2018-10-10 / Front Page

World War II sailor honored with medal Navy forgot

BY ALLEN ESSEX
Staff Writer


SGT. DANIEL GOMEZ, TEXAS ARMY NATIONAL GUARD/WILLACY COUNTY VETERANS SERVICE OFFICER, presents a Navy Occupational Service Medal with Pacific Clasp to World War II veteran Robert De la Garza as George Solis, commander of American Legion Post 390, looks on. 
(Photo by Allen Essex) SGT. DANIEL GOMEZ, TEXAS ARMY NATIONAL GUARD/WILLACY COUNTY VETERANS SERVICE OFFICER, presents a Navy Occupational Service Medal with Pacific Clasp to World War II veteran Robert De la Garza as George Solis, commander of American Legion Post 390, looks on. (Photo by Allen Essex) One of Willacy County’s few remaining World War II veterans was honored Thursday by friends and family at American Legion Post 390 in Raymondville.

Robert De la Garza, a Navy sailor who served aboard USS Ancon AGC4, was presented the Navy Occupational Service Medal with Pacific Clasp by Army Sgt. Daniel Gomez, Willacy County’s veterans service officer. (Gomez is presently on active duty with the Texas National Guard along the Texas-Mexico border.) The medal should have been presented at the end of the war, but was overlooked, said George Solis, commander of the Legion post.

“It is now time to make up for any wartime oversights because it is urgent to honor the few World War II veterans still remaining. As you know, our World War II veterans are dying by the thousands, daily,” he said. “We need to honor them at every opportunity-because of them, we are free.”

De la Garza’s ship delivered Marines they had picked up at Saipan and Guam for the invasion of Okinawa, he said. His ship was in the invasion on April 1, 1945 and was part of the “island hopping” campaign across the Pacific, stopping at Saipan, the Marshall Islands and other islands on the way to Okinawa.

“We were in combat, I was a crew member on a 40mm antiaircraft gun,” he said. “We were attacked by kamikaze planes. There was a battleship, USS New Mexico, anchored near us. There were two kamikazes, one got shot down, one of them hit that ship. We were fortunate, none of them hit us.”

De la Garza, 91, clearly remembers many details of the last days of the war.

His ship engaged in combat as the fleet moved closer to Okinawa, De la Garza said. On Aug. 6, 1945, the United States dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan. One Aug. 15, the second A-bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. On Aug. 15, the Japanese surrendered.

“We stopped at Iwo Jima to pick up reporters to cover the surrender aboard the USS Missouri,” he said. “We were in Sagami Bay on Aug. 28, then Tokyo Bay on Aug. 29, alongside the USS Missouri.”

General Douglas MacArthur, Admiral William “Bull” Halsey and many other top American officers and dignitaries were on the Missouri to meet with the Japanese, De la Garza recalls.

His ship crossed the Pacific in only 14 days, returning to San Francisco. He was able to go home on leave before returning to his ship which went down through the Panama Canal, then steamed to New York City. From there he went to Camp Wallace at Galveston, where he was discharged from the Navy, De la Garza said.

When he returned to Texas, there was no trouble getting work. He took a job at Temple Lumber Co. for $25 a week, he said. “There was a building boom.”

After a couple of years, he got a job at First National Bank in Raymondville as a bookkeeper, staying there four years. He went on to Welch Motor Co., a Chevrolet dealer, as an accountant then returned to the bank as a loan officer. At the Raymondville school district he became the business manager and tax assessor-collector. He retired from the district in 1993, after 18 years.

He and his wife Lucila traveled across the United States, Mexico, Canada and Europe.

After more than 70 years of marriage, she died Jan. 31, De la Garza said. “I miss her so much.”

Solis said the Raymondville Independent School District plans to also present the overdue medal to De la Garza at a Veterans Day ceremony on Nov. 7.

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