Arturo Dominguez

World War II

Military Branch: 

Date of Birth: 
June 13, 1920

Interviewed By: 
Peter Haney

Date of Interview: 
October 5, 2009

Place of Interview: 
San Antonio


By Kelsey Lawrence and Valerie Harris

Speaking in a labored but steady voice, Arturo Dominguez recalled with impressive precision the names of towns that his Army unit traveled through in Europe and the exact address --102 Casanova St,, San Antonio -- where his sister, Aurora, lived when he moved in with her after he returned home from the war.

Dominguez joined the Army in 1942 as a private first class in the Headquarters and Service Company of the 369 Engineer Battalion (Combat). He dodged enemy fire as a truck driver and as a bridge builder during World War II.

Dominguez traced the path his company took in Italy, from Naples to Foggia and from Cassino to Rome, He also recalled his family’s musical performances in local theaters when he was growing up, and the deep religious faith that has always sustained him.

“My job was driving ammo and explosives to soldiers on the front,” Dominguez said of his World War II duties. “Most of the time, I was driving trucks of ammo for guns and explosives for bridges. Lots of times, I had a hard time getting in, at least in Cassino, because [of the mountain of that same name] where the Germans had an observation point.”

On that mountaintop, St. Benedict of Nursia had founded an abbey around the year 529, and it had served as the cradle of the Roman Catholic Benedictine order, although it was evacuated at the time of the Monte Cassino battle in 1944. The observation point on the mountain let the Germans see everywhere, he remembered, “from every little road to every little creek.”

“Every time I used to bring ammo, guns, etc., I had to get in quick sometimes because I was being shot at by them,” Dominguez said. “We lost thousands and thousands of people.”

Despite assurances to the Vatican by both the Axis and the Allies that the abbey would not be attacked, Allied bombers all but destroyed it and a month later heavily damaged the town of Cassino in the battles leading up to the liberation of the Italian Peninsula.

“I was a mile away from the hill when they decided to destroy the monastery,” Dominguez said. “I was in a foxhole when I saw it. It seemed like they would never stop coming, those big planes like [B-17s and B-25s]. There was no more response from the enemy, from the ground.”

The bombing took place in 1944, about two years into Dominguez’s Army stint.

After they took Cassino, Dominguez and the rest of the unit continued to Naples. Some of Dominguez’s most vivid memories of Italy were connected to his strong Roman Catholic faith. He isn’t certain, but he said he believes that, while praying before a cross in the town of Foggia, he met Padre Pio, a Capuchin friar and mystic who spent part of his life in Foggia and suffered stigmata-like wounds for 50 years until shortly before his death in 1968. The priest was beatified in 1999.

“I’m not sure if it was Padre Pio,” Dominguez said. “Italian priests came to give us communion. We used to have American chaplains, but the priests that used to come to the little towns were Italian. Foggia was where Padre Pio was.”

Dominguez’s faith helped him to keep the dangers of being injured or killed in perspective.

“Killing a person wasn’t on my mind,” he said. “I was forced to shoot and to shoot at airplanes when they were driving up and shooting bullets at you. And you see the little line of dust flying up when the bullets come five or six inches away from you. You hear people hollering because they’ve been hit. That’s something that had to happen. It was something already determined by God. You never know what’s going to happen. I had the faith, and I still have the faith.”

Dominguez said he was the only Latino in his group during the war. Although the camaraderie of soldiers during wartime often blurred the divisions of color and race, he recalled some instances of discrimination based on his ethnicity and lack of a formal education.

“I had some good friends, but some guys didn’t have any use for me,” he said. “There was a Sgt. McGee who came from Paris, Texas, who always used to get on me. He would say, ‘You guys [Latinos] live in little broken houses in the bad part of town.’ I couldn’t respond to that because he was first sergeant.”

But Dominguez was much more than simply a kid from the wrong side of town: Among other things, he was a performer for La Carpa Cubana, a Mexican-influenced vaudeville show popular during the early decades of the 20th century on San Antonio’s predominantly Latino West Side. Dominguez said that his father was one of La Carpa Cubana’s top performers.

“My father was a musician, and a clown, and he did everything. He could perform everything in the show,” Dominguez said.

Born in San Antonio on June 13, 1920, the third of Rodolfo and Altagracia Dominguez’s five children, Dominguez spent a lot of time with his family in the theatres where La Carpa Cubana performed. He and his siblings all knew how to sing or play instruments.

“Sometimes, at the last minute, I would have to play the xylophone, or the bottles, or the marimba,” said Dominguez. “But I did not like to stand in front of people and perform.”

Dominguez’s oldest sister, Aurora, was a talented singer and dancer, and became a regular performer for La Carpa Cubana. Dominguez said she even performed an acrobatic routine on a swinging ladder.

“She’d go so high, she’d swing and hit the top of the tent on one side, and then swing and hit the top of the tent on the other side,” Dominguez recalled. “And in between, she’d do the tricks.”

His father died when Dominguez was 11 years old, forcing the three oldest children to support the family, because their mother was ill and unable to work.

Aurora continued to perform with La Carpa Cubana, which was usually presented during the intermission period at local cinemas.

Dominguez said his brother, Rudy, did not like to work, and instead competed in a number of dance contests.

“He was a very good dancer,” Dominguez recalled. “He would come home with a few dollars, or flowers, or teddy bears and stuff like that, whatever they gave the guys for winning.”

Dominguez began shining shoes around businesses near his home, sometimes working as late as 2 a.m.

“I always kept myself busy. I had to do something to make some money,” he said, pointing out that cowboys were good tippers.

Dominguez would later work at a neighborhood drugstore and as a delivery truck driver for a local furniture store before being drafted on Feb. 9, 1942. He was sent to London before going to Italy.

“I used to go up front to take ammo. But one day I got lost and wound up on the German side. …” he said. “I couldn’t see anything familiar around. I remember getting in touch with a colored guys’ company, and I was so happy to see him, I put my arms around him like he was my brother.”

“It made me feel good, because I was with someone I could trust,” said Dominguez, remembering one of the first times he felt part of what he described as “one big brotherhood.”

Dominguez also recalled the darker aspects of the human condition during wartime. For example, he said some soldiers abused the local women in Italy.

“The first time we went to Italy, there was a guy who was supposed to take care of the lieutenants. He had a girl out in the grape vines who was willing to be with him to have sex. He wasn’t satisfied with that, though, and she started hollering and crying. I got mad at the guy and said, ‘You better leave that girl alone, or I’ll report you.’ He turned her loose, and she ran away,” Dominguez recalled.

In addition, he remembered his misgivings about possibly having to shoot people. He wasn’t out to kill anybody, but knew the chances were high he would have to in order to protect himself.

“I didn’t want to go out and kill Germans or Italians, people that were against us,” Dominguez said. “I asked the Lord, ‘God, please don’t let me shoot somebody.’ Even if you had your gun and got shot at, you didn’t know who you were shooting back at. They told us to shoot crossways. It’s not because you wanted to shoot somebody, but you had to do what you were told to do.”

He was discharged in October 1945, and Dominguez moved back in with his sister in San Antonio. He also met up again with a girl he worked with at Johnson’s Furniture Co. before he was drafted. That year, Rosa Tellez became his wife.

While he was in Italy, Dominguez’s mother and his older brother, Rudy, died. He was unable to attend the funerals.

“If you believe, the pain doesn’t hurt that much,” he said. “We all have to go through something like that. If you believe in something, it’s like a painkiller. I put my problems in the Lord’s hands.”

After he got married, Dominguez ran a restaurant at the Brooks Field Base in San Antonio. He and his wife moved to a little house of their own and had their first son, Arthur. They eventually had five more children, making it an even three boys and three girls.

At the time of his interview, Dominguez still lived in the house he built in San Antonio’s South Side. Rosa Dominguez died in 1980 at age 60. As it had during his time in Europe, his faith kept him going.

“I think of myself as a piece of wood that floated for a long, long time,” Dominguez said. “I tell the doctors, ‘How long is my life? How long are you going to keep me in this world? What am I good for?’ The Lord has been carrying me all the time. I’ve got so much strength nothing can hurt me. It’s a beautiful way of life. It’s good to think that if you’ve got a pain, there’s something that makes it go away.”

(Mr. Dominguez was interviewed in San Antonio on Oct. 5, 6 and 7, 2009, by Peter C. Haney.)