Juan Meza

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Interviewed by
Erika Martinez
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By Ignacio Laguarda

It was New Year's Eve in 1944 when Soldier First Class Juan Meza discovered Germans had occupied an abandoned college in France -- the same building where he and five other soldiers were resting.

"We were directing the artillery to shoot where we knew they were giving us more battles," Meza said.

He and the other soldiers were there for a week, five or 10 kilometers in front of battle, serving as observers.

Eight days after the six soldiers arrived at the college, they found out Germans were nearing the building. Because the soldiers couldn’t leave from where they’d entered, they had to find an alternative exit.

Soon, Meza and another GI found a hole in a wall in their room that had been sealed with cement. The two started hitting the hole with their bayonets when they heard a strong knock on the door of the room in which they were lodged.

The knocking came from German soldiers trying to break it down. Meza recalls that at that moment, he believed he was going to die.

"My heart was beating so hard because of the fear I had," Meza said.

When the Germans knocked out a part of the door, one of them stuck his head inside to see if anyone was there. At that moment, soldier Andrew Powell, one of the six GIs, shot his gun twice.

Immediately, the rest of the Germans left to find help.

During that time lapse, Meza tore down the concrete covering the hole in the wall and the six soldiers passed through it and found a tunnel. The last soldier out covered the hole with a mattress found nearby.

While inside the tunnel, two German soldiers closed in on the GIs. Meza put himself into position and shot seven times.

Unknowingly, the noise altered the German troops, who were heard yelling, "American soldier, American soldier."

The six GIs ran to a room nearby, where they decided to stay until the situation calmed.

Once again, it was Meza who showed initiative.

"I'm going to find a way to get out of here," he told Andrew.

In his search, Meza found a long corridor. When he got to the end, he discovered a room with an exit through the roof.

He returned to the group and told them their plan to escape.

The six walked in the dark corridor until they got to the room.

The first to exit was Meza. Once outside, he began helping soldier Irving Bowers exit when he saw two enemy soldiers walking in his direction. Meza ran to a patio and hid himself. The German soldiers didn’t see him.

Meza could have escaped by himself, but decided to assist his fellow soldiers.

After getting out, the six thought they’d exit through the forest. However, they saw Germans bringing injured soldiers through that same route.

The group finally escaped, and after three hours of walking in the snow, they came across other American soldiers.

For their bravery in World War II, Meza and the other five GIs were each awarded a Bronze Star Medal. Meza also received a Good Behavior award, Medal of Outstanding Service, Medal of Occupying Germany, Victory Ribbon, two stars of battle in France and Germany, respectively, and the Purple Heart Medal.

He was injured twice, but not seriously. The first time was during his studies at the college, when pieces of concrete, glass and wood hit him. He was in the hospital five days, returning to college December 29. The second injury was April 12, 1945, when shrapnel hit him. He spent four days in the hospital recovering.



After his discharge in 1946, Meza returned to his home in Laredo, Texas. His father, Jesus Meza, worked in restaurants his whole life, first as a bus boy, and then as a chef. His mother, Isabel Viggers-Cigarroa, was a housewife. There were 12 children in the Meza family.

Meza always wanted to play professional baseball. Those and other aspirations got put on hold, however, because on March 24, 1944, he was called to fight in the war, assigned to Company B of the 399th Infantry Regiment, Division 100. His brother, Jesus, also fought and lost his right leg in battle.

After the war, Meza and his wife, Antonio Galvan Meza, moved to San Antonio, Texas, and worked in administration in Kelly Field. After the birth of their first child, however, they moved back to Laredo to be close to the family.

Using the veteran benefits program, Meza worked in U.S. Customs for four years. But for the majority of his life, he worked on the Laredo Air Force Base, in administration.

Meza also served in the National Guard for three years and in the Army Reserve for 28 years.


Mr. Meza was interviewed in Laredo, Texas, on October 28, 2002, by Erika Martinez.