Jose R. Navarro

Military Branch
Date of Birth
Place of Birth City
Place of Birth State
Place of Birth Country
Interviewed by
Veronica Franco
Date of interview
Place of interview city
Place of interview state

By Guillermo X. Garcia

José Navarro, a 20-year-old farm boy with a limited education from segregated South Texas schools, went to war in 1942 to better himself.

By the time of his discharge, due to injury as a member of the U.S. Army's 99th Infantry Division, Navarro had fought in two of the most decisive Allied victories in Europe: the Allied invasion of Normandy and the Battle of the Bulge.

After the successful Normandy invasion, the Allies drove through the French countryside, engaging the Germans in major battles at Lieges and St.-Lo.

"The Hitler Youth were better prepared to fight," he said. "We dreaded them more than the average [German] soldiers, because we knew those guys were not going to surrender, they didn't believe in it."

Navarro’s unit was later to engage SS Panzer troops, who had encircled and trapped Allied troops in Orleans. Drafted into the war on Nov. 12, 1942, Navarro earned a Bronze Star and commendation medals after the campaign, recognizing his efforts at a rescue during the Battle of the Bulge.

But survival, not heroism, was foremost in his mind.

"You were not looking to do outstanding, heroic things. You did what you needed to do, what you were trained to do: fight and win," he said.

Navarro’s military tour was cut short by injuries he received, first when he was hit by shrapnel during the Battle of the Bulge and later when he and his squad were incapacitated by a "buzz bomb" in the Ardenes, forcing Navarro to stay at French hospitals to recover.

The buzz bomb was a pilotless aircraft launched by German forces from European soil, usually aimed at England. The craft was designed to crash upon running out of fuel, and carried a warhead of several pounds worth of explosives. It got its name from the primitive jet engine that propelled it, which made a buzzing noise.

Navarro's family, among them two brothers and a sister, wouldn’t know of his injuries. He refused to tell them for fear of being considered a cripple. He remembers doctors considering amputating his leg, but fortunately not having to resort to that.

Born in May of 1922 in the small farming community of Asherton, 120 miles south of San Antonio, Navarro like most young Latino men of that day, struggled to receive an education amid segregated conditions.

He speaks matter-of-factly about attending a segregated school in the "Mexican" part of town until the sixth grade, the last grade a Hispanic could attend. From there, young men usually toiled in the melon and carrot fields that flourished in this part of South Texas, known as the Winter Garden Region.

Still, his memories of attending an escuelita during the Great Depression are pleasant ones. But he would soon be forced to leave school to join his father and siblings in the picking fields. Although educational fulfillment would long elude him, he finally was able to take college courses and fulfill his dream of teaching and coaching in San Antonio, where he now lives.

"The Depression Era meant that once I, like many other kids, finished sixth grade, my life meant leaving the school and going into the fields with my parents and brothers to help pick the crops," Navarro said.

Although pay was meager, it helped support his family, which included two brothers and a sister in addition to his parents. Later, he met his future wife, Angelita in the town where he toiled. The couple would eventually have five children: Mary Olga, Antonio, Carmen, Yolanda and Silvia.

Navarro was inducted into the U.S. Army at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio in November of 1942, almost a year after Japan's sneak attack on Pearl Harbor.

"It was a very good experience," he said of his basic training in Mississippi, which was the first time he ever left Texas. "Lots of the soldiers really disliked the place, and said so. But for me, it was lots better than Asherton: It had electricity and [indoor] sanitary facilities."

During basic training, he also was exposed to boxing, a sport he came to love.

Through the military, Navarro says he was exposed to other points of view. He realized the necessity of being able to communicate with fellow soldiers and commanders of different ancestries, something he had little occasion to do back home.

"I knew we had to communicate, but I did not get used to speaking English until I went into the service and had to," Navarro said.

To this day, he chuckles at his wife still being reluctant to use English, speaking to her children and grandchildren, some of whom speak only English, in her native Spanish.

After having seen so much in the service and experienced the harshest that life threw at him, Navarro says he emerged with a variation of the Golden Rule.

"There are lots of rules in life to follow," he said of the military discipline he received. "If you treat people the way you want to be treated, and do the best you can do, you won't go wrong."


Mr. Navarro was interviewed in San Antonio, Texas, on October 13, 2001, by Veronica Franco and Raquel C. Garza.