Remembering My Grandfather On This Memorial Day

Fort Bliss National Cemetery in El Paso, TX

I didn’t get to know my maternal grandfather very well.  He died when I was two years old from esophageal cancer which was caused by smoking. He quit, but it was too late. The memories I have, and amazingly I do have a few, are ones I have cherished most of my life.  My family is quick to remind me how much he loved me.  I was his son because he never had one of his own.  It was just my mother and aunt.

One of the most vivid memories I have, is of him showing me how to play golf in his backyard.  He loved golf and every weekend he would go with his buddies to play.  My grandfather wished to pass his love for the sport to me.  He bought me these small toy clubs – a driver, an iron, and a putter – made with an iron shaft, rubber handles and plastic heads.  These weren’t the crappy plastic clubs sold in stores now.  The balls were filled with holes so I smack ‘em as hard as I could, but they wouldn’t fly very far.  I remember him showing me how to swing and hit the ball. Whenever I think about my grandfather, this memory quickly pops into my head.

Today is Memorial Day, a day dedicated to remember our heroes.  In my family, he is ours. I proudly carry his first name, Armando, as my middle one.   So today instead of writing about music, I choose to pay tribute to him.  Like so many in his generation, he fought for this country during World War II.

My grandfather was a member of Company E, 141st Infantry, 36th Division. The division was comprised mostly of Mexican American soldiers. He was stationed in Italy and was involved in many serious battles.   The battle along the Rapido River is one his division is remembered for.  I found the following description about the battle.

Rapido River. It was foot by foot, yard by yard, in January and February, 1944, and then the 141st reached the River Rapido, a name that left a bloody page in the records of the 141st and 143d. Terrible casualties resulted as the Alamo Regiment attempted to force the stream, lacking boats, bridges and artillery support. The 48 hours at the Rapido River cost the Regiment dearly. And there still was fighting ahead, Monte Cassino. By the end of this campaign, February 27th, platoons were reduced to squads, companies to platoon strength and battalions to two hundred men.  (Source: Texas Military Forces Museum)

It was a miracle my grandfather made it out of this battle alive.  A couple of summers ago, my grandfather’s company was given a memorial, which is located about 5 minutes from my grandmother’s house.  The memorial pays tribute to the battle of Rapido River.

Men of Company E was dedicated in 2008 and commissioned by the city of El Paso, TX.  The artist is Julio Sanchez de Alba.

I’ve lived with heartbreak knowing so little about a man that is part of my heritage, but I am proud that he stood for all that is good in the world.  I wish I could have known him longer, but the memories I have, including the ones of him on his death bed, I cherish.  I wish I could have spoken to him about his experiences overseas and meeting some of his army buddies. Life happens, and unfortunately his story ended sooner than it should have. Although he died young, my grandmother never remarried.  Armando was the love of her life.

Let’s pay homage to men and women who fought in previous wars and those who currently serve. Every soldier risks his or her life to preserve the sanctity of our freedom.

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