By Miguel A. Castro
Ernesto Calderon was just 18 years old and living in Central Texas in 1946 when his life took an unexpected turn.Eldon and Lloyd Adams, two brothers, asked him if he wanted to go with him to the drive-in theater at the Circle, a well-known part of Waco.
"On the way (to the drive-in theater), he (Eldon) said he had just joined the 11th Airborne Division and would I be interested in going with him," Calderon said. "And I mean, just like that, I said sure and I agreed to it."
During the movie, Calderon had second thoughts, but concluded that the military might be better than working as a migrant farm worker.
"I guess by that time a lot of us my age had come to the conclusion that there wasn't a damn thing in Waco for us... the military was our way out," Calderon said
Calderon, who was interviewed last October in his South Austin home, would go on to serve a total of 20 years before being discharged. As an adult, he would become interested in Chicano history and would get a master's degree from a now-defunct alternative university in Austin. Since his retirement in 1967, he has worked in the public and private sectors.
EnlistingCalderon and Eldon Adams went into the 11th Airborne in April of 1946, about eight months after the end of World War II.
"We went to Dallas where they had the induction center and as it turns out I was too light to go into the 11th Airborne," Calderon said. "I only weighed 128 at the time and the minimum weight for the Airborne was 135, and there was no way they would waive that."
Calderon and his friend Eldon Adams went into the U. S. Army Air Corps and took their basic training at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio.
"I remember our drill sergeant was a guy by the name of Sgt. Brown and I admired the guy because was a veteran of World War II," Calderon said. "He had been in combat and taught us the importance of learning how to take care of your weapons. He was a real influence from that stand point on me and I guess on all the rest of the guys."
After his basic training in San Antonio, Calderon was stationed at Grenier Air Force Base in New Hampshire from July 1947 until February 1948.
In 1948, he was sent to the Philippines and was stationed at Clark Field where he served in the 25th Liaison Squadron until 1950.
"It was right after World War II and in the Philippines there was still a lot of things that were visible which were the results of World War II," Calderon said. "You could see holes in buildings that had been shot at, holes in the ground where bombs had landed."
Calderon even encountered a few Japanese soldiers in the jungles.
"From time to time, would go into the jungles looking for them and find them (Japanese) and you know tell them the war was over and a lot of the times they wouldn't believe you," Calderon said.
From 1950 until 1959, Calderon was assigned to train Air Force pilots in Waco, San Marcos and San Antonio. While stationed in Waco, Calderon met Ruby Trevino, who would become his wife.
In 1959 Calderon was stationed in Spain where he served for three years in the military assistance advisor group of the U.S. Embassy.After his time in Spain, Calderon returned to Waco and he retired from the military in 1967. Since then, he has had several jobs, including working as a human resources director, office manager for a brewery,
computer operations manager, and Editor of Publications as well as the Financial Aid Officer at Juarez-Lincoln University, In addition, he also received his Master's Degree in Education in 1976 from Juarez Lincoln University in Austin. Juarez-Lincoln was a learning center of Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio.
Antioch is an independent nonsectarian liberal arts college that blends practical work experience with classroom learning and participatory community governance.Early Years
Prior to his entrance into the U.S. Army Air Corps, Calderon came from a family of migrant workers that harvested crops in Central and South Texas.
Since his family struggled financially, they were on welfare and the one thing Calderon remembers the most about this time were the clothes they received from the county.
"If people saw you wearing the clothes they knew you were on welfare," he said, referring to the color of the clothes.
"The best way that I could describe the color of them, the coveralls, cause they were coveralls, was a piss burnt brown color, kind of a yellowish brown." Calderon said. "People could see a mile away that you were on welfare."
However, the winter months proved to be a bigger struggle and financial hardship for Calderon's family due to their lack of income.
"During the harvest, the whole family worked," Calderon said. "So, we had a fairly good income -- based on our standards, not the population in general."
Calderon attended South Waco Elementary School, which was only 15 blocks away from his home. After elementary school, he went to South Waco Junior High School where he reached the ninth grade and decided to quit and help his family harvest crops.
When he was in school, Calderon said school was his refuge.
"I really enjoyed school, I mean I looked forward to going to school because to me it was a hell of a lot better than picking cotton, it was a lot better than picking corn," Calderon explained. "I've always been curious and curiosity lead to reading books and asking questions and things like that."
Calderon would explore, read and study about the indigenous people of Mexico, which included the Mayans, Aztecs and Incas.
"We couldn't relate to Plymouth Rock and other stories like that because our ancestors were from Mexico," Calderon said.
While other students faced the struggles of having to learn in an all-English speaking classroom, Calderon said he was unaffected by the language barrier and even helped fellow classmates in understanding the days' lectures.
"We didn't have trouble with English like most of the kids that we hung around with were having. Most of them spoke strictly Spanish," Calderon said. "I guess to some extent we tutored the kids that were having problems while walking ... home or while we were playing and stuff like that."
Waco did not have segregated schools, perhaps, Calderon said, because the Chicano population in Waco was so small.
"I don't suppose the system saw us as a threat so it was pretty well integrated," he said.
Calderon obtained a GED and later received his Bachelor's Degree in Business in 1974 from Tarelton State University in Stephenville, Texas.
Calderon and his wife Ruby currently reside in South Austin and have two sons and a daughter: T. Reynaldo, T. Francisco and Diana Anne Calderon.