Ernest J. Montoya

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Interviewed by
Rea Ann Trotter
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By Isis Romero

While many 18-year-olds are getting ready for college and planning their senior trips, teenagers living in the early 1940s got ready for something else, and took trips of a different sort.

Ernest J. Montoya was one of those teenagers. Born in 1925 to farmers from Colorado, Montoya remembers the day he left for the Army.

"I didn't join the service. I was drafted," Montoya said. "I knew there was a war going on ... I didn't realize how serious it was to get drafted."

With no car, Montoya hitchhiked his way out of Avondale, Colo., and eventually took a bus that would take him to Fort Logan in Littleton, Colo. He spent the next month there, and finally left Fort Logan for Camp Gruber, Okla., not far from the Arkansas border, where he received basic training.

Montoya was then assigned to the 42nd Rainbow division.

At 19, he became a sergeant while stationed in Oklahoma, and left shortly thereafter for Fort Ord in California for more advanced training.

It was during his time at Fort Ord that the possibility of going overseas and the seriousness of the war became a reality for Montoya.

"We knew where we were headed," Montoya said. "They showed us Japanese weapons and a few things. We assumed we were going to the Pacific. You always think about what you're getting into."

For Montoya, more advanced infantry training was in store. After leaving Fort Ord, he was sent to Oro Bay in New Guinea and underwent more training on Japanese tactics and weapons.

Through it all, Montoya wasn’t told exactly what his future held.

"We left Oro Bay on a convoy," Montoya said. "I didn't know where we were going. We were not assigned a unit yet. We were aboard these ships and there were all kinds of rumors flying. Some said we were going to hit Truk, some said Alamahara. Both big, Japanese navy bases. Then we started listening to Tokyo Rose ..."

According to the website for the Federal Bureau of Investigation, "Tokyo Rose" was the name given to a series of American-speaking women who made propaganda broadcasts. In these radio shows, "Tokyo Rose" tried to demoralize American soldiers and sailors during the war by highlighting their hardships and sacrifices.

"We'd go to the mess hall and they'd be playing music, and she'd be on the radio," Montoya said. "She knew the divisions and some of the officers' names ... She was the one who told us where we were going to [in] the Philippines, but I didn't think she knew what island."

That island turned out to be Leyte. After landing there in October of 1944, Montoya recalled one incident that left a particularly vivid memory.

"One day they called my name to report to some office or some officer. From there, they put us on a Jeep ... that's when I started getting nervous," Montoya said. "Just as we arrived, we saw some barges coming in. They had dead soldiers in them, and wounded guys."

As Montoya stood there and watched the unloading of the soldiers, he said he couldn't help but wonder if he would meet the same fate.

Montoya would shortly find out. It wasn't long before he found out that his division would be opposing the Japanese First and 16th Divisions. It was during this opposition that the likelihood of getting shot or killed became a reality for Montoya.

"My first day in combat I saw this man ... I didn't even know his name," Montoya said. "We were just there for a few minutes and he got killed. I was one of the guys assigned to carry him out. I remember thinking how that could have been me."

With that experience came the understanding that Montoya would have to live with images and encounters such as these. Though shaken by the incident, he recognized that he would see a lot of carnage in war, and that he would have to take it one day at a time.

As the days passed on, Montoya finally left Leyte, after chasing the Japanese to the west coast of the island. His next destination was Luzon, the largest island in the Philippines.

With hot weather in the daytime and cold temperatures at night, Montoya braved the Villa Verde Trail as he headed to the northern part of Luzon.

At night, Montoya and his division would dig perimeters in hopes that the Japanese wouldn’t come near them.

"The Japanese were infiltrators," Montoya said. "You never saw them in the day. At night is when they tried to come around your positions."

The Japanese did just that on the night of March 11, 1945.

"The 'A' Company was having a hard time holding the hill at night, so they reinforced it with not even two full squads," he said.

Montoya happened to be a member of one of those reinforcing squads, of 'C' Company. His company went up to the hill, and was assigned a section to defend. After two squad leaders were shot, Montoya was sent to take charge of his Company 'C', which consisted of the men supporting Company 'A' of the 1st Battalion, 127th Regimen.

Moments later, he was sighted by a Japanese soldier, who took three shots at him. The first two hit his right elbow, and the last one hit him in the foot.

Hours later, Montoya was carried out, and months later, taken back to the States. He was discharged in October of 1945.

At the time of his interview, Montoya had been married to his wife, Natividad “Tivi” Montoya, for 55 years. He was residing in Colorado, and kept a clear memory of his early adulthood.

Compared to the 18- and 19-year-olds of today, Montoya experienced more at that age than today's teenagers will possibly ever see.

"I would like people to know about the war," he said. "I have grandchildren who don't know anything about the war. I guess they don't study it much anymore. During World War II, everybody knew about the war. Everybody had somebody in it!"

Mr. Montoya was interviewed in Avondale, Colorado, on September 21, 2000, by Rea Ann Trotter.