Local News

Nov 12, 2013 12:14 PM

Special Report: America's Greatest Generation

CORPUS CHRISTI - The "Greatest Generation" was a term used to describe millions of Americans who grew up during the great depression, went on to fight in World War 2, and still managed to create a nation filled with strength and success.

That generation is whittling down as those people grow older and for most, have expired. One of the few hero's left from that generation, Jimmie Villarreal, gives a a glimpse into his world then and now. He says he knows the cemetery is being populated with his friends.

A trumpet horne signifies the bone chilling sound symbolizing the life of one of America's hero's being laid to rest, at the Coastal Bend State Cemetery. Something Jose Armijo, the Director of the Cemetery says happens now more than ever.

"We do an average of 26 burials a month," Armijo said.

"Just after the gates opened two years ago, more than 600 veterans have already been laid to rest at the cemetery. Officials say in the coming years, there will be room for 31-thousand more service men and women who risked their lives to serve our country.

Among those who risked their lives, is Villarreal, who was part of a demolition squad during the Battle of Okinawa. He explains that, America had a reason to go to war in the 1940's.

"The Japanese attacked us and we were mad and so our kids got sacrificed, thousands and thousands got killed in that war," Villarreal said.

The memories are graphic scenes Villarreal and his comrades dealt with everyday. Now, he struggles knowing that most of them are no longer living and the constant threat of death. He specifically remembers one face to face encounter with the Japanese, while he was on a mission to block potential attacks.

"I heard footsteps from inside running. It was the Japanese, he went up there, he had two grenades, I think they were grenades, but he blew himself up and I went like this and got a shrapnel in my hand," Villarreal said.

After his injury, Villarreal was awarded the purple heart, which hangs on the wall at the Corpus Christi native's home. He remembers turning 18, 71 years ago and leaving for San Antonio, for the draft with his pals, like it was yesterday.

"They had a whole bunch of us lined up and they said okay we want so many for the army, so many for the navy, so many for the air force and so many for the marines and the marines, I stepped up," he said.

Villarreal says after taking those steps forward, the idea of war quickly became his intense reality.

"We had 50-thousand casualties," he added.

That number was just based off Okinawa alone. Villarreal says the number of those killed during all of WWII was astronomical and well into the tens of millions. He still can't believe he made it out alive and can speak on behalf of the "Greatest Generation" today.

"I'm one of the lucky ones that came out," Villarreal said.

He explained, that coming home to the United States after the war, simply reminded him of a song by Harry James.

"Kiss me once and kiss me twice and kiss me once again it's been a long long time, oh golly," Villarreal sang.

Villarreal fought back tears, reliving every moment of death and destruction. He says
aside from camaraderie, popular tunes helped the men keep their heads up during down times.

"The music was one of the big factors in keeping our moral high. We got together, we listened to that music, we sang to it, we danced to it, and we were real happy," he said.

The 89 year old says these days though, the music sounds different without the company of his closet friends, who have sadly, come and gone.

"It was terrible but we won and had a darn good reason for fighting in that war and that's probably the reason they call it the best generation," Villarreal added.

Villarreal says the "Greatest Generation" was made up of so many things, including and especially the women at home.

"They were putting out tanks, airplanes, they're welding and electricians and stuff, without that, without the women, I don't think we would have won the war," he added.

That victory, came with a price for our men in uniform. Villarreal, who says he's thankful for his country, his wife Dora of 62 years and his family, will always remember the men laid to rest. He says they were friends, soldiers and heroes and he hopes the world will never forget them and their sacrifice.

Villarreal says America then and now is quite different, he says, the nation seems split and focused on who's a democrat and who's a republican. He added that more importantly we should remain united and never forget what this country is about, freedom, respect and honor.

Villarreal whole-heartedly joked that he hasn't been to the cemetery yet, but knows that his time is coming and that he's happy to know that the 50 acre cemetery is open to servicemen and woman. They can be buried there at no cost and their spouses can be laid to rest with them as well. Burial plots, mausoleum and plaques can be placed in your loved one's honor.

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