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Interview with Roger Cisneros [9/26/2002]

Amy Nofziger:

Today is September 26, 2002. My name is Amy Nofziger. I am here with John Looney (ph) from the AARP State Office. We're doing a veterans' history project interview with Roger Cisneros, birth date January 1st-- I'm sorry -- January 22nd of 1924. We're going to go ahead and get started. This interview is taking place at the AARP State Office at Pennsylvania in Denver, Colorado. Roger, we're going to go ahead and start. If you would, please, like to tell me just about some of your memories when you were drafted, or did you enlist in your military?

Roger Cisneros:

I volunteered for induction in 1943. I was 17 years old when the war started, and the draft covered up to 19 years of age. So, when I turned 19, I knew I was going to be drafted. So, I decided to volunteer so I could choose the branch of service that I wanted to be in.

Amy Nofziger:

Okay. Where were you living at that time?

Roger Cisneros:

I was living in a little town in New Mexico named Questa, Q-u-e-s-t-a. That's where I was born; that's where my folks lived.

Amy Nofziger:

You said you wanted to pick the branch that you joined. Which branch did you join and why?

Roger Cisneros:

I wanted to be a pilot. I wanted to fly, so I joined the Army Air Corps as an Aviation Cadet and took the several tests. Then, about the time that I was supposed to go in, they decide that they had too many pilots. So, they -- apparently not enough pilots were killed, and so they decided what they needed people some place else. So, I was shifted into the regular Army Air Corps.

Amy Nofziger:

Tell me about your boot camp experience.

Roger Cisneros:

I was inducted into Ft. Bliss. That's when I -- that's the first place I went to, and then I was -- at that time, they decided where I would go to take my basic. I took my basic at Shepard Field, Texas. It was regular boot camp, and I thought it was a lot easier than I thought it would be. I'm a farm boy, and I was born on a farm. I was used to getting up at sunrise and working until sunset, 12, 14 hours a day and working hard. So, the boot camp, in my opinion, was a breeze. 25-mile marches; the exercise things, I thought, were not very difficult. So, I was there for about eight weeks (inaudible) boot camp. Then, they decided that, you know, where to send me, you know, they-- one thing I remember is that anybody who had an I.Q. over 120, we were kept there for an extra two weeks. We didn't know what was happening. They wouldn't tell us why they were doing it, but we were sent to what we called cryptography school. And apparently, the FBI was -- because we had to have a top secret clearance, the FBI was investigating us before we went there. So, I was sent to Chinook (ph) Air Force Base in Illinois Where I took my training as a cryptographer.

Amy Nofziger:

What kind of special training did you receive to do your job as a cryptographer?

Roger Cisneros:

We were -- we were taught-- there were several different methods that the government uses to send secret messages out; some of them are little machines that you use that you inscribe, and at the other end, they would use the same machine to transcribe it. Other times, there was strips of paper you put in a certain way and with the alphabet all scrambled, you would use that. And that's -- that's typically it. It's not really trying to break somebody's code. It's just a method -- a lot of messages that were sent out are secret, and so we had our own little office, you know, where it was locked, and they slipped the messages to us, and we would transcribe IT, And they would -- they would send them out. MOONEY: What was kind of a regular day or a normal day for you, if there was such a thing, in terms of being a cryptographer? It sounds like you got the messages, and you coded them, and you sent them. What did that normal day look like for you?

Roger Cisneros:

Well, during the time I was waiting to be shipped overseas, I was in -- I was in Great Bend, Kansas. They were, apparently, preparing the bomb group that I was going to be in in preparation to be shipped out. So, I was working at the base. And what I would do is, I -- I would report. We were -- we were on call 24 hours a day, so we -- we would be working day and night taking -- taking shifts. So, I would go to the to the -- main office where they had the teletypes at that time and just code messages that were being sent out, code messages that were being sent in -- kind of preparing ourselves to -- to go overseas.

Amy Nofziger:

Did you just serve in World War II as a cryptographer, or did you get re-upped later on for Korea or anything?

Roger Cisneros:

No, I just served my time until the war was over, and then I was discharged.

Amy Nofziger:

Where did you spend most of your time? Where were you stationed?

Roger Cisneros:

I was-- started out in Ft. Bliss, went to Shepherd Field, from Shepherd, we went to Chinook Air Force Base in Illinois. After that, I was in Texar, (ph) Texas. Then, I spent some time at Lincoln, Nebraska, and then I went to Seattle where I was -- I was shipped from. I loaded the troop ship at that point.

Amy Nofziger:

And where did you wind up when you got off of that troop ship?

Roger Cisneros:

We ended up-- we -- we stopped at several islands in the Marianas (ph) Saipan (ph) and ended up in Okinawa.

Amy Nofziger:

Do you remember that first day arriving in Okinawa, and what it was like? What kind of memories do you have of that first day?

Roger Cisneros:

Just it's rather strange, you know. We unloaded. We had these ropes, and I had never been taught how to get down from those troop ships. You know, you had your full pack, you had your car bean (ph), and then you are going down these ropes, you know, and the ship is rocking, and it's -- I thought I was going to get tangled up and fall, but it was -- it was -- it was -- it was strange, you know, it's a different country all together. I was 19, and at that age, you know, you feel that you're invincible. I mean, I never thought that I would be -- thought that I would be killed, but then we-- we -- we landed. It was-- it was-- it was different. It was strange. I don't remember being scared. And so, I would say a new experience, you know.

Amy Nofziger:

are there any other memorable experiences from the time that you spent as a cryptographer or the time in Okinawa -- what are the things that jump to mind most to you?

Roger Cisneros:

Well, the things that were interesting. We loaded up in Seattle. It was a troop ship. We were the ones that loaded up first. Remember, we went there in the evening, and they put us in our bunks. I thought we had taken off, you know, because I was seasick. Next morning, I opened up, and we're still in dock. We haven't moved. So, then they loaded up the other troops that were going. There was about 5,000 troops on this ship, you know, we had these bunks, five-- five in a row, you know, so there wasn't (inaudible) space, but it was a nice voyage. Although in Hawaii -- we stopped in Hawaii, and the thing I remember that the beach -- I forget the name of the main beach in Honolulu -- was just plain coral. There was no sand at that time, and -- but anyway, we were there a few days. Then, we started out. We didn't know where we were going; they wouldn't tell us. And there was a convoy, and we met up with the convoy that were maybe 40, 50 ships, troop ships, destroyers, cruisers. We were zigzagging, you know, so it took us 40 days to get to Okinawa. Before we got there, we were hit by a typhoon, and that was kind of scary because the ships were just bobbing like corks. And just the other day, you know, I was watching PBS, and there was something about this warship that was sunk. And I was noticing the date, and it's the same time as when we were there. So, there was -- the cruiser was sunk and about 700 people perished, and I thought, you know, that could have been any of us. So, it was about the time that the Kamikazes were very active. So, at night, when the planes would come in, you know, you would see the search lights. And then, of course, they had anti-aircraft guns. It was just like the Fourth of July. If it hadn't been deadly serious, you would have kind of enjoyed it. So, those were the things that we-- I was in a B-29 outfit, and we started bombing Japan at that time. So, it was in Kadena (ph) -- Kadena Air Force base. So, we were there about four months before-- before the war. Before the atomic bomb was dropped, and it was really -- was real glad to see that happen because it meant that the -- that the end of the war. We weren't anticipating, of course, invading Japan. And we don't know what would have happened if we had invaded them because I imagine there would have been a lot of -- a lot of lives lost on both sides. So -- but we -- we -- we didn't know what was happening. You know, when you're in the service, you-- you don't know. You know you're here; things happening all around you, but you never -- you never know. We didn't know about the atomic bomb until about two or three days later. There was a little pamphlet saying big bomb had been dropped. We didn't know what it was. We, of course, had no news casts or anything like that.

Amy Nofziger:

Going back to, you know, how you were saying you spent about -- took about 40 days to get to Okinawa, and then once you were there, how did you stay in touch with your family?

Roger Cisneros:

Just by letter. We had, of course, free postage. All you had to do was free -- where the stamps are. Mail was real important during the trip overseas. Of course, we didn't get mail. There was no way of getting mail. It was after we landed, of course, then you got-- but mail call was a very, very important to everybody, and you looked forward to see what mail you did receive. So, that was the only way of keeping track; no telephones

Amy Nofziger:

Did you and some of the other people with you -- what did you do to entertain yourself?

Roger Cisneros:

Well, the -- there was some movies that were shown sometimes. Red Cross had a few things. You had coffee and doughnuts. There was some reading material. Sometimes the soldiers entertained themselves. You know, it's surprising how much talent there is whenever there's a group of people. There were some people that were singers. There were some people that used to tell jokes and things like that. It was -- but not much else. The one thing we missed was seeing girls. You know, in Okinawa, every all the residents were incarcerated. They were in a compound, and everybody wore Army uniforms; men, women, that's all they had. So, you didn't see any females except for the Red Cross and sometimes some of the nurses. And it was-- it was -- I remember after the -- after the war, I flew to Manila, Philippines as a -- what they call R and R, recreation. As we landed in Manila, I saw -- it was about 4:00 or 5:00 in the afternoon. And apparently, the offices were closed, and I saw these people different color, dresses. It was the strangest thing, you know. We hadn't seen that in a year. And it was real amazing the things that you do miss. You do miss things like hot dogs and hamburgers, you know, those Cokes. I remember on the way overseas, everything was -- you used to line up for everything; line up for lunch. And I remember the -- as we were lining up, the officers had a little bit better facilities than we did, and I looked in, and there was this officer's mess, and they had tablecloths, and they had ice, and I could see the -- the refreshment information in the -- on the, you know, what it's called, and it was -- I would have paid $1,000 to have a drink because cold things, you didn't have. You know, the food wasn't very good, but -- and of course, you're so crowded. Every-- I don't care where you are, you know, there's 100 other people around you.

Amy Nofziger:

Can I do a follow-up on one of your responses where you mentioned for entertainment, you mentioned you had movies. Was there a particular movie that was a favorite of you or the men in your outfit, anything that comes to mind?

Roger Cisneros:

Well, the one things that didn't go over regularly were these real patriotic movies where you would have somebody say, "I want to go to war" you know. It was all these boos. You-- you just don't want to go to war, you know, or when you see these you know John Wayne kind of things, you know, defeating the enemy, those things were very unreal. I think the ones that I think -- at least, I enjoyed were maybe the love stories where, you know, a good story that but -- but they were -- they were first-run movies, you know. That's the one thing about the service is that they -- they go out of their way to try to-- to keep the morale up, and they spent a lot of money-- it's you have so much material, you know, that I'm pretty sure other armies don't have just for that purpose

Amy Nofziger:

Were there any pranks that you or others in your unit would pull on each other?

Roger Cisneros:

Yes. They -- they in the troop ship, you know, the toilets -- there were just they had the-- kind of channels, you know, where the water was running, and you did whatever you did. You just sat, you know. And once in a while, somebody would light a newspaper on one end and send it down. And of course, whoever was there, would (inaudible) -- and I don't -- I don't remember too much else that was -- that was -- that were -- pranks were pulled. You know, there was some gambling, you know, you would play -- you played cards and shot craps, you know, every pay day, there was the -- and of course, there was -- there was a -- a place that you could go and have -- have some drinks, you know, after a while, after the (inaudible) were set up.

Amy Nofziger:

Do you remember any particular individuals, any other men in your unit who were different characters or were always the ones pulling the pranks or always the ones doing something? Do you have any funny stories or memories about anyone in your troop, or were you the one always pulling the pranks?

Roger Cisneros:

No, I -- I, of course, you would have so many different kinds. There were some smart ones, you know, that were real brilliant. There were some dumb ones; they were -- and the thing I remember is that once in a while, you would see somebody that you know because everybody has the same uniform, so you don't know who they are. Sometimes we had some baseball players, for example, that I used to hear about, but I -- I wouldn't recognize them, you know, until somebody pointed them out. And then I said, gee, you know, I remember we had somebody that played for the St. Louis Cardinals -- a pitcher. And before I knew who he was, you know, he was just another G I. Then, after you find out who they are, they are, you know, he pitched for the St. Louis Cardinals, and he was being somebody -- somebody good. They-- you had all kinds -- of course, people that were married. And they would -- they would be very faithful and writing to the families, you know. I wasn't married, so I think in a way, that was an advantage. I was free to do more things than the other guys were. So, but, you know, the -- it -- in the kind of service I was in, we didn't get to know everybody else, and a lot of units in the Army, you train together from basic until you go overseas. So, everybody is-- knows each other. In the air corps, what they did is they trained mechanics in one place; they trained pilots in another; they trained cryptographers. You know, everything was-- was different training. Then, you got them together in a-- in a (unintelligible). There were about 3,000 people in the bomb group. So, there is not camaraderie that there usually is in other branches of the services. Of course, the crew people, I mean, there's about 10 people to a plane they knew each other real well, but there were about maybe seven or eight cryptographer that did the same thing. But so, you know, I haven't seen anybody that I served with never kept-- we have never had a reunion. Sometimes I wonder why you know. But after we were discharged, we just didn't want anything to do with the Army. It was over with. I'm never going to join again. I never want to see anything about the Army again, and I think that was a mistake, you know. I realize it now. It's been 60 years

Amy Nofziger:

Did you or your unit receive any medals or citations for your work? I'm kind of setting you up now. I know your wife, Dee (ph) has already shown us some of your medals.

Roger Cisneros:

Well, the group received the President's Citation, you know. It was reflected with a little button, but not much. You know, we received, of course, the good conduct medal was something that everybody receives. Then, we received the ribbons that were given among the theaters that we served. So, I had about five ribbons that were issued to us. But that's (unintelligible)

Amy Nofziger:

Were there any other Latinos in your unit, or did you feel as a Latino that you had something to prove or anything to the rest of the unit?

Roger Cisneros:

No, there were-- there were some. There weren't any in my -- in the kind of work I did. So I didn't notice, any discrimination at all during the time I was in there you know. I remember I-- because we wore shorts in Okinawa, everybody. We got real sun burned. And I got a real good suntan. I was real dark and they-- some of them used to call me gook. That's what we called the Okinawans. But it was-- that was all in good-- good spirit and I was-- but in answer to your question, no there were a few others. Unfortunately a lot of them were in the you know, cooks and mechanics and things like that.

Amy Nofziger:

Did your ability to speak Spanish come in handy either in your job assignment on Okinawa or on R and R when you were in the Philippines?

Roger Cisneros:

R and R, it did come in handy because a lot of the people in the Philippines speak Spanish. In the Army, no. there was-- there was-- there was-- in the part of the world I was in, of course, I imagine speaking Japanese would have been a lot more valuable, but no, there was-- there was no advantage at that point.

Amy Nofziger:

Tell us about what your memories are of the day the war ended or day that you heard the war ended in the Pacific.

Roger Cisneros:

The one thing I remember when-- is the guns going off all this shooting. I wondered What in the world is happening? And somebody had gotten the word that war was over. People start celebrating. It was at night. And-- but that's-- that's about all you could do is-- there was no place to go. Okinawa was in shambles, you know, the capital, Manaha (ph) was completely -- obliterated.

Amy Nofziger:

How much longer were you on Okinawa after the war ended? I mean--

Roger Cisneros:

I was-- I was there about -- about six months.

Amy Nofziger:

And did your duties change?

Roger Cisneros:

Yes, at that time, there was no need for cryptographers, so I was changed to work in the office in the statistical department. I used to-- one of the things that was to my advantage is that I was a good typist. For whatever the reason in high school, I became a champion typist. I thought it was-- so, I got put in the-- in the office and so I did that. There were a lot of plans that were-- because they told us at the beginning it was going to take some time before you guys can go home because you know you just can't ship million people. There's no transportation. So, they had big plans that they were going to have college courses. We were going to be able to go to college and get credits and -- but it-- it really became morale went down real fast because we wanted to come home, and we couldn't, and we didn't know why, you know. They told us, "Well, we don't have any transportation." And somebody would say, "Well, there was a ship over here that went unloaded," and so there was letters to the Congress people, and I remember Senator Johnson was the senator from Colorado, and he was championing -- we have to get these guys home. We thought he should run for president. But no, then we-- we, of course, we were free to do a lot of things that -- that we couldn't before. You know, we -- I was on this football team. We had competition with other groups and -- but it was just a wait. It was a long-- it was worse than during the war because we just didn't know exactly when we were going to come home.

Amy Nofziger:

Tell us about your very last day in the military. Where were you? What do you remember of that?

Roger Cisneros:

Well, the-- when we left Okinawa, here again it was a troop ship. We-- instead of coming directly to Seattle or California, we went through the Panama Canal and up to-- to New Jersey, and I-- it took us 20 days. And it was different because we were-- it wasn't a convoy. We could have the lights on at night; things like that. But -- so, we had a-- one of the things that I did during the time I was-- I was on the way over, I decided to work on the newspaper. There was a little newsletter that was put out every day, and part of it was how many miles we had covered. That was a most important thing, you know, to cover whatever it was. So, we're so many miles from the United States, but we ended up in New Jersey. And when we landed, the thing that they (unintelligible) a steak dinner. Steak dinner, which was a treat. Then, of course, we went to the barracks and waited a few days before we were sent to Kansas City where I was discharged. And then, they said, "Here are your papers. You take the bus and go home." It-- it was strange. All of a sudden, you're out of the service, you know. And you start saying, "Well, now what?"

Amy Nofziger:

That's exactly my next question. What did you do in the days and weeks following your discharge?

Roger Cisneros:

It was difficult because -- and I know a lot of soldiers had a real hard time because you feel, in a way, unappreciated. Here you've been gone, and after a day or so, you know, you -- there you are, you know, you're expected to go back into-- into your own routine, and you just can't do it. You just can't do it. I-- I know a lot of people -- I never drank alcohol, but I know a lot of soldiers who started drinking, and you felt well with other soldiers, but you didn't feel well other civilians. It was just animosity. You guys had it real well over here, and we were overseas and we weren't appreciated, you know, that kind of feeling. So, it took us a while. I-- I decided to start college. That's when I started school. I think that helped because that's where we met a lot of the VAs it was the GI Bill. There were a bunch of guys in the same boat that we were in.

Amy Nofziger:

What was your reaction to that GI Bill?

Roger Cisneros:

That was invaluable. It -- I think that's the only reason that I went to college. I'm pretty sure that was the only reason that thousands of others went to college because you got your tuition paid. You were paid $75 a month, I think, which at that time was-- was not a lot of money, but it was something that you could exist on. So, even though I-- I worked at least part time during the years of college, but you really got your books free. So, it was something that we did.

Amy Nofziger:

What did you go on to, you know, after college career-wise?

Roger Cisneros:

It was-- I finished college in '50 and jobs weren't very plentiful. I couldn't get a job. So, I did what I could do best. I took a typing test. You know, here I am a college graduate. I got, I think, a high score, you know -- what was it? 105 out of a possible 100 because we got five points for being veterans. So, I was hired almost immediately for the Bureau of Reclamation. I thought I could start there and advance, which I did. I was promoted, then I started working for the Finance Center -- Air Force Finance Center; moved from St. Louis over here, and I was hired as an accounting clerk at that time. And at that time, I wanted to make the government my-- my career. I took what I think was the hardest test that Civil Service has, which was the Junior Management Assistant, JMA. And that was the test that was used to get into the field where you could advance. I passed that. I was one of seven in Colorado who passed it. But then Eisenhower took over, and they stopped everything. I got offers from all over the country, you know, they wanted to work for the State Department or something, but then -- something we're having now, you know, the budget. And-- and it stopped hiring, stopped promoting, stopped everything. So, that's when I decided I would go to law school. And I worked full-time, and I went to school full-time. So, I became a lawyer.

Amy Nofziger:

And you've practiced law since when was that that you graduated from law school

Roger Cisneros:

I graduated in '57, and I practiced-- yeah, I practiced law. I became interested in politics around 1960-- I got -- once I became a lawyer, I became active in the law organizations. Being a lawyer allows you to do those things. I chaired quite a few of the organizations, I was the founder of a (unintelligible). I was President of the Latin American (unintelligible) Foundation, a member of the Anti-discrimination Commission; I was the Chairman of that; Chairman of the Human Relations Commission of Denver. And I was active in quite a few boards, you know, the YMCA, art museum, botanical gardens, you name it, and I was-- I was a member of that. That led me into the field of politics. I was the Chairman of our Improvement Association. So then, so I was elected in the Senate in 1964, and served there until '76.

Amy Nofziger:

It sounds like we may be at that point where we say, "Gee, is there anything else you would like to add, or is there a question you thought we were going to ask or you were hoping that we were going to ask that you would like to give us some thoughts on?"

Roger Cisneros:

No. I -- as I look back, I-- you know, I'm getting to be-- I'm 78 now. I'm getting to the age where you start thinking about the past. And like I said before, I've started to studying a lot about the other wars, the -- especially, the Civil War, and I find it very fascinating. And times have changed to where the wars are different than they used to be. World War II veterans, you know, they talk about the real war, you know, everything else -- Vietnam, I know, was-- was the big war, but we lost more men in Okinawa in a few months than we did in the entire war in Vietnam. So, you kind of, you know, think well, World War II was the big one, and it's nothing to boast about, but I-- things were different, you know, the entire country was united. Servicemen -- if you had a uniform, you were treated-- in Chicago was a city where everything was free if you had a uniform: Bus rides, movies, baseball games. They had all kinds of USO's. You didn't have to spend a cent -- taxis, and you kind of get spoiled you know. Vietnam, of course was, you had a uniform you looked down, and it's unfair. But -- so in a way, there is a lot of -- a lot of things that you enjoyed when you were in the service, you know. It-- it-- it was fun in a way, you know. You-- people were being killed, but there was also a lot of camaraderie. You know, you were united for a common cause, and it's-- you kind of looked with favor upon those things. There was a lot of things, of course, that seeing people being killed and stuff like that. Sometimes you would forget those bad things and remember (unintelligible). So, I think what you're doing is great. I wish I had kept a diary because there is a lot of things that I'm pretty sure (unintelligible).

Amy Nofziger:

On behalf of AARP and the Library of Congress, we would like to thank you for sharing your oral history with us and Amy, I thank you too. It's been a very informative hour here talking with you about your experiences. Thank you.

 
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