By Lizette Romero
Roberto Guerra had a deep pride: pride in his military service in World War II; of his unit, which distinguished itself in Europe; of the many medals he earned for his actions; and of the woman who saw beyond his injuries, took him as a husband and raised their six children.
A Purple Heart Medal he earned reminded him of both the losses and wins of the 36th Division. According to Internet histories of the 36th Division, it had 27,343 casualties, including 5,974 men dead and 19,052 wounded. Another 175,806 were taken prisoner. The unit distinguished itself on the battlefield with 15 Medals of Honor, 80 Distinguished Service Crosses, 2,354 Silver Stars, 5,407 Bronze Stars and 88 Air Medals.
“I’m very proud to serve for the 36th Division,” Guerra said. “I’m very proud of this unit.”
Guerra was the third of 11 children born to Pedro Olivo Guerra and Guillerma Lara Olivo, both natives of Mexico who immigrated to the United States around 1924.
“We were very poor,” he wrote after his interview. “We used to work out in the field picking cotton. At other seasons, we picked vegetables.”
When Guerra was drafted in July of 1943 at the age of 18, he joined in the military his older brother, Macario, who was in the Air Force; his younger brother, Ricardo, joined the Air Force in 1944.
“It was very hard because … I was the one who really went out with my mother,” Guerra said. “Everywhere she went, she took me with her.”
Guerra served in the European Theater, fighting in Italy, Southern France and Germany. On Feb. 2, 1945, he was shot twice while directing two machine guns during combat in France – one bullet hit his left knee; the other, his right ankle. After that, he was required to fly back to the U.S.
“I was in five major battles,” he said. “But to me, they were all major battles. None of them were easy.”
While hospitalized at McCloskey Hospital in Temple, Texas, he was discharged in February of 1946, at the rank of Sergeant and with several medals, including the American Theater Medal, The European-African-Middle Eastern Theater Medal (with three bronze service stars), a Good Conduct Medal, a Purple Heart Medal (with one oak leaf cluster), a WWII Victory Medal, two Overseas Service Bars and a Bronze Star Medal.
Following his return to the States, he married Baubila Portillo. Guerra said he’s very proud of his wife because she was the one who took care of the couple’s six children and guided them through their Christian religion.
He still doesn’t understand how Baubila could have married him.
“How did she look at me? I was a crippled guy,” he said. I was crippled because I was wounded in war … and she married me anyways.”
Guerra remained active as a WWII veteran, but showed concern for the larger veteran community.
“We lost some of our community and people want to quit coming to our reunions we have every year,” he said. “But there are a lot of wounded soldiers coming from Iraq. Hopefully, they join our organization.”
Mr. Guerra was interviewed in Austin, Texas, on September 1, 2006, by Mario J. Cruz.