By Jacob Collazo
At the onset of the Korean War in 1952, Julius V. Joseph, a veteran of World War I and II called his local recruiting office to volunteer his service. The recruiter asked Joseph if he had ever served in the military, Joseph answered that he had and that he reached the rank of captain as a combat medic. The recruiter moved on to other question until eventually he asked Joseph for his date of birth, to which he replied May 21, 1902.
The recruiter hesitated for a minute; Joseph understood that his age would be a problem, it also had been in World War I and II. When the recruiter came back on the phone, he told Joseph, "I have good news and bad news. The good news is we could use a guy like you because you have had military service." The recruiter then jokingly told Joseph, "The bad news (because of his age)...you have to get permission from you your mother, to join."
The strong desire to serve his country something he learned from his father and something he passed on to his own family. His own military experiences took him from Laredo to France, then to Brooke General Hospital to work with sick and wounded soldiers returning from overseas. Although he was not able to serve his country during the Korean War, Joseph was proud of the fact, that only son Julius Gregg volunteered his services.
A vibrant 98 year-old, Joseph recalled his family's history of military service in the United States; dating back to his great-grandfather serving during the War of 1812. His father's military service included the Spanish-American War in 1892 and a short period of service during World War I. His two younger brothers Adam and Carlos served as pilots in the Army Air Corps during World War II. His son also served during the Vietnam War, as did two of his grandsons. Presently Joseph's great-grandsons enlisted in the Navy and Air Force.
His father's family brought one other passion with them when they arrived in the United States. They came from a long line of jewelers and masons. His family's history dates back to 500 A.D. Austria as jewelers and masons. He became the last of his family to enter in to the family trade.
As an adventurous young man growing up on the US-Mexico border in Laredo, Texas, he spent much of his youth playing sports, hunting and working for Laredo Novelty Company. His family owned stores on both sides of the border. He learned the family trade at his father's bench carving out gold watchcases for the movements his grandfather gave him.
Joseph recalled how things have changed since he first started learning the trade, "everything then was done by hand... we didn't have gas torches...we used to have to use lungpower" to heat materials.
His sense of adventure and family's commitment to service lead him in 1917 to Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio. There at the age of 16, he lied about his age to enlist in World War I. His father followed to try and stop him, but he was too late, he had already been sworn to service. His father decided he too would volunteer for service.
After leaving San Antonio, Joseph traveled by train to Chicago, then on to New York where he left by boat to England. Once in England, it was just a matter of time before he shipped off to France and the frontlines. He served for eight months in France as a combat medic in the infantry. He recalled that the war was almost over by the time he arrived and he saw limited combat. But it is still something he is trying to forget today.
"Things were difficult and it is something I don't like to talk about," he said.
At the end of World War I, Joseph and his father returned to Laredo. Shortly after their return, his father passed away in 1919. His mother, Maria Elena Gutierrez-Diez Joseph, a native of Mexico, decided to move the family to San Antonio.
Before long Joseph returned to the family jewelry trade. The jewelry business had Joseph traveling all over the world buying and trading jewelry and precious stones. In 1933, he landed a temporary position with Zales Jewelry Corporation in Wichita Falls, Kansas. It was while working for Zales that he met Jewel Belle Gordon a coworker. On March 3,1933 he married Jewel Belle Gordon, who he faithfully loved for 64 years until her death in 1997.
Moving back to San Antonio, he managed Gulf Mart Jewelry, for Zales Corporation. In 1936, his first child Elizabeth Frances was born; two years later his son was Julius Gregg was born. After having been transferred several times, he made back to San Antonio and decided it was time to stay and tend to his family.
He was at home in San Antonio on Sunday, Dec.7, 1941, when he and his wife heard the news, Pearl Harbor was bombed and the US was entering into the war. His brothers were already serving in the Army Air Corps stationed in London. He received a letter from them before he re-enlisted saying, " If the three Joseph brothers were in London they'd turn this town upside down." He was once again forced to lie about his age, this time making himself 10 years younger. He asked for overseas duty, hoping to reunite with his brothers in London. He trained in San Antonio again as a combat medic with the 133 Infantry Unit. When the Infantry left to port near San Diego; he was called back to Fort Sam Houston and Brooke Army Hospital because they needed him more but also on account of his age.
While stationed at Fort Sam Houston it was his job to help rehabilitate soldiers returning from overseas. As the soldiers, mainly African Americans, opened up to Joseph, he would joke and tease with them to get there mind off their troubles. He even formed a baseball team, playing baseball and exercising helped, because they forget about the war and learned to enjoy life again. He would also take the men to the local golf course, which was not opened to "colored" men.
"Once they saw what I was trying doing with them," he said, "they would go along with it."
When they announced the end of the war, Fort Sam Houston and the city went wild; they partied all night long. He was discharged from the service with the rank of captain. He returned to his family and took them on a three-month vacation traveling all over Mexico.
September of 1946, only four months after his discharge he re-entered the jewelry business this time for himself. He opened Josef's Jewelry and Trade Mart, taking his family's original name. He owned his own jewelry store well into his 90s. He closed his shop to care for his wife Jewel after she became ill. She passed away May 21, 1997, on his birthday. Tragically, his son passed away just days after.
He took great pride in his active membership with the National Sojourners and Heroes of 1776, both social organizations to help counsel and aid masons who are also veterans of war.
While running his store, he went to night school, and graduated with his bachelors in psychology from Trinity University and his masters from University of Texas at San Antonio. He is now working to finish his PhD. He went back to school for no other reason then to say he did it. He does not care for the words "you can't do it."
At the time of the interview, Joseph showed no sign of slowing down, he credits his long life to his mother's side of the family. He also points to his healthy life style and he continues to challenge himself body and mind.