Anyone who has read the Odyssey, the epic tale of the wanderings of Odysseus following the Trojan War, will remember these opening words: “Of arms I sing, and of the man…” At the end, our hero returns home, reunited with family and friends. Today you’ll read the story of another great wanderer, C.E. Chavez, whose journey during World War Two is no less miraculous; but is one thing Odysseus’ journey was not: It is real.
C.E. Chavez’ journey begins in 1924. Born into a typical Mexican family, he was the eldest boy of a family of six children. Tough economic times drove his family to move to Guadalupe and his father, a field worker, went to labor almost 60 miles from their home, where he died, presumably a victim of the harsh environment. Mrs. Chavez moved the family to Juarez and then, in 1929, across the Rio Grande, to the U.S. border town, El Paso. There C.E. (his preferred name) grew up. He describes his childhood as typical for the place and the time. The depression had started and the Chavez family was not spared the hardships of the era. Mrs. Chavez worked at any domestic jobs she could find. She was literate in Spanish, but not in English. In fact, she never learned the English language and this, her son recalls, limited her opportunities. They survived, in part due to the housing provided by their church and through the church he had access to education. Chavez describes himself as a less than stellar student and after attending three schools, he left at the end of the sixth grade. I spoke with him and I was impressed with his vocabulary, a command of English that reflected a competency far beyond that of a typical sixth-grader. It was during his time in the service, C.E. noted, that he became an avid reader, something he has continued throughout his life.
Chavez described his life as typical. Childhood was a time of play. In this era, before television, before video games and before internet applications, neighborhood children gathered outdoors to play. Swimming in the irrigation canals was a particular favorite.
One childhood memory Chavez recalled (and which he connected to some of the bleakness of the war years) was that the children raided the farms of Japanese-American families. “They grew cantaloupes and corn,” he remembers. “That was good eating, at least for a couple of days.” The farmers discouraged the children by shooting at them with shotguns loaded with rock salt; a practice which is hard to forget for those on the business end of the shotguns. From personal experience, Chavez said it burns! This all came to an end, he said, when the Japanese-Americans were moved to internment camps following the Empire of Japan’s attack at Pearl Harbour.
Where was C.E. Chavez when Japan attacked the US Pacific Fleet? How did he enter the war? What was his war experience? We’ll talk about that in the next post!
I hope you will support me (and hundreds of World War 2 enthusiasts and volunteers around the world) in challenging American teens across America, who are interested in military history, to participate in the iHistory Project-WW2. We are committed to preserving these great World War 2 stories and memories and to bringing them to life so future generations will understand and appreciate the events of this conflict and how they shaped our world.
For more information, visit the I-History Project-WW2 or contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org