By Jackie Montes
Calixto Rangel Ramirez's big fear about serving in World War II was being separated from his family. The soldier would go on to fight valiantly in the Battle of the Bulge, as well as be listed as missing for a few days, before finally returning to Texas’ Rio Grande Valley to live a as a prosperous storeowner.
"In war, you see all this suffering on both sides," Ramirez said. "You're hurt and you hurt others. After a while, you're wondering if you're going to make it to the next day. And then you get to a point where you don't care anymore.
The people who are really suffering the most are your relatives."
Ramirez was born in Falfurrias, Texas, on Oct. 14, 1911, the oldest of three children born to Jose Angel Ramirez, a farmer, and Refugio Rangel Ramirez, a homemaker. Jose fell victim to the 1918 Influenza Epidemic, dying when Ramirez was only 7. Ramirez’s grieving mother struggled to make the adjustment to widowhood, and moved the family between Falfurrias, Laredo and Alice, Texas, eventually ending up in Alice, 47 miles west of Corpus Christi. Despite changing school several times, Ramirez was able to advance to the fifth grade before being forced to quit school to help support his family.
At the age of 18, he found a job as a clerk at a drug store, where he was responsible for managing the store's newsstand and ordering drugs. It was a job he performed diligently, often working 12-hour shifts over a 13 year-period, earning a salary of about $37 every two weeks.
Working at the newsstand provided Ramirez plentiful opportunities to read newspapers and periodicals that kept him informed about the first couple of years of WWII. He also was inspired by magazines on the store's shelves to begin a lifetime hobby as a collector of stamps and coins. While he worked at the drugstore, he took correspondence courses in typing, English and other subjects with the Chicago-based International Correspondence School.
Eventually, however, he found better pay, about $100 biweekly at Loews Cut Rate Drug Store in Corpus Christi, so he moved without notifying the local draft board.
"It was out of ignorance, I didn't know you had to tell the draft board when you moved," Ramirez said.
Nevertheless, a draft notice did reach him and he responded. He was assigned to the Army Air Force and asked to report for duty in 15 days. It was during that period that Ramirez’s brother introduced him to Armandina de la Peña, a worker in the government's Department of Censorship; she’d eventually become his wife. When Ramirez started basic training at Kisler Field in Mississippi, she corresponded with him regularly.
Ramirez, who’d retire as a corporal, says he found adjusting to military life difficult. "It was a lot of marching, walking and drilling," he recalled. Before the war, he’d spent his spare time playing baseball and tennis, frequenting dance halls, attending parties and enjoying the tunes of Bing Crosby, Glenn Miller and Harry James on the radio.
When Ramirez was assigned to Lockbourn Air Base in Columbus, Ohio, in 1942, Armandina moved there from Laredo and they married. He says they rented an apartment and enjoyed their days as newlyweds.
In 1944, the country needed more infantrymen on the battlefront, so Ramirez was sent to advanced infantry training at Camp Howze in Texas. He was assigned to Company L of the 47th Infantry Regiment, 9th Division.
"I hated to leave my wife," he said. "She was expecting a baby."
Ramirez was then deployed to Scotland, England and, finally, France, where he later participated in the Battle of the Bulge.
On April 21, 1945, he was riding atop a tank that was leading a convoy in Germany. They were fired upon and "we flew out of there like chickens," he said. "We started shouting for a medic."
When a medic arrived to help the wounded, Ramirez says he kept asking for aid for a wounded mate, not realizing he himself had been struck in the neck by shrapnel.
"I kept saying, this guy is hurt, and they were looking at me saying, 'No, you're hurt,'" he said
On May 8, 1945, while Ramirez was being treated, Armandina received a telegram stating he was "Missing in Action." On May 14, military officials sent a corrected telegram, telling his wife he was "slightly wounded" and not "Missing in Action," as previously believed.
"That was the worst part of the war for my family, when I was 'missing,'" Ramirez said.
It was during that time that the Red Cross sent a priest to interview Ramirez, so news of his condition could be sent to his relatives in Texas. They also contacted his brother, Ramiro R. Ramirez, a captain in the Army Air Forces Finance Department, who was stationed in Paris, France.
Ramirez was still in the hospital when news came the war was over. He remembers feeling overwhelmed by the sense of "just wanting to go home."
Many American soldiers were asked to remain in Europe to help with the policing of Germany. Instead, Ramirez was briefly assigned to an office job in Paris, France, before departing Europe.
His length of service and the fact that he was a married soldier with a newborn baby helped him earn enough points to allow his return home. After his Jan. 1, 1946, discharge at the rank of Corporal, Ramirez spent three months sightseeing in Paris, where he became adept at riding the subways and, like most soldiers, often got free meals at restaurants, courtesy of grateful Frenchmen.
When Ramirez returned to the States, he headed for Brownsville, Texas, where Armandina was living in a housing project. At that time, he finally met his first-born son, Calixto. Still jittery from the war, he remembers diving for cover when someone in the neighborhood popped a firecracker.
"It was an automatic reaction," Ramirez said. "But I got over it, in time."
Ramirez's actions in the war earned him the Purple Heart, a WWII Victory Medal, American Campaign Medal, EAME Campaign Medal with two Bronze Campaign Stars and Good Conduct Medal.
The veteran prospered after the war. He and his wife bought a home with his GI benefits. Armandina worked as an elementary school teacher and Ramirez later advanced to manager and, subsequently, owner of his own drugstore. The couple bought a cattle farm, where they raised three children.
Armandina died in 1988. Within a year, Ramirez married his wife's sister, Bertha de la Peña, who’d also been widowed recently. Ramirez was an active member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars for many years. At 92, he prides himself on being healthy and fit. He still keeps busy collecting, and enjoys dancing and playing golf three times a week.
Mr. Ramirez was interviewed in Brownsville, Texas, on September 13, 2003, by Karin Brulliard.