Wednesday marks the 70th anniversary of Japan’s formal surrender, ending War World II. For many families, this is an opportunity to reflect on sacrifices made during the deadliest military conflict in history.
Jesus Martinez was old enough to avoid the draft when he volunteered for the Army during War World II. He fought in Europe under the iconic Gen. George Patton.
Born in Mercedes in 1912, Jesus was the son of Mexican immigrants. His father and uncles were attempting to escape the Mexican Revolution, according to Jesus’ daughter, Nelda Sanchez.
“They would come back and forth. He was born on one of the trips over here,” Sanchez said.
Sanchez stopped short of calling Jesus patriotic or a warmonger.
“He did appreciate the freedoms we had and he appreciated what had to happen for us to have those freedoms,” Sanchez said. “He felt a moral obligation to go and fight. He didn’t necessarily want to go kill Germans, but he felt that everyone else was doing it and he needed to do it himself. He didn’t like the fact that there was a war.”
At 28, he was seen paternally by some of his fellow soldiers, Sanchez said.
“When he enlisted, he said all the young men would call him ‘daddy’ because he was 10 years older than them. These boys were 17 and 18 being drafted,” Sanchez said. “I know it upset him a lot when the Germans started recruiting teenagers because they were running out of men. That bothered him for a long, long time.”
Jesus would return to Europe for a second deployment to help rebuild Germany.
His younger brother, Trinidad G. Martinez, enlisted in the Army about same time as Jesus. Trinidad was five year his junior and served in the Pacific under Gen. Douglas MacArthur.
Trinidad was stationed in Pearl Harbor for a short time before heading to the Philippine Islands, according to his daughter, Maria Dorado.
After Trinidad and his fellow troops ran out of supplies, they took refuge in the jungle, Trinidad said. They eventually surrendered to the Japanese, and were subjected to the roughly 65-mile grueling trek known as the Bataan Death March.
During April 1942, thousands of American and Filipino soldiers died from the brutal treatment of their captors while approximately 75,000 troops were forced to walk the distance toward war camps. The act of cruelty was later ruled a war crime.
“He says they were all put in boxcars, and were transported from one part of the island to the other on the railroad,” Dorado recalled her father saying. “A lot of people died while they were trapped in those boxcars.”
Trinidad was piled among the bodies of the deceased before coming to. He was shipped to Japan, and spent two-and-a-half years as a prisoner of war.
Now 97, Trinidad recently reconnected with his older brother, Jesus, while they were both in the care of veterans’ facilities. Staff set up a Skype conversation three weeks ago, allowing the brothers to see each other for the first time in about 30 years — traveling long distances is difficult for the men.
“I was very happy that I got to see my brother. Thank God,” Trinidad said through the translation of his daughter. While Trinidad recognized his brother, Jesus suffers from severe dementia and his ability to communicate is limited.
At 103, Jesus has resided at the Alfredo Gonzalez Texas State Veterans Home in McAllen since 2006. His family tried to pry the memories from him.
“Once you lose everything they tell you, you can’t get it back; it’s locked up in his brain,” Sanchez said.
Last year, Jesus stopped eating. But he hasn’t stopped fighting.
“They thought he was going through the process of shutting down and they put him on hospice,” Sanchez said. “It’s been a year, and he started eating again. Given his age, and his mental capacity, he’s perfectly healthy.”