This week is the final installment of learning about the military service of Highland WWII and Korean War veteran John E. Chavez.
Last week, Chavez told of how he earned one of his Purple Hearts.
Chavez received another one of his Purple Hearts when he was hit by a concussion shell, on the right side of his head.
“It busted my ear drum,” said Chavez.
On another occasion, Chavez was wounded in the field in 1951.
“On Feb. 3, 1951, we were on patrol with a first lieutenant,” said Chavez. “He was killed. Out of the whole platoon, about eight of them were killed. Most of them were wounded, included me.”
Chavez was sent to a field hospital, where they saw that he received shrapnel on his face.
“I only stayed there one day,” said Chavez. “I didn’t want to stay there, anymore.”
His next assignment was to be with another platoon because his original platoon was wiped out in the skirmish against the North Koreans.
Chavez paused for a moment and said, “That’s where some of my friends are buried.”
Chavez attributes his survival to St. Michael, the Archangel.
“My saint is St. Michael, the Archangel,” said Chavez. “That’s been my saint that whole time.
“We (Chavez and St. Michael) were on the same mission. We were there to destroy the enemy.”
Chavez recalls being involved with four hand-to-hand combat episodes.
Pointing to the tip of his left index finger, Chavez said, “This right here is where you hold the BAR (Browning automatic rifle), I got kicked right here.”
“I thought it was out of ammo, and I guy came charging with a bayonet. He hit me at the same time I pulled the trigger.
“I thought I was empty. I had three more rounds, so I hit him in the face, real close.”
Chavez was near Manchuria, during that incident.
“I almost froze up there,” said Chavez. “It was cold, 56 degrees below zero. You couldn’t even breathe. I was glad when I came out of there, when they relieved me.”
Chavez is proud of how his units fought hard and valiantly, during their time in the battlefield.
“If I had a map, I could show you how far I went, further than the Marines, near Manchuria.”
“We fought our way back. We didn’t get out by ship, like the Marines.
Chavez commented the Chinese were attacking them from the rear, and the North Koreans were attacking them in the front.
Chavez served in the Occupation of Japan, in 1948 and the Korean War, from 1950 to May 1951.
As a member of the Army Airborne 187 Regimental Combat Team, Chavez received the following commendations:
Occupation of Japan Medal, Good Conduct Medal, United Nations Service Medal, Korean Service Medal with 4 bronze stars, one bronze arrowhead, Distinguished Unit Citation, Parachute badge, combat infantry badge, Purple Hearts, Presidential Citation, South Korean Presidential Citation, Navy Presidential Citation, Distinguished member of the Airborne, 187 Regimental Combat Team, and the Operations Recognition, Veterans Diploma Project 2011.
He also wore the Three Wings, as a paratrooper ⎯ parachute wings, glider wings and air-assault wings.
Chavez also spoke of a war hero from East Highland, whose name is listed at a Memorial Cemetery, in Hawaii, called the Punch Bowl.
“One of them is Alfonso Vasquez, from East Highland.
“He was enjoying himself in Japan,” said Chavez.
“He was a medic that was listed as Missing in Action.
“He was hit in a village.”
Vasquez was in a building helping wounded soldiers, moving them from one location to another, according to Chavez.
“He went back to get some more (wounded soldiers), and he got the direct hit.”
Despite repeatedly dodging death, on numerous occasions, in Korea, Chavez still seems upbeat, as he smiled.
“It was always exciting,” said Chavez.
“You were always in action. You never know what they (the North Koreans) are going to do. We were always excited to move (out).”
Do you know of any military heroes that live in Highland?
I would like to hear their story.
You can reach me at (909) 816-0318.