By Sara Delarosa
When Willie Luna Moreno entered the Armed Forces in April of 1943, he was only 19.
Moreno began basic training at Camp Robinson in Arkansas, and later in Massachusetts and Maryland. Afterward, he went to England, France and Germany.
Starting as a Private First Class, he was involved in the infantry and military police, as well as the 1st Infantry Division, nicknamed Big Red One partially due to a shoulder patch emblazoned with a red numeral “1.” As a part of Big Red One, Moreno was in Omaha Beach, Normandy, on D-Day.
For his service from 1943 to 1945, Moreno earned several honors, including a diplôme of recognition from France, hand-delivered and signed by the country’s consul and secretary of defense.
Life in the military wasn’t easy, Moreno says, particularly when he had to crawl through barbwire loaded down with a heavy pack. On duty as a daylight patrol policeman in France, he did his work with pride, even though “there was not much to see, and the place a mess,” he said.
He recalls being in one of the stations during his training and being told by his “buddies” that they were going to Normandy and “this was the real McCoy, and not a drill.”
On another occasion, Moreno recalls a sergeant asking “for more volunteers … for a mission,” and then pointing at Moreno and saying he needed to be a part of the assignment. The sergeant later told Moreno he called on him because he trusted him, wrote Moreno after his interview.
He seemed sad when describing the friends he made throughout the service. Even though they were in the midst of training and battle, Moreno says they maintained religious connections and that he commonly told his buddies he’d “see them tomorrow in Church.”
Moreno was born in San Antonio, Texas, on April 21, 1924, to Santos Moreno from Laredo, Texas, and Felipa Luna Moreno from the town of Columbia in Tamaulipas, Mexico. His eyes light up when asked about his two older brothers and four sisters. While his father worked outside the home as a barber, his mother was a housewife. Moreno says he had to quit attending Hillcrest Elementary School in the 7th grade. Much later, in 1982, he earned his GED.
Moreno worked many jobs, including those of grocery deliveryman, sugar-beet factory cleaner and cabinet maker and mill helper for lumber company Prassel MFG.
He married Frances Fernandez in 1945 in San Antonio. The couple had three sons and two daughters: Guillermo, Rudolph, Johnny, Irma and Margarita. Moreno says his children are all bilingual in Spanish and English and enjoy a variety of jobs, including insurance claims representative; one even has a PhD from Bob Jones University.
Frances died in 1976 and Moreno married Alejandra Sanchez in 1987. He describes himself as a family man, saying his whole brood is close.
“My family liked the entire family together,” Moreno said. “It wasn’t like today.”
Willie Moreno was interviewed in San Antonio, Texas, on August 4, 2007, by Erika Martinez De Rizo.