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Jose Angel Ramirez

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War & Locale: World War II -- Pacific Theater

Date of Birth:
Interviewed by:
Kevin Bales
Military Unit:

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By Sam Wolloch

Jose Ramirez has always been a hard-working man, dating back to his first job selling newspapers in McAllen, Texas. Making 2 cents for every newspaper he sold, he proudly bought a 12-cent cream pitcher for his mother and 2-cent candy for himself after his first day of work.

He was only eight years of age, but he already knew how to give back to those that cared for him.

Ramirez was the third of eight children in his family, which has been in Texas since 1700s. When not in school, he was working to ease the financial burden on his parents.

Ramirez said he credits his parents with his strong work ethic. Although both his father and mother lacked formal schooling -- Ramirez estimated they both had about a fifth-grade education -- what they lacked in academic training, they made up for with effort.

Ramirez's father, Heriberto Garcia Ramirez, was a renowned carpenter and builder among the people in town. He spared no detail in crafting his cabinets and laying siding around the stilts of his hand-built homes. He also built his family a windmill, so they would be spared the difficulty of pumping the water themselves.

"My father was so industrious that he'd come home for lunch to change clothes because he was soaking wet," said Ramirez, summoning vivid memories of his father working outside in the South Texas heat.

His mother, Carmen Villarreal Ramirez, helped the family save on wardrobe costs by sewing all their clothing. He said he remembers receiving compliments from his schoolteachers on his fabulous attire.

"As brutal as discriminatory practices are, it never overwhelmed my family," Ramirez said. "We were really go-getters. We never said die."

Literally speaking, Ramirez wouldn’t allow people to die, either. He recalled a time when an Indian girl dove into an irrigation canal without knowing how to swim. Since his parents taught him how to swim at a young age, he was able to save the drowning girl.

In 1937, Ramirez and his family left McAllen for his birthplace of Alice, Texas. He graduated from Alice High School in 1941 at the age of 20 rather than 19, because he missed a year of school due to a near-fatal bout with pneumonia as a teenager.

Following high school, Jose joined the National Youth Administration after being approached by a representative at his local post office. Lyndon B. Johnson's NYA program in Texas offered training to become a Navy or Marine sheet-metal apprentice, providing three meals a day and room and board in return for a daily regiment of shop training and hours of construction work. The 10-month course was offered at Texas A & I University in Kingsville, Texas.

Completed training qualified the students for employment at the Naval Air Station in Corpus Christi, Texas.

"When we went to apply for employment after graduation, not a single one of us -- duly trained for an apprenticeship -- were hired," Ramirez said. "But they were hiring non-trained people off the streets."

It was time for Ramirez to leave Texas for a better environment, as long planned.

A few days later, his friend Al Flores, who was reporting to a civil service job in Washington, D.C., invited him to join him in moving to D.C.

On his 21st birthday in 1942, the two boarded a Greyhound bus en route to the nation's capital, where jobs created by the outbreak of the war were plentiful.

"I had never been out of the state of Texas and never been away from my home," Ramirez said. "When I showed up in Washington, I did not know a soul, and all I had was $3.86 to my name."

May of 1942 was the month during which he spent many hungry days.

The following June, Ramirez secured his first job and was sworn into the Office of Dependency Benefits from the Department of Army, a government agency charged with the responsibility of paying family allowance benefits to service men's families left behind during the war. It was during his stint as a government clerk that he met his future wife, who he considered a wonder at researching and processing documents.

No sooner than he’d settled into his new job, the office was moved to the newly built Prudential Insurance Life Building in Newark, N.J. Shortly after the relocation, Ramirez was promoted to assistant supervisor.

"It was very challenging, and very frightening too," Ramirez said. "There was an urgency in the air, and you could not make mistakes. Families were suffering without an income."

On April 14, 1943, Jose was drafted out of Essex County, N.J. He passed his physical and psychological examinations and reported to New Jersey’s Fort Dix, the reception center for service in the Army.

Although the Office of Strategic Special Services (OSS), now the CIA, wanted to recruit him, Ramirez was eventually assigned to form a new battalion and begin basic training in Flora, Miss., not a pleasant location in the heart of the summertime. It was here that his nickname, "Ram," became his new title.

In October of 1943, the battalion was shipped out to Pomona Fairgrounds in California. There they underwent P.O.M, the Army's acronym for Preparation for Overseas Movement. Lucky for Ramirez, his girlfriend's father called the commanding general for the California/Arizona maneuver area, Alexander Patch, and received the general's assurance that Ramirez would be in California to meet his daughter and permit time for marriage before shipping out.

"General Patch had an admirable reputation for being a 'soldier friend,'" Ramirez said.

On Nov. 4, 1943, they were married in Pomona, Calif. They traveled back to Washington for a brief honeymoon, then Ramirez reported to the General School of Advanced Administration at Fort Washington in Maryland.

He took classes at Fort Washington until he was ordered to return to his battalion in Pomona, California. Then, on Easter Sunday of 1944, the battalion was shipped out to New Guinea and became a member of the armed forces of the Southwest Pacific Theater of operations.

After the 30-day unescorted boat ride to New Guinea, Ramirez's battalion set up camp in Finchhaven, New Guinea, and pursued their mission of repair and overhaul of automotive and ordinance equipment. In May of 1945, the battalion moved in closer to their siege as they set up camp in the Philippines.

Ramirez remembered truly grasping the significance of the planned invasion of Japan, fearful of the 600,000 American casualties estimated to result from the action.

However, on August 6, 1945, the United States dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima and the second bomb on August 9 on Nagaski. They were spared from the invasion of Japan, which Ramirez likened to a "kamikaze" mission.

Ramirez spent three years of his life training, studying and traveling for a war he never fought in, but he is "glad I was able to be of service to my country."

Reflecting the very principles his dad taught him when he was a child, Ramirez worked extremely hard, and gave of himself for the welfare of others throughout his time in the Army.

"During a period of world hostilities and urgent degree of national emergency, the United States was not prepared for war," Ramirez said.

Mr. Ramirez was interviewed in Rockville, Maryland, on March 10, 2001, by Kevin and Sharon Bales.

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