Joe Medina

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Interviewed by
Steven Rosales
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By Naomi Price

Joe Borunda Medina was fresh out of Wiley High School in Wiley, Colo., when he was inducted into the Army in June of 1943.

Initially drafted, Borunda says he received a notice several weeks later that he was no longer needed. He decided to join anyway, however, and was sent to Denver for basic training, then to Utah for additional training and testing.

He then attended an officer's training school that had been established at North Dakota State Agricultural College in Fargo, N.C., now known as North Dakota State University. Medina recalls the program being intense -- classes went from 8 a.m. until 9 p.m., with only meal breaks.

"The only homework we could do after 10 p.m. was in the men's bathroom,'' said Medina, "'cause that was the only place where they had lights.''

After only eight weeks, Medina was a first lieutenant. Promotion to 1st Lieutenant usually only occurred after a service of 18 months; however, with several vacancies due to the war, Medina found the ladder easier to climb.

"The only test I didn't do good on was the Morse Code test," he said.

After arriving in Goldsboro, N.C., Medina was put on the troop train to California’s Angel Island, near San Francisco. Medina acted as a temporary military police officer on the seven-day train ride. It was at Angel Island where he’d get his last chance to train before going overseas.

"Every morning we would get up and march for 10 miles with a full pack weighing 40 pounds and a rifle," Medina recalled.

He spent a few weeks in Angel Island and was later sent to San Francisco, then to New Guinea on a troop ship. While on the ship, Medina saw a lot of people get seasick.

"I never got seasick," said Medina, "but one time I almost did one morning when a guy threw up in my face."

To prevent soldiers from getting seasick they were fed very little.

"We got a hard-boiled egg and a couple of prunes for breakfast, and a sandwich and orange for lunch," Medina said. "So, consequently, a lot of us were very hungry."

From San Francisco to New Guinea, Medina was assigned to be an acting MP, giving him the authority to roam around the ship.

"It didn't take me long to find out where the bakery was," said Medina, who confessed to swiping a few loaves of fresh bread and giving them to the soldiers in his compartment.

After sailing for 28 days, Medina landed in Nadzab, New Guinea. As he was getting off the ship, he noticed all the soldiers who were already there had yellow skin. Later, he found out that yellow skin was a side affect from Atabrine tablets, used to treat malaria.

Those already there told an amused Medina not to laugh because he’d soon look the same.

"Every morning we'd have the tablets," Medina recalled.

"We slept under mosquito netting and they gave us lotion to put on our hands and faces to protect us from mosquito bites. … I thought that was kind of sissy, but after a few days there, I am like anybody else, rubbing lotion on my face and hands."

In New Guinea, the troops were on Red Alert -- if they heard three shots, the men were instructed to jump into trenches, because they might be bombing.

"The second day I was there I heard three shots and we all ran out and jumped in trenches," said Medina, noting that’s when he realized there really was a war going on.

On the third day in New Guinea, they were bombed, Medina recalls. And a few weeks later, in October, he took part in the Invasion of Leyte in the Philippines. There, the U.S. took back the Philippines in October of 1944, during monsoon season. He helped others build airstrips after the initial invasion.

At one point, he recalls the area being bombed by Japanese cluster bombs, and being blown out of a hole. He wasn’t injured.

The steady, heavy rains made it difficult for supply trucks to operate, so supplies were limited. When they ran out of food, Medina remembers eating raw sweet potatoes stolen from native farms.

"This was the first invasion I was in," Medina said. "So we were kind of hungry at times.”

After the invasion, he was shipped to Manila, where he spent a few weeks, and then was shipped out again, this time to the invasion of Okinawa.

"One night we were bombed all night long, and we couldn't sleep," said Medina, recalling that because he was only a young junior officer, he lacked enough points to go home.

The next morning he heard shooting from Navy ships.

"What's going on?" Medina recalled asking.

"The war is over," his fellow soldiers yelled.

They spent that whole night drinking, Medina recalls.

"That day we received our first ration of beer," he said.

"I consider myself very lucky.”

Medina was born in a small farming community in Southeastern Colorado on August 24, 1924, to Joe Medina, Sr. and Adella Borunda Medina, both originally from Chihuahua, in northern Mexico. The elder Medina worked in a hay mill, helped out farmers and raised horses, while Adella was a housewife. The family lived near railroad tracks and Medina recalled that, during the Depression, men hopping the railroad cars would oftentimes come around to their house looking for food. His mother never turned anyone away, giving them a sandwich or burrito.

"They didn't know what it was, but they would eat it anyway," he said.

Although generous, Adella was wary of the strangers, telling her three children to be careful of them.

As a sophomore, junior and senior in high school, Medina played on the basketball team.

"I was 6'1", 190 lbs. and center on the basketball team," said Medina, adding that it was rare to have a Latino on the basketball team at that time.

The end of the war didn’t mark the end of Medina's military contribution. After the war, he was assigned to Tokyo to work for the Far Eastern Air Force Intelligence Group. The group looked over blueprints and plans for Japanese jets, sending over any information they learned to air intelligence technical teams at Wright Field in Dayton, Ohio.

"I like to think I had something to do with the building of our jets," Medina said.

The F.E.A.F. Intelligence Group worked in a building right next to the former Emperor's palace in Tokyo. General Douglas MacArthur's headquarters, in a building called the Daichi, was also nearby.

Medina recalls seeing the general arrive in the morning, surrounded by locals, and leaving in the afternoon, again being surrounded by locals.

Medina served in the Army for two years, nine months and 29 days, earning several medals and citations, including the Air Offensive Japan, China Defensive, Northern Solomons, China Offensive, Asian Pacific Campaign Medal, Philippines Liberation Medal with two Bronze Stars, and WWII Victory Medal. He was discharged Dec. 15, 1944, at the rank of First Lieutenant.

After returning from the war, Medina studied law at the Pacific Coast University School of Law at Long Beach, and then at the Southwestern University School of Law. He practiced administrative government law in various state and local offices in Los Angeles, retiring from the legal profession and legal management in 1988.

Medina never married, as he felt it was his place to take care of his parents, but he did have his share of lady friends.

"I never got married, but I had a whole lot of honeymoons," said Medina, with a chuckle.

Mr. Medina was interviewed in Palos Verdes Estates, California, on January 21, 2003, by Steven Rosales.