By Cheryl Smith Kemp
For World War II veteran Delfino Guerrero, who grew up in the urban jungle of Chicago during The Great Depression, three of the big “musts” in life were speak Spanish at home, English at school and the Boys Club; run around acting tough with friends from “the neighborhood;” and correct anyone who disrespects you.
“That’s the way it was,” said Guerrero, who was an Army medic with the 38th Infantry Division in the Pacific Theater from December of 1941 to Dec. 5, 1945.
The old rules from what’s now known as Chicago’s Little Village seem to have worked OK for him in the new world of the Army. Although not a prime candidate for a Good Conduct Medal, he made it through.
After all, as a recreational boxer, and as the younger brother of amateur-boxing legend Richie Guerrero, he loved a good fight.
“We got into it,” said Guerrero, recalling a time he had a nasty tussle with one of his superiors in the Army, because the corporal or sergeant, Guerrero isn’t sure which, tried to hurry Guerrero out of camp when everyone was moving out.
“We were tangled up there … for about half an hour. … He got tired. I got tired. We passed out but then we got up; then we shook hands.”
Guerrero recalls the superior saying he was sorry, to which Guerrero said he responded, “Forget about it. Don’t worry ‘bout it. Never happened.”
“Respect” issues aside, Guerrero, who grew up in a multicultural environment – “all my friends were Jewish …. All my friends were Italian. All my friends were Irish or Greeks … no problems …” – says he didn’t have any trouble as a Mexican American in the Army:
“no problem for me. I’m the guy who gets along with anybody,” he said.
Although he recalls getting quickly separated from the one guy from “the neighborhood” with whom he got drafted, Guerrero says he ran into at least a couple of his old friends while away at war. He recalls visiting one at his camp, and then reciprocating by having the friend over to meet his new buddies at his camp. Guerrero also remembers seeing “a Jewish guy” he knew from the Chicago Boys Club, who informed Guerrero that a mutual acquaintance had gotten stabbed and killed. (It’s unclear in Guerrero’s interview whether he’s talking about a fatal war wound or something that happened back home; however, he clarified later in writing that the unfortunate incident happened in Chicago.)
So many young men from Guerrero’s old neighborhood got called up, that when he went home for a month to pay his last respects to his mother, Soledad Juarez Guerrero, who’d died of a stroke or heart attack in October of 1944, none of his buddies were around.
“Everybody was in the service,” said Guerrero, who recalls walking around all by himself during his leave.
Despite running into old friends while overseas, he says he was the only Mexican American he knew of in the Pacific from the Chicago area; the United States Latinos he interacted with were mostly from California, he says.
Interestingly, while in the Philippines, Guerrero met the members of Mexican Squadron 201, who flew in 59 allied missions from Porac and Clark Fields on the island of Luzon. They are Mexico’s only foreign-war veterans.
“They got along pretty good, too,” recalled Guerrero, who said after his interview that he conversed with them in both English and Spanish. “They did their job.”
After Private Guerrero earned enough points in the Pacific to go back home, he “took it easy for a while,” which probably wasn’t as fun as it could have been since all his buddies were still overseas. Life gradually started getting
back to normal, however, Guerrero recalls: His friends returned “little by little,” and he started working.
He bounced around at first, but once he landed a job at the Coca Cola Company, he had steady work for 37 years. Among other tasks, he washed bottles, loaded trucks and cleaned machines.
“[There was] nothing but Italians there. I was the only Mexican guy,” said Guerrero, who recalls being nicknamed Pancho as a result.
At some point during Guerrero’s Coca Cola tenure, he married Carmen Lopez, whose family his family knew from their pre-Chicago days in Wichita, Kan. They eventually had three children: one boy and two girls. Guerrero’s son, Jr., as in Delfino Jr., was a Marine in Vietnam. Guerrero says one of his daughters is retired from the Chicago Police Department, while the other works for Mayor Richard M. Daley’s office.
When asked at the end of his interview if he had anything to add, Guerrero kept his farewell short and simple:
“That’s about it. We could be here all day and all night talking about it,” he said.
Delfino Guerrero was interviewed in Chicago, Illinois, on May 10, 2006, by William Luna.