Carlos Cavazos

Carlos Cavazos
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Interviewed by
Yvonne Lim
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By Yvonne Lim

Carlos Cavazos, a veteran infantry instructor, has been wearing his olive-brown wool uniform, along with his Army cap and gray, knotted, tie to special events for 35 years. He keeps the uniform, issued to him more than 50 years ago, clean and neatly pressed, and modestly decorated with medals and ribbons.

Cavazos says he wears it to honor veterans and those who served on the home front throughout all wars.

"It means a lot to me," Cavazos said. "I wear my uniform with pride, but I do not wear it to glorify myself. I wear it to honor the veterans."

Even after retirement, Cavazos continued to actively promote veteran events and causes by serving as a board member of the U.S. Military Veterans Parade Association in San Antonio, volunteering at the Audie L. Murphy Memorial Veterans Hospital and speaking on occasion to schoolchildren about WWII. He’s also a charter member of the Washington memorial for veterans.

Honoring those who served abroad and on the home front during all wars is important, he said.

"It's never too late," Cavazos said. "In a certain, humble way, I like to appreciate the veterans that are not with us today. Everything I do is for the veterans."

Cavazos was born Sept. 4, 1925, in El Paso, Texas, the youngest of three children of Augustin Cavazos Saenz and Maria de los Angeles Valencia Cavazos. His parents, both born in Mexico, spoke mostly Spanish and knew little English.

Augustin worked primarily as a painter, though jobs were hard to find during the Depression. Maria tended to the family at home. In 1930, the family moved to San Antonio, Texas.

Education was important in the Cavazos household. One lesson young Cavazos learned from his father that stayed with him is in a quotation from Mexican President Benito Juarez.

"Peace is the respect for the rights of others," said Cavazos, paraphrasing President Juarez. "If you respect the rights of others, you will always have peace."

Cavazos describes his attitude as a teen as "adult," crediting his father with helping him to think as a man.

"The way my dad brought me up -- being that he was from Mexico -- I became an adult [at] a very young age," Cavazos said. "I thought like an adult, not like a kid."

Cavazos says he responded maturely when America entered the war in 1941. He was just leaving the movie theater, having watched the Humphrey Bogart film "They Drive by Night," when he heard the "extra" news edition: Pearl Harbor had been bombed.

"I felt like everybody," he said with a sigh. "You think of all the mothers who are going to have their sons go overseas into combat, and so on. This is what I thought -- of the suffering in a moral way. ... I knew I was only 16 and I was going to have to serve. So I got ready for it."

For Cavazos, "getting ready" meant participating in the ROTC program at his high school, Fox Tech, in San Antonio. He was a member from freshman year to the 11th grade. When Cavazos was drafted at age 18 on Sept. 4, 1943, he says he was ready.

"When I went into the service, I knew what it was all about," he said. "I didn't go into it blind."

Cavazos knew the orders and procedures so well that his platoon sergeant would often call on him to command the class.

"I did it because he knew I could do what he was doing, so I did," Cavazos said.

At the end of the 17-week training cycle, he and his company were to leave Camp Fannin, near Tyler, Texas, for overseas duty. He was the third person to board the train when he saw his battalion commander speak to his company commander, who spoke to his platoon sergeant, who then pulled Cavazos from the train to speak with the colonel for new orders.

Cavazos was told to get his belongings off the train, that instead of going overseas, he was being sent as an infantry instructor to Camp Hood, now known as Fort Hood, near Killeen, Texas.

For about two years, Cavazos trained servicemen, often using a gentle psychology. He’d even, at times, crawl side-by-side with nervous trainees as they moved through a particular infiltration course that involved passing under heavy machine gun fire and crossing barbed wire and other obstacles.

"When you actually go through the maneuver, then you find out that it's not as bad as you thought it was," he said. "You see, psychology goes a long way. And it's my belief that if you use psychology, you can have people in the palm of your hand."

Cavazos was recognized for his talent with people when he was awarded with a "superior performance instructor" certificate on March 6, 1946, at Camp Joseph T. Robinson in Little Rock, Ark., where he’d served since 1945.

Cavazos returned to his family in San Antonio after being honorably discharged on April 26, 1946, and earning a Good Conduct Medal, WWII Victory Medal and American Campaign Medal.

After the war, he worked as a map drafter; completed certification for watch making, jewelry repair and engraving; and later worked more than 40 years at Kelly Air Force Base in San Antonio as a painter and sheet metal worker.

He told his co-workers that, as a student, he sat in the back of the classroom, hoping the teacher wouldn't call on him. But he realized he needed to move to the front of the classroom to gain respect from the teacher.

"Unfortunately, there's still a lot of us sitting in the back of the classroom while we should take part -- in anything," he said. "Try to get yourself a better job. You have to excel. There's still too many of us in the back of the class . ... This is a free country. Take part," Cavazos said.

In 1948, he met Florence Lopez, his mother's co-worker, at a baby clothing company. His mother had long talked to her son about meeting Florence, but it wasn't until he saw a photograph of her -- conveniently placed atop Cavazos' new radio one Saturday morning -- that he became interested.

"I said, 'You know what, Mom -- that girl in the picture ... she's going to be my wife," Cavazos said.

After a two-year courtship, the two married June 18, 1950. Cavazos says he still kept that same photo of his wife at his vanity, more than five decades later.

The Cavazos family includes two sons, one daughter and two grandchildren.

"I'm sure the good Lord will help me to continue honoring the veterans," Cavazos said. "The veterans can never be forgotten."


Mr. Cavazos was interviewed in San Antonio, Texas, on October 25, 2003, by Yvonne Lim.