By Kathleen Bily
Growing up in San Antonio, Texas, Edward Frazer’s first teacher thought he was mentally disabled because he spoke only Spanish. But during his World War II service in the Philippines, that Spanish became one of his best assets.
“I found Spanish useful in all my jobs, for helping people and as a means of learning a livelihood,” Frazer said. “In the Army, I would even help soldiers write love letters.”
His father, Charles Frazer, was a veteran of WWI who served with the 9th Infantry Division. He received a Silver Star and was wounded twice. His mother, Maria de Jesus Cervantes Frazer, was a refugee of the Mexican Revolution, arriving in San Antonio by train from Monterrey, Mexico, in 1914.
Charles and Maria had three sons and three daughters. Frazer was the third child; his two older brothers, James and Charles, also served in WWII.
The last name “Frazer” sounds misleading, as Frazer is Mexican American. His father and one of his older brothers were light skinned, and suffered less discrimination than he did as a result, he says.
“I came to school not knowing one word of English,” Frazer said. “My teacher thought I was retarded and then disobedient … My brother had lighter skin than I did, so he was more accepted. Skin color determined if you were a minority member or not.”
Frazer says segregation wasn’t as bad in San Antonio as elsewhere in Texas, because of the strong Latino influence in the city. But, because his family lived in a predominantly white neighborhood, he says they were ignored year round. Frazer recalls neighbors even trying to bribe his family to move out at one point, but his mother would have none of it.
The Frazer family did have two things going for them: their Catholicism and the elder Frazer’s political involvement.
“My father was very big on politics,” Frazer said. “He was the [Democratic] precinct manager. Once every two years during elections, the people who ignored us all year would have a formal gathering at our house. They would come and ask my father for a job at the polls … Not a great job, but anything during the Depression was a great job … I’ve been a loyal Democrat all my life.”
Graduating high school one year early, Frazer hoped to immediately become a fighter pilot, but his father asked him to wait until he got called up. Frazer followed his alternate plan of getting electronic training in the civil service.
“After Pearl Harbor, we all wanted to go right away,” said Frazer, who was drafted in 1943.
At first, Frazer received electronic training in the Army, but was later assigned to the Signal Corps. He says he didn’t feel stymied by prejudice.
“At times, discrimination is not discrimination, but a lack of preparation,” Frazer said.
When asked what he meant by that, Frazer submitted the following anecdote in writing:
“Upon arrival at Camp Adair, Oregon, we were given a test for classification purposes. I was assigned to the Signal Company while many Latinos who were drafted in my group were assigned to rifle companies.
Some of the Latinos thought that they had been discriminated against because of their ethnicity. I believe that was not so. It was because of educational level. Some could not even speak English.
I had a high school diploma, I could type, and had had a very intensive electronic course in San Antonio and the University of Texas Electrical Engineering Department in Austin.
The discrimination did not occur at the classification center[,] but had occurred long before in the economic and educational system in Texas at that time.”
Transferred from the Army’s 70th Infantry Division in Oregon to the 81st Infantry Division in California, Frazer underwent amphibious warfare training in California, and then went overseas to Hawaii for general training by the Marine Corps.
“We were trained in amphibious warfare there, jungle warfare in Hawaii, and became part of the III Amphibious Force with the First Marine Division for the assault on the Palau Islands,” he wrote after his interview.
On Sept. 19, 1944, the 81st Infantry and the Marines invaded Peleliu, an island in the Philippines under Japanese control. Although the United States was suffering major casualties, Frazer says the Marines were too arrogant to get help from the Army. His unit was instead transferred to a nearby island, Angaur.
“I was not in any ‘hand to hand’ combat because I was not a rifleman. I served in an artillery battalion as a radio operator and as a computer in the Fire Direction Center of the 317th FA Battalion of the 322nd Regimental Combat Team,” wrote Frazer, later explaining via e-mail that during WWII, computers, “as part of a team, change[d] information from the forward observer into fire commands[,] and then relaye[d] them to the weapon crews. The crew then [could] adjust the aim of the weapon and fire.”
In September of 1945, the 81st Infantry Division landed in northern Honshu, Japan.
“Our task was to locate any war materiel and destroy it. The Japanese Army materiel that could be used by the civilians (such as blankets) was given to them,” Frazer wrote.
In Japan, Frazer says he witnessed the poverty, disease and death of many civilians.
“Japanese money, the yen, was no good,” he said. “The only medium of exchange was the cigarette.”
Coming back from Japan to San Antonio, Frazer didn’t immediately re-enlist. Instead, he took advantage of the G.I. Bill, enrolling at the Universidad Nacional Autonoma in Mexico City for a summer course, and then at St. Mary's University in San Antonio, where he received a degree in sociology and a ROTC commission in 1950.
“The ROTC program at St Mary’s U was re-started soon after the war. There were many Latinos using the GI Bill who enrolled in the ROTC. Upon completing the program and receiving a degree in any subject, the cadet was commissioned a 2[n[d Lieutenant in the U.S. Army. Our training was in field and anti-aircraft artillery. The Korean War began in 1950. Once again we went into the military, this time as officers, not privates,” wrote Frazer, who was stationed in Germany until 1953 during Korea.
For several years, Frazer taught English as a Second Language for the U.S. Department of Defense in Peru, Costa Rica and Panama. And during the ‘60s, he served as Director of Courses in Binational Centers in Latin America for the U.S. Information Agency. When he returned to San Antonio, he continued teaching English as a Second Language at the Defense Language Institute. And, as a member of the American GI Forum, he was active in the Civil Rights Movement.
Frazer credits his upbringing with setting him on a good path.
“I was fortunate enough to have parents who encouraged us to get a good education, to work hard and sacrifice,” he said. “Even without the G.I. Bill, I would have gone to college like my brother … It would have been more difficult, of course.”
Frazer is now retired and lives with his wife of 59 years, Mavis Robinson Frazer, in San Antonio.
“Have courage,” Frazer said. “Never forget where you came from, learn from people in the past who have helped you. Do what you can for the future. Study the past and learn methods to help the struggle, the never-ending struggle [of discrimination].”
Mr. Frazer was interviewed in San Antonio, Texas, on August 8, 2006, by Raquel C. Garza.