Jesus Armendariz, 92, can’t remember the events of last month, last week, yesterday, or even just this morning, but the WWII veteran, currently battling the intermediate stages of Alzheimer’s disease, can still vividly recall the horrific and heroic escapades of his military service from 1944 to 1946.
For decades, Armendariz’s sons Tony, John and Raymond, say their father remained silent about his two-year stint as an Army soldier, instead focusing on his work as a Central Valley farm laborer and providing for his family of 14—he, his wife of 60-plus years, Lydia, and their 12 children. Only now, as memories of the present and recent past fade away, are the memories of the distant past coming to light.
“When we were younger he never spoke of this,” his son John said. “It’s just recently that he has begun to talk about what actually happened to him at war. He does it on spur of the moment. You never know when he is going to say something about it.”
Curious about their father’s tales of the Battle of the Bulge, fighting in dugout trenches and foxholes, and liberating Jews from concentration camps, Armendariz’s children have taken it upon themselves to do some research to confirm their dad’s recollections. The facts they have pieced together provide evidence that though Armendariz has Alzheimer’s, his stories of the war are sharp.
Often, his sons say he relives the heroic moment his infantry division had to go on a suicide mission to take over a hill at all costs so the rest of the company and battalion could leapfrog into the next position. This story, his sons say, is consistent with information they’ve found about a battle in Netphen, Germany, during which their father’s unit took excessive German artillery fire and all but three of them, Armendariz included, lost their lives after surrendering to the Germans. This was one of Armendariz’s first battles and he was only 18 years old at the time.
Another story Armendariz tells is of coming face-to-face with a Nazi soldier when his squad was going from house to house during a battle within a German city. He and another soldier were clearing a house when he noticed enemy troop movement through a broken window. As soon as the Nazi saw him, Armendariz fired 15 rounds into the enemy soldier until he was assured he was dead. This one incident haunts Armendariz the most to this day.
“All battles are nasty,” Armendariz said. “You lose a lot of comrades and you get replacements and as they fall. Your company, your platoon and squads dwindle down to nothing because people get hit. People die and they are wounded. I was one of the lucky ones … Imagine yourself right here and your enemy is just across the street and they have their guns pointed at you, so what happens? You do battle. That is war for you. It wasn’t fun … I had to shoot people. That is what I was there for.”
He also remembers losing two close comrades, his squad leader Sgt. Santos and assistant squad leader Sgt. Seas during intense house-to-house fighting in Duren, Germany. Seas, he recalls, was running right next to him when a mortar or artillery round hit their area. The squad took cover, but when Armendariz looked to his side, he saw his friend had been hit and was dead.
“In battle, you lose friends and buddies,” Armendariz said. “That is the worst part because they aren’t there with you anymore.”
As a member of the 8th division, 2nd battalion, 121st infantry regiment, Armendariz was awarded many accolades for his service including the WWII Victory Medal, the European-African Middle Eastern Campaign Medal, the America Campaign Medal, an Army Presidential Unit Medal, and Army Good Conduct Medal, a Combat Infantry Badge and a Marksman Badge.
Though Armendariz had trouble recalling many specifics during The Roundup’s interview, when asked about liberating concentration camps, he repeatedly stated how “nasty” the Nazis were.
“The Germans were pretty nasty, they killed just for the fun of it I guess,” Armendariz said. “We had to go fight this country because they were being so nasty. We needed to stop them from doing anymore nasty killings. They didn’t give a hoot about you and they hated Americans, so how do you think they treated us … You didn’t want to be their prisoner.”
He also emphasized that war was not fun and that the battles of WWII are not as glamorous as they appear in the movies.
Armendariz currently lives in Kerman with his sons. There, they say, he lives a simple, peaceful life, though at times it is tarnished by reliving the painful memories of war spurred on by his illness. These painful memories serve as a reminder of the great sacrifice Armendariz and other veterans have made for this country.