This year we celebrate the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II and today, Nov. 11, we celebrate Veterans Day.
These two dates mean so much more to the family of Cruz B. Aguirre.
Like so many of our World War II Veterans, Mr. Aguirre is no longer of this earth. He died in 1987 at the young age of 67, leaving his family to grieve.
The Aguirre family reached out to Copper Area News Publishers, wanting to do a tribute to their father on Veterans Day, to tell his story so others could see what he gave in service to his country.
“I asked my mom questions about our dad,” his son Daniel Aguirre said, “for he was not much for talking about the war. He would rarely talk about himself in general.
“My mom stated, ‘He was a man that did a job and left it there. He wouldn’t talk about it later,’” Daniel added.
Cruz was born May 27, 1920 and was a member of the Civilian Conservation Corps, working at the Grand Canyon. He served in the CCC from Oct. 10, 1939 until Sept. 13, 1940.
When he was 22, he enlisted in the Armed Services. Just like so many other young men of his era, he was ready to defend his country. The attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, brought so many uncertainties to all.
On Feb. 3, 1942, Cruz reported to Fort Bliss, Texas, to begin his training. The first assignment for this young Combat Infantryman was the Aleutian Islands in Alaska. He left on June 19, 1942.
Japan had invaded the small islands as a strategic stronghold.
“While traveling by Dutch Harbor, his first eyewitness of war was seeing smoke bellowing from the building that had been attacked,” Cruz’s son said.
The extreme weather on the Islands created a challenge to both American forces and machinery.
“He recounted having to guide himself from building to building by holding onto ropes that were secured to each building,” Daniel said.
His service to the Aleutian Islands concluded March 31, 1944.
Cruz was sent back to the states for additional training and was reassigned to the 89th Infantry division under the command of General Thomas D. Finley. On Jan. 10, 1945, Cruz left for France and arrived at Camp Lucky Strike on Jan. 21, 1945.
His unit participated in several major battles as they made their way through Central Europe. The 89th joined the Third Army under the command of General George Patton while advancing through the Rhineland and crossing the Sauer, Moselle and Rhine rivers – all while under fire.
One of Cruz’s worst encounters during World War II occurred while crossing the Rhine River.
“He once told my mom that he hid in the shadows of doorways as German troops marched in front of him. He was also listed as Missing in Action (MIA). He was with a group of men that took some German soldiers prisoners while an MIA. After a few days they came across an American camp. He was reunited with his troop at that camp,” his son recalled.
Cruz once sent back a newspaper clipping of a photo, asking for them to keep it safe for him. “He never explained to us why it meant so much to him,” Daniel said.
On April 5, 1945, Cruz’s unit encountered resistance in the town of Eisenach, Germany. They continued fighting until April 18, 1945 when they secured the town of Zwickau, which was the last major engagement in Europe. Victory in Europe Day, V-E Day, was May 9, 1945.
Cruz separated from the Army on Nov. 13, 1945, and he returned to Hayden to work for the Kennecott Copper Company. He married Amelia Lopez on Dec. 28, 1947, and the couple raised six children, Cruz, Lupe (Guzman), Gabriel, David, Daniel and Edward.
“He was a very humble man,” Daniel said. “As I look back, I realize my dad was the ultimate family man. He would cash in his vacation time to buy us school clothes or the necessities and rarely took a vacation. Holidays were always celebrated in our household. He loved the game of baseball, playing pool, and, as a young man, he enjoyed dancing.”
We are unable to thank Cruz Aguirre for his service to our country, but we can offer our gratitude to other veterans and their families who so selflessly share their loved ones so that we have the freedoms we do in this country.
Author: Jennifer Carnes