By Donetta Nagle
Estanislado "Stanley" Reyna braved enemy fire in the Philippines in a daring attempt to save the life of his sergeant in 1945.
"His arm had been blown off, and his left side was shot," Reyna said.
After repeated tries, the young soldier finally succeeded in summoning medics to the sergeant's side, and assisted emergency personnel in transferring the sergeant onto a stretcher. Despite their efforts, the sergeant succumbed to his injuries and later died. Reyna says he still thinks often of his fallen comrade.
The battle scene was only one of many Reyna witnessed in the Solomon Islands and the Philippines during World War II. For his wartime heroics, he was twice awarded a Bronze Star, as well as earned a Bronze Arrowhead, Purple Heart with an Oak Leaf Cluster, Philippine Liberation Medal, Good Conduct Medal, Combat Infantryman Badge and two Overseas Bars. He also earned Asian-Pacific Campaign and World War II Victory medals.
But Reyna’s accomplishments on the battlefield were lost on many in his hometown of Valentine, Texas. Returning to West Texas after the war, he says he was stung by the indignities of discrimination.
Born in Valentine on July 5, 1925, Reyna was one of 12 children of Julio Reyna and Sara Solis Reyna. Julio was a laborer, who worked for Southern Pacific Railroad and later for Coronado Country Club, in El Paso, Texas. Sara stayed home to raise the children. Although the Reyna children attended public schools in Valentine, Reyna went only as far as the eighth grade, but always had dreams of finishing high school.
Beyond that, he had no set goals. He remembers his attitude being simply to "play it by ear."
Reyna was drafted into the Army in 1943 at the age of 18. He joined Company M of the 148th Infantry, 37th Infantry Division in 1945. Most of the young man's time during the war was spent in and around the Philippines and Solomon Islands, beginning his stint in New Guinea.
Reyna's experience with death began before he ever set foot on the battlefield. During basic training at Camp Fannin in Texas, a fellow soldier was killed during a firing range exercise. After that grim indoctrination, Reyna would become no stranger to death and would ultimately lose several friends in combat.
Twice suffering injuries in the line of fire, Reyna didn’t emerge unscathed himself. The first time, he was hit in the arm with shrapnel that became lodged while in Manila on Feb. 8, 1945. After recovering from that, he suffered another setback after being shot in the hand four months later on June 19, 1945. His second injury came in Northern Luzon, when he was hit during an enemy ambush.
"If I hadn't been holding my rifle, it would have probably cut my hand off,'' he said. "The gun absorbed some of the shock."
After spending two or three weeks in the hospital, Reyna returned to the battlefield.
Reyna was discharged during the war's conclusion in 1945, after the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He returned to his home in Valentine and was promoted to Tech 5.
Despite all of his sacrifice for his country, Reyna struggled once he returned to the United States in 1946. Rampant discrimination left him depressed and sad.
One indignity came during an impromptu trip to a barbershop in Lubbock, where he’d gone to get a physical examination at the VA clinic. Reyna remembers having to wait an inordinate amount of time for his trim. Finally, when it appeared to be his turn, he took his place in the barber chair.
"What are you?" the barber asked.
Reyna replied that he was an American.
"No, I mean, what's your origin?" the barber insisted.
"Mexican," Reyna said.
"Sorry, I can't serve you," the barber said. "It is the rule of the proprietor."
Reyna cursed at the man and quickly left.
Later, while still in Lubbock, Reyna was given a meal ticket to use around town. So he went into a nearby restaurant, only to be told by an employee at the counter that he may not be admitted.
The restaurant employee directed Reyna to a table off to the side and asked him to wait and see if anyone would serve him. Reyna sat and waited.
Finally, after seeing several people come in, eat their meal and leave, Reyna asked the young man again about getting something to eat.
"I don't think they're gonna serve you," he finally told Reyna, who returned to the VA clinic and gave back his unused meal ticket.
Reyna moved to El Paso in 1949. Two years later, on Jan. 21, he married Eva Ortiz there. The two had three daughters, Sonia Reyna Hammonds, Dolores Faye Reyna LeBlanc and Diane Reyna Carlos, who now have eight children among them. Reyna supported his family by working as a laborer and carpenter's helper with Southern Pacific, as his father had worked before him. Later, he worked as a painter and in the supply room at White Sands Missile Range, in nearby White Sands, N.M., and at Fort Bliss in El Paso.
Recently, Reyna suffered another setback: Eva died of cancer in November of 2001. Reyna says he thinks about his wife every day and misses her terribly.
He continues to live in El Paso, enjoying taking walks and talking with neighbors. He fondly remembers Eva, and has vivid memories of his time in the Army; both were a lasting influence on him.
Mr. Reyna was interviewed in El Paso, Texas, on January 29, 2002, by Nicole Muñoz.