chance. In fact, he became First Trumpet.
"It was pretty good duty," he said.
During his Army years, Campos said that he played military songs at dances and for troops, but "not for many Mexicans." For Campos, one of the most memorable aspects of band duty was the travel. One ship voyage to Italy took a month -- by far his longest journey.
"I enjoyed it, but it was too long," he said. "That was 30 days sitting on the ocean."
After getting discharged, he wasted no time heading home. "The first place I went was where my mother was," he said, referring to the west side of Chicago.
He eventually retired from the stockyards.
At the time of his interview, Campos had been living for two years at the Ashbury Court Retirement Home in Des Plains, Illinois. He kept with him a few mementos from his trumpet-playing days, including several photos he took of his band during WWII, as well as images of him and some of the troops outside a barracks building.
One of his concert posters is from a show held at downtown Chicago's Hotel Majestic Sky Room, where he played between 935 and 1936. The band was Fernando Villalobos y Su Orquesta. Admission was 35 cents for caballeros and 20 cents for damas.
In the picture, Campos stands proudly in front, wearing a sleek, white jacket, black pants, and a black bow tie. He holds his trumpet to his side and smiles.
Campos said that he hadn't stayed in touch with anyone from his military days. In fact, he added that he rarely left Ashbury Court.
"It's pretty nice here," he said. "No one bothers me. People go to their meetings and things, but I mostly stay here."
Campos added that he liked being alone most of the time, but he'd always have music to keep him company.
Mr. Campos was interviewed by William Luna in Des Plains, Illinois, on Nov. 5, 2002.