By Brooke West
Even after 58 years of marriage, Guadalupe "Lupe" Conde still serenades his wife, Maria, on some nights. It was Maria, he says, who restored the sense of peace he lost in battle in North Africa and Italy.
Conde’s life hasn’t been an easy one: His mother died when he was a child, he quit school in the fourth grade to work in the fields and he entered the service before Pearl Harbor, unaware of the impending war. The horrors he witnessed exacted a toll on him, manifesting itself in a "nervous condition" that, at the time, had no treatment.
Marrying Maria seemed to solve his problems.
Born April 20, 1918, in San Benito, Texas, Conde’s parents were both natives of Jaral de Berrio, Guanajuato, Mexico, and later immigrated to the United States. Conde doesn’t remember his mother, Teofila Huerta, because she died while giving birth, when he was 7 years old. He did have a loving and supportive relationship, however, with his father, José Conde.
José never remarried, and he alone raised three sons and two daughters. Conde remembers his family being poor, and says that’s because Latinos weren’t paid fair wages. The Conde children often went to school without shoes because they couldn’t afford them.
"I remember sometimes we didn't have anything to eat," Conde said.
Aside from his physical hunger, Conde yearned for an education to feed his mind. At the time, Latinos weren’t allowed to go to school with Anglos. He learned English at Fred Booth Elementary School in San Benito, and says he was a good student and enjoyed his time in school.
Out of necessity, Latino and Anglo children did sometimes play baseball together, however.
"The Anglos were the only ones that had the equipment to play with, Conde said.
He quit school in the fourth grade, at the age of 10. He says his father never asked him to sacrifice his education, but knew his family needed his help. He looked for work in the agricultural fields.
At 18, Conde was feeling the hardships of the Depression. San Benito didn’t have any jobs for Latinos, he says, so to continue supporting his family, he and some friends joined the Civilian Conservation Corps, a federal jobs program. Conde was assigned to be a cook in Las Cruces, N.M. He found his job enjoyable and says he was well treated in the CCC camp.
After being discharged from the CCC in 1940, Conde enlisted in the Army, as there were no other job possibilities, he says.
He wasn’t aware of the current war situation in Europe. In written comments at the time of his interview, Conde says he rarely read the newspapers or listened to the radio; he didn't own a radio and only read magazines or newspapers when someone lent him one.
After enlisting, he was sent to San Antonio, Texas, and then spent a year at Camp Bowie, a military training center near Brownwood, 150 miles northeast of Austin. Between1940 and 1946, Camp Bowie grew to be one of the largest training centers in Texas, through which a quarter of a million men passed. It was the main base for the mobilization and training of the 36th Infantry Division of the Texas Army National Guard during WWII. Conde was at Camp Bowie when he learned about the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor.
Conde was informed he’d have to remain in the Army the duration of the war. He was sent to Louisiana, North Carolina, Florida and, finally, New York, to be shipped out to an unknown destination.
Conde was part of the 36th Infantry Division of the Texas National Guard, in the 141st Infantry Regiment, 2nd Battalion, F Company, which was deployed first to North Africa and then to Italy. The men in his company fondly referred to him as "My Mexican." He was the only Latino man in F Company, but he felt right at home as he performed his duties as a cook. Altogether, he fed about 130 soldiers in North Africa and 140 in Italy, and, according to Conde, they never left anything on their plates. He’d been asked earlier in his career if he wanted to join E Company, an all Latino company, but he quickly declined because he was attached to his company.
In the invasion of Salerno, Italy, which began Sept. 9, 1943, Conde's senses were bombarded with the sounds and smells of war. During the battles, he’d run water, blankets and ammunition to troops. Given the circumstances, he couldn’t do much cooking, so he provided the soldiers with corned beef, hard crackers, coffee and C-rations. C-rations were usually contained in a metal can and consisted of some kind of meat, cocoa powder, cigarettes and toilet paper.
As troops gained more ground in battles, Conde helped out in another job: removing dog tags from dead soldiers to keep track of who got killed in battle. Some of the bodies, he says, were still warm when he got to them.
After sustaining an injury as he jumped from a truck in Naples, Italy, Conde couldn’t bend his knees. He didn’t report his injury because he didn’t want to slow down his company. The pain got so bad, however, that he couldn't even bend his legs to sit, and it was noticed: He was soon sent to a hospital in Africa, where the staff wanted to send him back to the United States. He asked for his clothes and tried to change out of his pajamas and get back to his unit.
"Why don't you leave me here?'' Conde asked the hospital personnel. "I can do some work here. I can cook, I can do something."
He had another problem, however: severe nervous attacks brought on by the war.
He was sent back to North Carolina in 1944, and then to St. Louis, M.O., where he spent the rest of his service time at O'Riley General Hospital; his physical injuries were treated, but his nervous condition wasn't.
When Conde was discharged, in 1944, he was a T4 Sergeant, and had earned the Good Conduct Medal. He doesn’t remember the names of the other medals and decorations he received.
After returning to San Benito on July 13, 1944, he started a small taco stand, selling tacos and hamburgers. However, he was still worried about his future.
Discrimination was still rampant and Latinos, including WWII veterans, had a hard time finding employment. Conde eventually sold his business for $630 at the advice of his father and brother. His brother, Juan Conde, helped him find employment with Texaco. Conde would continue to clean warehouses and deliver gasoline for the company until after his brother quit, when he says he couldn’t handle the job anymore.
During this time, Conde's father had become concerned about his son smoking too much and sleeping too little. Conde heeded his father and brother's advice and sought help from a doctor, who advised him to seek the comforts of marriage.
On Jan. 22, 1945, Conde wed Maria Gallegos, a woman he met at the post office and with whom he’d immediately fallen in love. The two have been married for 58 years and have four children and 12 grandchildren. He says his wife was "very lovely," and that he did indeed get better after marrying her.
The Condes’ daughter, Alicia C. Salinas, wrote in a letter to the Project that her parents are very devoted to one another.
"He plays some of mom's favorite songs on the keyboard," Alicia said. "It's so cute to have him make goo-goo eyes at her. He loves her very much . . . Whenever he starts talking about how scared he is about anything happening to her, he starts to cry. She always reaches out for his hand and comforts him.”
Mr. Conde was interviewed in San Benito, Texas, on September 7, 2002, by Carlos Conde.