Saturday, June 9, 2012

Letters from the Battlefront

Like many small-town newspapers around the country during World War II, the Las Vegas Optic published letters that local soldiers sent home from the battles raging in Europe and the Pacific. I came across some of those letters recently as I looked through microfilm images of the Optic from the 1940s. I was looking for a birth announcement for my father in 1944 (which I did not find because those editions of the newspaper were missing), when I stumbled across the letters from the battlefront. Then it occurred to me that maybe my Grandpa Carlos Gallegos was at war when my Dad, Gilbert Gallegos, Sr., was born in Las Vegas. I asked my Grandma Rise about it, and she said my Grandpa was indeed away when my Dad was born, but he wasn’t in Europe. He was in the States in officer training school. She said my Grandpa returned to Las Vegas two days after my Dad was born, and had to return to his base soon afterward.

Carlos Gallegos
I told my Grandma that I found a reference in the Optic to a letter that my Grandpa sent to her. According to the newspaper, “Lt. Carlos Gallegos has arrived safely in England, according to a letter received by his wife here. He wrote that he was surprised to meet his brother, Cpl. Clem Gallegos, on the ship and they were together for the voyage. They had not seen each other in three years.”

I didn’t find any other letters from my Grandpa while he was in Europe, although several months were missing from the archived copies of the Optic. My Grandma said she used to have a stack of letters that they wrote to each other. She specifically remembered my Grandpa telling her that he was reading one of her letters as he lay in a bed inside a home in the countryside of France when artillery started exploding around him. “He said that one time he was laying on the bed in a house that they found, reading a letter, then bomp, bomp, bomp, they started shooting and they nearly killed him,” she told me.

I did find a note in the Optic from Jan. 30, 1945 that read: “Mrs. Carlos L. Gallegos has returned from Leesville, Louisiana where she visited her husband Lt. Carlos Gallegos, the past two months.” I asked my Grandma about all of her traveling during the first few years of her marriage, as my Grandpa trained to be a Lieutenant in the Army. She said the train travel made her sick as she criss-crossed the country, going to Texas, Washington State and Louisiana and back to her beloved Las Vegas.

Clemente Gallegos
I came across a few letters from, and updates about, my Grandpa’s brother Clemente. One letter informed his wife and parents that Clemente was recovering from being shot by German forces in Italy in December 1943, just five months after his brother, Eloy, was killed during Operation Husky.

The Optic on Jan. 13, 1944, reported:
“Mr. and Mrs. Louis (sic) Gallegos, 1424 10th Street, have received word that their son, Cpl. Clemente Gallegos, who was wounded in action in Italy on December 20 is getting along well. Corporal Gallegos is a brother of Sgt. Eloy Gallegos, who was killed in action in the Sicilian campaign on July 10, 1943. Another brother, Lt. Carlos Gallegos, is stationed at Seattle, Washington. Two letters were received from Corporal Gallegos yesterday, one to his wife and one to his parents. In the letter to his parents, he wrote: ‘One more Christmas season has fallen back to the pages of history and me so far away from home. But if God is willing on the next one I will be back home with you to help you celebrate it. I can’t say that I did not appreciate this Christmas, for I did. With presents from back home plus those of the Red Cross the spirit of Christmas was high among all of us. I thank you all for your thoughtfulness in sending me what you did. My only regret is not sending any to you. I have prayed that you all enjoyed a happy Christmas and also a happy New Year. Do not worry about me for I am doing well. Give my best regards to all my friends.’”

April 4, 1944
“Mrs. Clemente Gallegos, 1016 Tilden, has received the Purple Heart which was awarded to her husband, Cpl. Clemente Gallegos, who is a former member of the 120th Engineers, National Guard. Corporal Gallegos was wounded in action in Italy December 20, 1943.”

April 1, 1945
“Corporal Clemente Gallegos is reported to have been wounded a second time in combat according to official notice to his wife who resides at 1016 Tilden. Cpl. Gallegos suffered his first combat injury in Italy in 1943. He returned home for a brief furlough during December 1944 and returned to active duty in Germany where he was wounded in action on March 26.”

June 1945
“Cpl. Clemente Gallegos, son of Mr. and Mrs. Louis (sic) Gallegos of Las Vegas has arrived home on a 30 day convalescence furlough. Gallegos served for 18 months in the European theater before coming home in December on a rotation furlough. He returned to Germany and was wounded while crossing the Rhine. He wears the Purple Heart with an Oak Leaf cluster, the ETO ribbon with five campaign stars, pre-Pearl Harbor ribbon and the Good Conduct medal. At the end of his furlough he will return to Brooks General Hospital, Ft. Sam Houston, Texas.”

Tony DeTevis Jr.
I also found news reports of other relatives in the Optic. The paper reported that “Tony De Tevis, Jr., (my Grandma Rise’s oldest brother) was honorably discharged from the Army June 10, 1945, under the point system.”

The Optic also reported a fascinating story about my Grandma’s cousin, Hilario LeDoux who was serving in the Pacific.

April 11, 1945
“With the 24th Infantry (Victory) Division in the Philippines – (Special) – A nightmare of Jap rule by robbery and murder died by the sword when Pfc. Hilario LeDoux of Las Vegas, N.M. and his buddies assault on Romblon Island in the Philippines wiped out a band of Jap gangsters. Life on Romblon had been peaceful and prosperous until Jap fugitives from the American advance selected this picturesque isle as a hideout. The invaders forced the native population to feed them with death decree for those who refused to surrender rice. Then came relief. As a member of a task force, LeDoux landed on Romblin in the pitch black of a torrential night rain, then marched across miles of rough jungle country to surround the town of Romblon. At dawn, sudden machinegun and mortar fire from palm-studded slopes drove the enemy out of stolen houses. Japs dashed for the cover of hillsides, where the advancing riflemen welcomed them with blasts of hot lead. Dead Nips littered the edge of the town sa LeDoux and his buddies pushed into the streets in a house-to-house routing of snipers. The people greeted their liberators with unrestrained jubilation.”

No comments:

Post a Comment