By Andrew Stark, St. Bonaventure University and Alicia Machuca, Cal State Fullerton
On Dec. 7, 1941, Placido Jose Lozano was at a movie theater, enjoying a soda and 25-cent popcorn with his friends. Suddenly the film stopped, and the theater manager came out and placed a large radio on the stage.
Lozano and the other theatergoers listened intently as President Franklin D. Roosevelt informed Americans that Pearl Harbor had been attacked by the Japanese. At the time Lozano, a 16-year-old high school student, did not realize that the bombings would lead him into a military career that he said "helped me grow into the man I have become today."
Lozano was born on Sept. 2, 1925, in Monterrey, Mexico, to Placido Lozano Jr. and Elodia de la Luz Aldape. When he was very young, the family moved to San Antonio, where he and his two brothers and two sisters learned English and attended parochial school. After a while, the family could no longer afford private education, so they transferred to a public school. Poverty also forced the family to move often, Lozano said, usually when rent was due.
Still, Lozano moved on through his education and graduated from San Antonio Tech in 1943. Soon after, registered with Selective Service and was drafted into the military in World War II, even though he was not a U.S. citizen.
He said the experience defined the rest of his life.
"I didn't know that I wasn't supposed to register because I wasn't a citizen, so when I went, a recruiting sergeant was writing and called out 'citizen.' As he wrote down 'Yes,' I said 'No, no, no, I'm not a citizen.' And he said 'Oh'. He erased it, and he said 'OK.' "
"And then, the next day, they called me and said 'Come on in,' " Lozano recalled. "They asked me what do I like, which branch of the service. My heart was set on the Corps, the Air Corps. It wasn't the Air Force then. It was the Air Corps, and I said 'Well, I want to go to the Air Corps.' And, he said 'No, you'll make a good sailor.' So I was drafted into the Navy. I never heard of such a thing. Two weeks later, I was on my way to San Diego."
Lozano was sent to Navy boot camp in San Diego, which, he said, "was hell for me." He was so out of shape that he was sent to another boot camp for getting into tiptop shape. He then put in for leave but was denied.
The next step for Lozano was training at Texas A&M, where he learned communication skills, including Morse code. He recalled that he could spell out the whole alphabet using a flashlight and was able to decode anything that came across the airways.
"At the time, the radio ran everything," said Lozano, adding he would work for four hours, have an eight-hour break, and go back to another four-hour shift. Whatever he heard on the radio he had to transcribe using a typewriter.
Later in 1943, Lozano trained to be a radio gunner on an airplane. The pilot ended up teaching Lozano to fly the plane; Lozano caught on quickly, knowing if anything happened to the pilot, he could fly the plane. The scariest moment Lozano ever experienced was when their plane got shot at; pilot and gunner had to land their plane atop another plane.
During the war, Lozano and his unit, LCI 1013, served aboard the aircraft carrier USS Kadashan Bay CVE 76 and saw action during the Pacific Theater battles of Saipan, Luzon and Leyte.
After the war ended, Lozano was sent to Japan. His stay was short - only three days. He recalled being upset that the United States military treated Japanese citizens disrespectfully, which he thought was not right. The Japanese citizens, he said, were not directly responsible for the attack on the U.S. in Pearl Harbor. He gave ice cream to Japanese children who begged for it; it was so expensive they could not afford it.
Lozano was discharged with a radioman 3rd class rating in May 1946 at Camp Wallace, Texas. Because he had done well with all his military duties, he was offered a new opportunity on the way back from Japan: He could attend college for four years, then be an officer in the Navy for the next five years. He recalled being humbled by the offer but ended up declining because he was sick of military life.
"I just want to go home," he remembered saying.
So he returned to San Antonio.
"I became very lazy and wanted to go back to work," he recalled, adding that he began to make calls to find a job.
And back to military work Lozano went. He got a job as an aircraft electrician in the U.S. Air Force. He went to school at Kelly Air Force Base in San Antonio to learn how to use and read radar. The most important skill he learned, he recalled, was how to read the bombing navigation systems. He learned the theory behind radar, which allowed him to use all the related computer programs.
His next job would be to build and assemble the radar systems in planes. Lozano became very good at this, fixing radar systems on planes and sending the planes back out. He would even go on some flights to watch the radar and fix system glitches.
One Christmas Day, Lozano received a call because a plane needed a navigator. He recalled the captain saying, "Let's go!" Although Lozano was not a navigator, the captain felt he would be fine because he knew how to read radar and because the sound of bombs dropping was very distinct, enabling everyone on the plane to know if they hit the target or not.
During that Christmas Day mission, Lozano had another near-death experience. The head pilot looked to the co-pilot and Lozano and signaled, "I lost the stick." This meant that he lost all control of the plane. Lozano had thoughts of ejecting himself from the plane, but he stayed on board. The co-pilot was able to land the plane from his controls and saved their lives.
Lozano said he was able to have such a successful military career because he is a fast learner and very versatile. His service during the war also gave him the right to U.S. citizenship. He recalled that, in 1947, he became a citizen and registered as a Democrat.
Lozano married his high school sweetheart, Norma Gallo, on Feb. 5, 1950. The Lozanos had two sons and a daughter. At the time of the interview, he identified them as: Ruben, a financial officer; Paul, a Navy veteran and a doctor of pharmacy, and Laura, a food service director. He added at that time that he and his wife had seven grandchildren and one great grandchild. They were living in San Antonio.
Mr. Lozano was interviewed by Mike Zambrano in San Antonio on June 2, 2010.