Jim Davis / Staff
Ruben L. Moreno salutes the likenesses of 12 Tucson Marines of E Company who lost their lives in Korea. A memorial honoring them will be dedicated Saturday.
* The 12 E Company Marines killed in action:
Members of E Company, their families and friends will gather at 9:30 a.m. Saturday at Kino Korean War Memorial Park, 2805 E. Ajo Way, across the street from Kino Hospital, to formally dedicate the new memorial. The black-and-white tiles depicting the faces of the men were designed by Tucson artist Steve Farley and are similar to those he used to translate historic photos into murals for the Broadway underpass. The main speaker is retired Marine Col. Herbert Oxnam, a former Easy Company private. A reception follows at the nearby community center gymnasium.
Their names were already inscribed on a black obelisk at Korean War Memorial Park, and now the faces of 12 "Easy" Company Marines killed in the Korean War stare out from a low wall in front of it.
They look so serious; they look so young.
Pfc. Alfonso E. Lopez was three months short of his 19th birthday when he was declared missing. Here in Tucson, his wife had just given birth to twins. Lopez would never return and eventually his status was changed from "missing" to "killed."
Maria Lopez, 49, one of those twins, held out hope of meeting her father for a long time. "Even now, I go, 'God, it'd be cool if somehow he would just appear.'"
Cathy Price lived with the same hope and dread when her older brother, Joe M. Valenzuela, was reported missing in December 1950, a month after his wife, Elsa, gave birth to their daughter, Elaine.
Cathy joined her mother and Elsa in saying the rosary each night. Nine months later, the family was told that Joe's mortar position had been overrun by Chinese troops on the day he went missing and "two of the fellas had seen him killed."
Joe was a "happy-go-lucky kid who liked sports a lot," said Cathy. He went to work for Pacific Fruit Express after graduating from Tucson High School. He joined the Marine Reserves "just like all of his other friends."
Elaine, the daughter Joe never met, still wonders "Why him?" but has puzzled out an answer over time. "There was a reason - probably because I was meant to be molded by his family."
Elaine, now 51, and her mother lived with Joe's parents for the first six years of her life. "I made the connection to my father through his parents." And throughout her life, her father seemed to be with her at important times. "It's eerie. I would do something and it was as if it were validated by him."
Her father put her through college, she said - the money set aside for that purpose from an insurance policy he had purchased. She earned a degree in library science and works today as an administrator in the city/county library system.
She still bears her father's name - she married another Valenzuela. She and her husband, Olegario, have three daughters. "We go through the family pictures and I tell them "Look, you've got this about you that's just like your grandfather.'"
She was also connected to her father through her late uncle, longtime city of Tucson department head Tom Price, who went to Tucson High with him, joined Easy Company and also served in Korea. When Price came home, he went to give his condolences and found a wife - Joe's sister Cathy.
Cathy Price says it didn't happen quite that quickly or quite that way, but the story's too good not to repeat. Elaine likes the story and chooses to believe it. So do most of Tom's Marine buddies.
Elaine has heard other stories about her father from his comrades-in arms, a cohesive group of young men from Tucson's barrios who grew up fast in Korea.
Ruben L. Moreno, an Easy Company veteran, has spent the last decade collecting their stories. Those oral histories, some of them transcribed and available on the Internet through the University of Arizona library, paint a vivid picture of life in Tucson, circa 1950. Read the stories at: http://dizzy.library.arizona.edu/ecompany
Harold Don was one of those barrio kids. His parents, who had been born in Canton, China, operated a grocery store at the corner of Riverside and St. Mary's Road in Tucson. His story on the Web site says, in part:
"I grew up in Barrio Hollywood, which was predominantly Mexican. The Barrio was across the Santa Cruz River, which was then the boundary of the city limits. The unpaved streets and the riverbed were my playgrounds. . . .
"I recall that just about every house in the neighborhood had its own well and outhouse. . . ."
"I attended Menlo Park Elementary School, Roskruge Junior High, and graduated from Tucson High School in 1949. Tommy Price, Rudy Castro and Albert Felix talked me into joining "E" Company in 1948 and my mother was not too happy with this decision. I attended three summer camps at Camp Pendleton, so when the company was activated I was considered well trained."
Joining up was an easy decision, said Albert Brichta, who enlisted in the reserve unit after seeing duty in the Navy at the end of World War II. "Hey, there was nothing else to do. We didn't think we'd get called up."
"We only had a war every 20 years," said Moreno. "We thought, if anything, we'd just go to Camp Pendleton and replace the real Marines."
But Korea heated up faster and lasted longer than anyone could have predicted. After North Korean communist troops easily overran the south, capturing Seoul in the summer of 1950, 230 members of E Company, 13th Infantry Battalion, U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, were called to active duty.
"Let's face it," said Moreno, "they needed cannon fodder and that was us."
The Easy Company Marines left Tucson on July 31, 1950. A good chunk of them shipped directly to Japan, where they were spread among a number of Marine companies and sent into battle, many of them taking part in the amphibious landing at Inchon on Sept. 15.
By the end of September, Seoul had been recaptured by United Nations' forces and four E Company Marines had been killed - Pfc. Corbett B. Robertson, Pfc. Emilio A. Ramirez, Pfc. Raymond C. Hubbard and Sgt. Jesus R. Carrasco. By the time an armistice was signed on July 27, 1953, Pima County would lose 82 of its young men, including the 12 E Company Marines.
* Contact Tom Beal at 573-4158 or email@example.com.