Tribute provided by Grace Charles, daughter of Joe Medina Guajardo.
After two years of separation during World War II, U.S. Army soldier Joe Medina Guajardo was reunited by chance in Australia with his cousin, Juan Sanchez.
They embraced and made plans to eat at Sanchez's camp, but when Guajardo arrived at Sanchez's campsite, there was no trace of Sanchez or his men.
The discovery was disconcerting, but Guajardo was no stranger to adversity. As a boy of divorced parents in Corpus Christi, Texas, he lived mainly with his grandparents. He had little education, faced discrimination, and constantly thought of ways to battle poverty.
He saw the Army as a ticket out of a broken home and enlisted at age 17.
On Nov. 24, 1943, less than three months after he married Edith Perez, he departed to the Asian Pacific Theater.
Guajardo worked as a construction machine operator. According to Guajardo's daughter, Grace Charles, Guajardo said, "Our job was to come from behind, after the Marines were done fighting. We would do the cleaning up and pave roads for vehicles, tanks, [and] landing airplanes."
Guajardo saw plenty of action. "As Japanese airplanes came down shooting at us, we'd jump into holes made for privies," he told Charles. Guajardo lost some friends in battle.
"I met this guy from New Jersey," he told Charles. "We became good buddies from the very start," she recalled Guajardo telling her. "While fighting in the jungles of New Guinea, machine gun fire began, and I saw where the machine gun fire tore off his entire stomach."
Guajardo returned to U.S. soil, with no documented injuries, on Sept. 21, 1945. He received an Asiatic-Pacific Theater Campaign Medal with one bronze star, a Philippine Liberation Medal, an American Defense Service Medal, and the Good Conduct Medal.
When he returned home, Guajardo learned that Sanchez's camp was vacated in Australia because the Japanese planned to attack the area, and Sanchez had received orders to leave.
Guajardo and Perez had five children. He worked in construction, played baseball, and sang and played with local musicians. In 1964, Guajardo moved to Freer, Texas, and built a home. He died on Oct. 24, 1984.