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Interview with Anthony D. Lopez [5/18/2004]

Nelson Priest:

Today is May 18th, 2004. This is Nelson Priest with the Veterans History Project. And today I have an interview with Mr. Anthony Lopez. Mr. Lopez lives here in Denver, Colorado. His address is 4095 West Arizona Street. Anthony, I want to thank you for taking time out to share your World War II experiences with us, today. First of all, would you give us your full name, your date of birth, and your current address?

Anthony D. Lopez:

My name is Anthony Lopez. Anthony D. as in David. And, I live at [redacted] Colorado. My date of birth was [redacted].

Nelson Priest:

And, Tony, what branch of the service did you serve in during World War II?

Anthony D. Lopez:

I was in the Army. I was a paratrooper with the 503rd.

Nelson Priest:

And, what was your rank as you -- when you entered the service, please?

Anthony D. Lopez:

When I entered the service I was a private.

Nelson Priest:

And, what rank did you -- had you achieved at the time you ended your service with the Army?

Anthony D. Lopez:

I was a staff sergeant when I was discharged.

Nelson Priest:

Were you drafted or did you enlist in the service?

Anthony D. Lopez:

No. I enlisted right after high school.

Nelson Priest:

And, when would that have been, Tony?

Anthony D. Lopez:

That was in March of 1943.

Nelson Priest:

And, where were you living at the time? Was that here in the Denver area?

Anthony D. Lopez:

I was living in Denver -- in east Denver.

Nelson Priest:

And, why exactly did you join? That was a year-and-a-half after Pearl Harbor. You were just a young man, at that time, of course.

Anthony D. Lopez:

Yes. I was 18, and the war was going full-blast and I thought I could do something to help so -- but after high school I just volunteered to go into the service.

Nelson Priest:

And, why did you pick the Army? You, of course, being a volunteer, could have chosen the Navy, or the Marines, or another branch of service. What was it that compelled you to join the United States Army?

Anthony D. Lopez:

I believe it was just the fastest way to go because they had an induction center right here at Ft. Logan.

Nelson Priest:

And, that's on the south side of Denver, isn't it?

Anthony D. Lopez:

Yes.

Nelson Priest:

Do you recall your first days in the service, exactly what happened? Could you, kind of, walk us through your first days in the Army?

Anthony D. Lopez:

Well, yes. We went to Ft. Logan and we were there two or three days. And, then they shipped us off to our basic training camp which, for me, was Camp Roberts, California.

Nelson Priest:

That's boot camp, right?

Anthony D. Lopez:

Yes. And, we took our basic training there.

Nelson Priest:

And, how long did the basic training last, Tony?

Anthony D. Lopez:

I was there two months, and then somebody come along from the paratrooper outfit, wanted some volunteers to join to become paratroopers. So myself and three of my buddies, kind of, volunteered to go.

Nelson Priest:

So you became a paratrooper after you enlisted. When you first enlisted you were not -- you did not join the airborne at that time; is that correct?

Anthony D. Lopez:

No. No. I was in regular infantry training.

Nelson Priest:

And, was this still in the camp in California?

Anthony D. Lopez:

Which camp was this?

Nelson Priest:

Yes. Was that your -- the camp that you went to in California for basic training.

Anthony D. Lopez:

Oh, yes. Camp Roberts.

Nelson Priest:

What part of the state is that in? I'm unfamiliar with Camp Roberts.

Anthony D. Lopez:

That is right in the Mojave Desert. It's close to Bakersfield.

Nelson Priest:

And, what was your job assignment at that point?

Anthony D. Lopez:

At that time, we were just learning to be soldiers. We were taking -- doing a lot of marching, a lot of running, and a lot of rifle range. And, I was pretty well -- I was pretty much, say, real good with the rifle 'cause I had been doing it since I was a little kid. And, actually, I shot battalion high and I think my record, probably, would still stand. I shot 195 out of a possible 200, which was a high score in a battalion.

Nelson Priest:

Yeah, that's very high. Congratulations. Then, you went overseas; is that correct?

Anthony D. Lopez:

Well, no. We went to Ft. Benning, Georgia for -- for airborne training.

Nelson Priest:

And, how long did that last, Tony?

Anthony D. Lopez:

That was another two months.

Nelson Priest:

And --

Anthony D. Lopez:

We went overseas -- we left in September.

Nelson Priest:

Did you go directly overseas --

Anthony D. Lopez:

We went directly --

Nelson Priest:

-- from the Ft. Benning or did you go back to California, first?

Anthony D. Lopez:

We went to California to the POE at Angel Island. And, we left there first part of September. And, it took us about two weeks to get to Sydney, Australia. And, then, we joined the 80, the 100 -- oh my gosh. We joined the 503 in Brisbane, Australia.

Nelson Priest:

Now, did you go from California to Australia via troop ship?

Anthony D. Lopez:

Yes. It was a troop ship.

Nelson Priest:

And, do you remember the name of that vessel?

Anthony D. Lopez:

Well, actually it was the -- the big, fancy vessel from -- that they borrowed from England, The Queen Mary. They had transported that into a tube ship.

Nelson Priest:

And, that was Queen Mary I, then?

Anthony D. Lopez:

Yes.

Nelson Priest:

Okay. And, your first landing was in Australia; is that correct?

Anthony D. Lopez:

Yes.

Nelson Priest:

So we've taken you from California to Ft. Benning to Australia. So what happens next, Tony?

Anthony D. Lopez:

Well, next, we were on the way to join the 503 because they were getting ready to make a jump at an island they called Lae -- the Markham Valley jump. And I -- on the way, I was taken to a hospital because I had an appendix that burst on me. So they dropped me off on a little field hospital right on the island of Milne Bay. And, I stayed there for two weeks. They took my appendix out. And, then, I caught up with the 503, and they had already gone to Lae and back. So they had finished that combat jump. So I missed that one.

Nelson Priest:

What was the name of this island? "Lae", you're saying?

Anthony D. Lopez:

It's the island of Lae.

Nelson Priest:

Do you know the spelling of that one?

Anthony D. Lopez:

Yeah. L-a-e.

Nelson Priest:

L-a-e?

Anthony D. Lopez:

Yes.

Nelson Priest:

Yes. I've never heard of that one.

Anthony D. Lopez:

And, the place that they took was the Markham Valley -- there was an airstrip there in the Markham Valley.

Nelson Priest:

And, that was the first combat jump for the 503?

Anthony D. Lopez:

Right.

Nelson Priest:

And you unfortunately missed that?

Anthony D. Lopez:

I missed that. I was kind of laid up.

Nelson Priest:

And, what was the reason that you were laid up?

Anthony D. Lopez:

They took my appendix out. I had a burst appendix, so they had to remove it.

Nelson Priest:

And, after you were released from the hospital you rejoined the 503; would that be correct?

Anthony D. Lopez:

Yes.

Nelson Priest:

And, could you tell us a little bit about your combat experiences? What actually took place with you and with the 503 after you rejoined your unit?

Anthony D. Lopez:

Yes. After I rejoined, we all went into jungle training. And, we would do it -- we did that for about four months, pretty much steady, learning to shoot in the jungle, to fight in the jungle, to survive in the jungle. And, then, our next combat mission was in -- on the island of Noemfoor, in New Guinea.

Nelson Priest:

And, do you know the spelling of that, Tony?

Anthony D. Lopez:

N-o-e-m-f-o-o-r.

Nelson Priest:

Noemfoor.

Anthony D. Lopez:

Noemfoor, in New Guinea. These were both New Guinea jumps there.

Nelson Priest:

Is that where you were trained in jungle warfare, then?

Anthony D. Lopez:

Yes. Because we knew that we'd be going into -- well, of course, not only New Guinea, but we were going into the Philippines.

Nelson Priest:

Would you tell us a little bit about the first time you were exposed to combat?

Anthony D. Lopez:

Well, the -- Noemfoor was a real tough -- a hard jump because the island itself was all nothing but a big mud hole. But underneath the mud, you find nothing but coral. So you hit the ground and you expect to land soft and you're really landing on coral rock.

Nelson Priest:

Hard rock.

Anthony D. Lopez:

Yes.

Nelson Priest:

Sharp, hard rock.

Anthony D. Lopez:

Sharp, hard rock, yes. We had a lot of people that just scraped from the hip down or from the hip up or whatever; they got dragged and they were just -- but the jump went okay. We jumped two battalions and it went good. And, we were there three weeks. We were, you might say, the spearhead. And, once we -- what we used to do is usually once we took the objective, then, we would get replacements to come in and we would move on.

Nelson Priest:

Were these replacements in the 503 or were they from other units?

Anthony D. Lopez:

No. No. They were other units that came in. Well, primarily, our job was to take the airfields so that we could bring in weapons and food supplies and use the strip to further to the next island that was being taken.

Nelson Priest:

Had the Japanese fortified this particular airstrip?

Anthony D. Lopez:

They fortified all of the airstrips, yes. Because they knew that we would be going in and that was also their lifeline, so if they cut off their airstrip they couldn't get any supplies in either.

Nelson Priest:

So it's fair to say that once the Japanese knew that you were coming, they tenaciously defended these airstrips?

Anthony D. Lopez:

Yes. That's true.

Nelson Priest:

And, tenacious defense means that there was probably some pretty high combat going on?

Anthony D. Lopez:

Yes. Yes.

Nelson Priest:

Would you mind telling us a little bit about your experiences in combat, if you don't mind?

Anthony D. Lopez:

Noemfoor? It was -- it was pretty, you might say, pretty close to hand-to-hand. It wasn't actual hand-to-hand. But they were dug in, in caves and tunnels and stuff all around the strips, that we had to more-or-less hand-dig them out.

Nelson Priest:

You could actually see the Japanese soldiers?

Anthony D. Lopez:

Oh, you could see them. You could see them -- on all of these islands, you could see them.

Nelson Priest:

As I understand in my reading, for instance of Iwo Jima, that the Japanese were so well dug in the many times the American Marines simply shot at targets they couldn't see. They were shooting at spaces, in other words.

Anthony D. Lopez:

Well, but that's true with any combat, though, because you get into a fire fight and you see fire from some area and your fire back into that area. You actually don't see, but there are many times when you do come hand-to-hand or face-to-face with them because they're moving and we're moving.

Nelson Priest:

Then, how long did it take your unit to secure Noemfoor?

Anthony D. Lopez:

We were there 3 -- 4 weeks.

Nelson Priest:

And, then, back to where -- what location?

Anthony D. Lopez:

From Noemfoor, we loaded up and went to the island of Leyte. We were moving forward. What the object of MacArthur was to move from island to island and bypass the ones that were not very essential to take, and take the bigger ones. His idea was to take the strips and move closer and closer to Japan. And we would have -- also always have the airstrips so that we would have supplies for all the people moving ahead.

Nelson Priest:

Is this still 1943, or have we moved into 1944?

Anthony D. Lopez:

No. This is 1944.

Nelson Priest:

So Tarawa was toward the end of '43, so 1944 brought which big battles in, if you remember?

Anthony D. Lopez:

This was July, and 1944.

Nelson Priest:

Saipan would have been fought in that period?

Anthony D. Lopez:

I think, at the time the Marines hit -- you know what, I really --

Nelson Priest:

Maybe Guam, Saipan --

Anthony D. Lopez:

Guam was one. And, it was just so many islands that we would hit one and some of the other outfits would hit one or two. So we were just moving island to island, but we were not just doing it ourselves. It was always Marines, and Army, and everybody moving ahead, taking an island.

Nelson Priest:

Were you aware of the movements of other units? Were you aware, in other words, of what was going on in other areas of the Pacific other than where you were, specifically? I don't know, frankly, how wide the communication would have been, at that time?

Anthony D. Lopez:

Not too much. The only thing I can say is that we were aware of, maybe, the island next to us. Mindanao was an island -- it was a large island, and we were aware that there was a lot of fighting going on there.

Nelson Priest:

Did you -- were you aware also of what was going on in Europe? This would have been right after D-day in the ____ in France.

Anthony D. Lopez:

No. We had no communication with anything from Europe.

Nelson Priest:

Okay. Now, can you go ahead and tell us about your experiences in the Philippines.

Anthony D. Lopez:

Okay. After Noemfoor, we left -- we loaded up and went to the island of Leyte. And, this was not actually a combat island for us because the infantry had come in there 3 or 4 days before. So we hit the beach and we set up a perimeter to defend the beach because they -- the news was that the Japanese had troops coming in, landing back on Leyte. And, so we were on the beach, and then, during the second and third night there, they had what they called the Battle of Leyte Gulf. And, that was a big naval battle where the Japanese were pretty well whipped. And, that went on -- was just like a spectacular 4th of July show, day and night.

Nelson Priest:

Was that the Marianas, so-called, Marianas Turkey Shoot, or was that another?

Anthony D. Lopez:

No. I think that was another one. But this was -- actually, was not a turkey shoot because they were both going at it. But they did wipe out the Japanese Navy, pretty well. And, the one transport troop ship that they had, eventually it must have got sunk because we never had any troops hit the beach.

Nelson Priest:

If -- when you landed on this island, this was not via a parachute drop, it was --

Anthony D. Lopez:

No, this was by boat.

Nelson Priest:

Amtraks or --

Anthony D. Lopez:

No, landing craft infantry.

Nelson Priest:

Okay.

Anthony D. Lopez:

And, then, we were there for three weeks and then we were alerted to hit the island of Mindoro.

Nelson Priest:

Now, had you secured the island at the time?

Anthony D. Lopez:

The island was pretty well secured. There were a lot of Japanese, but they had all headed for the hills. And, they had -- I think it was the 134th infantry there. So they were, pretty well, in charge of the island.

Nelson Priest:

The American 134th infantry?

Anthony D. Lopez:

Yes. Yeah.

Nelson Priest:

Okay. So what --

Anthony D. Lopez:

We were alerted to -- we were going to take the island of Mindoro, next.

Nelson Priest:

Okay. Now, did you leave by boat again or were you dropped by parachute on Mindoro? How exactly did you --

Anthony D. Lopez:

No. We were supposed to drop by parachute, but they didn't have enough planes and enough time, I guess, to get all of the 503 loaded and sent to Mindoro, so we finally just went in by beach head.

Nelson Priest:

And were you -- did you meet opposition on the beach? Like, the films you would always see the Marines hitting the beach and the Japanese were waiting for them. Was that the instance in Mindoro?

Anthony D. Lopez:

We hit some opposition. It wasn't as much as we expected because they had also got word that we were coming in.

Nelson Priest:

And, they had gone to the hills?

Anthony D. Lopez:

And, they had gone to the hills.

Nelson Priest:

So you pursued them into the hills?

Anthony D. Lopez:

Oh yes. We pursued them.

Nelson Priest:

And, can you tell us a little bit about what went on in Mindoro?

Anthony D. Lopez:

Well, Mindoro was -- we went through two cities there where they had -- they had, had Japanese in charge. And, it was kind of pathetic to see the people because they were, pretty well, malnutritioned and not -- not very well treated. And, they were happy to see us come in there. And, then --

Nelson Priest:

The Japanese treated them pretty poorly if I recall from my reading.

Anthony D. Lopez:

Yes. Yes. The Japanese would treat them very, very bad. So we went on through the two cities and on into the hills and we pursued them for, probably, two months. And, we would run into patrols often and -- back and forth. And, we finally went back -- we also had the job of securing the air base there, which was San Jose Airstrip. So we went back and set up perimeter around the airstrip.

Nelson Priest:

Was there much fighting going on or were you just kind of playing cat and mouse games with the Japanese? Or did you -- were you involved in hostile combat, pretty much?

Anthony D. Lopez:

At times, it was pretty hot -- at times. And, other times it was just patrolling with no success. It just happened that at times you would run into a platoon of them or a company of them and it would get pretty hot.

Nelson Priest:

Were you aided in any form by the Philippine Gorillas?

Anthony D. Lopez:

Yes, we were. Actually, on all the islands they were real eager to join with us and they had more knowledge of where the Japanese would hide. So they did. They helped us quite a bit, actually. On the island of Negros I used some Filipinos to help dig out some Japanese, but this was later on.

Nelson Priest:

At this stage in the war, we are speaking toward the end of 1944, the summer -- the fall of 1944? Were the Japanese, at this time, well armed? Were they in combat readiness or did they, pretty much, foresee that the end of the war was in sight and it was not going to be in their favor.

Anthony D. Lopez:

No. I believe that the Japanese would -- were never a group that would say, "I quit. I surrender." We never had any of them come in and say I surrender because they -- actually they would rather commit hari-kiri rather than surrender. Or, they would rather come in with a grenade strapped to their back or a machine gun strapped to their back and try to kill some GI's with them.

Nelson Priest:

Did you exterminate them on Mindoro or did they just simply meld into the jungle? What was the resolution there?

Anthony D. Lopez:

I think Mindoro, they just kind of melded away. We never got a large contingent out of there and we chased them up into the high mountains and high hills. And, as far as we were concerned, they would stay up there.

Nelson Priest:

So Mindoro was considered secured at that point?

Anthony D. Lopez:

Yes.

Nelson Priest:

And, so what happens next to the 503?

Anthony D. Lopez:

Then, we were alerted to hit the island of Corregidor, which was the island where MacArthur had been shipped out of and where ?Wayne Ride? had signed the surrender to the Japanese.

Nelson Priest:

And, this is where MacArthur vowed to return.

Anthony D. Lopez:

Yes. He said I shall come back. I shall return.

Nelson Priest:

And, you were part of the units that went back, that did, in fact, return.

Anthony D. Lopez:

Yes. We did. We returned. We kind of took them by surprise because this was a parachute jump, and they didn't expect that anybody could jump on that tiny top of the island that they had there. Corregidor is just like a high peak. Yes. We kind of took them by surprise because they did have intelligence saying that -- that they were going to drop airborne troops on Corregidor. And, the story that we got is that the commanding officer went top side and said there's no way, they're just trying to make us believe that they're going to jump parachute troops up here so that we can split our forces. He says, what we'll do is we'll just concentrate all our fire power on the beach, because we know it's just a trick. He says it's impossible to jump parachute troops up here. So we kind of fooled them and we did jump parachute troops up there. So we took the top side of the island. And, then the infantry and the other artillery and stuff come through the beach. So we kind of caught them in between -- in the middle. And they couldn't go one way or the other.

Nelson Priest:

And, what was the resolution here? Did you wipe out the Japanese forces or, again, do they just kind of meld back into the hillside?

Anthony D. Lopez:

No, there was nowhere they could go there. The island was just about a half a mile island. And, it was concentrated with tunnels, and caves, and piles of ammunition and stuff. And, they were -- what we were given to understand when we jumped was that there were about 3,000 Japanese there. And, actually the dead count was 6,000-and-some and we only had 50 that were alive after the mission was over.

Nelson Priest:

Well, I was going to say the Japanese, at this time, were not known for surrendering in any numbers of any size. So it was pretty much a case of suicidal banzai charges, and such?

Anthony D. Lopez:

Yes. The first night wasn't too bad. The first night they sent out feelers, I would say, with guys throwing hand grenades and kind of trying to give us -- get our positions and so on. And, we killed a few the first night but it wasn't real -- real hot. But the next day, as soon as it got daylight, there was no way that you could not see them because they were in the ravines and we were on top. And, they were -- what they were doing is -- what happened is that the bombing knocked out their communications. So what they were doing -- they were sending runners from one side of the ravines to the other to give the messages to what they were going to do next. So we kind of got wise to that and we saw a guy running across. And, I'd tell them shoot. Don't let him get across. That's a runner. So our guys were doing a pretty good job of knocking those runners off.

Nelson Priest:

What distance were you from the Japanese? Was this 100-yards, 50-yards, 400-yards?

Anthony D. Lopez:

When they were down in the bottom of the ravines, we were around, say, 100 to 150-yards. And, at night when they came up it was just almost --

Nelson Priest:

Almost hand-to-hand?

Anthony D. Lopez:

-- it was hand-to-hand a few nights. But we knew, more or less, that they would be coming up every night so we would just take our positions and set our weapons and set our ammunition right beside us. And, just as soon as they started up we just kept firing.

Nelson Priest:

Could you tell us a little bit about the casualties that your unit sustained. I know it's never all one sided. Inevitably, the Americans sustained losses, as well. Could you tell me a little bit about what kind of percentage of casualties your unit had?

Anthony D. Lopez:

We lost -- on Corregidor, we lost 197 dead plus over 500 wounded. And, I would say, I think, the story says about 135 hurt on the jump itself.

Nelson Priest:

And, let's go back to Mindoro a moment. What were your casualties like in taking Mindoro?

Anthony D. Lopez:

Mindoro was mostly, I would say, not casualties from combat as much a casualties from jungle rot, heat, and malaria.

Nelson Priest:

And, Corregidor was more?

Anthony D. Lopez:

Corregidor was -- yes. It was mostly -- Corregidor was, you might say, hand-to-hand every night.

Nelson Priest:

Anthony, we're sitting here in your office -- the office of your home. And, I noticed on your wall you have a plaque -- or several plaques. And, among the medals I see here are the Purple Heart the Bronze Star. Could you tell us how you happened to receive those two medals, please?

Anthony D. Lopez:

Yes. This was on the second or third day. I'm not -- can't really recollect, but we --

Nelson Priest:

On Corregidor?

Anthony D. Lopez:

On Corregidor. Yes. This was on Corregidor. And, we were looking down into the ravines. It was all ravines, and we were on top side. But we kept looking because they kept coming up. And, we saw one boy that was down there that, to me, looked like an American GI. So one of the guys was going to shoot him. And, I said, "Hold it, hold it. That's not a Japanese. Wait." He said, "No, he's just got one of our uniforms on." I said, "No. No. Hold on." So the guy took his helmet off and he waved and he was blond. So I said that's an American GI and he's hurt. He was wounded, he was barely walking so --

Nelson Priest:

Was he from the 503?

Anthony D. Lopez:

He was from the 503. He was a paratrooper. And ,so our lieutenant and one of the other boys ran down to help him and we stayed up to cover. But they got -- they run into an automatic rifle on the way down and they both got wounded. So they couldn't get to the guy. So then Tony had to bring up the lieutenant because his arm was shattered. So then myself and my buddy, O'Connell, decided, well, we can't leave the guy down there. So we said we're going down and we took a bed spring off of a wall. I said, "We're not armed, you guys cover us." Because we don't have a weapon -- we couldn't carry weapon and carry him back.

Nelson Priest:

How far did you have to go to reach this trooper?

Anthony D. Lopez:

Oh, probably, 150-yards down. It was, pretty much, down. So we went down and we got to him and we put him on the stretcher on this bed spring and we started back up with him. And, we got to the spot where the lieutenant and Tony had been hit. And, I told Bob, I said, Bob, I said when you get to that spot, go like hell. I said run because they're going to pepper us. He said okay. And, it was a big jumpment of rocks about 20-yards above there. I said if you can get behind those rocks we'll be okay because we'll have cover from there. So we got to the open spot and sure enough, boy, they opened up on us. So at the same time I got hit and I felt it hit me. And, then, Bob, he yelled and says, "I'm hit," and he fell. So I says, "Get up, Bob. Get up." I says, "You got to go. You got to go." So he kind of turned himself on his back and with one good leg, he grabbed the -- his end of the stretcher, and we pulled it up and finally got up to the pile of rocks.

Nelson Priest:

Tony, were you hit by shrapnel or by bullet?

Anthony D. Lopez:

No. We got shot.

Nelson Priest:

By bullets?

Anthony D. Lopez:

By bullets, yes. And, I -- I really believe, because we've talked this over at our reunions, that the same bullet that came -- went through me went right up into his leg.

Nelson Priest:

Where were you hit, if I may ask?

Anthony D. Lopez:

I was hit on the left hip?

Nelson Priest:

But the bullet is not still in your body?

Anthony D. Lopez:

Oh, no. No. It went right through me, actually, it didn't hit bone, but it went right me and it went right -- he was right above me carrying the stretcher.

Nelson Priest:

And, you think this was the same bullet?

Anthony D. Lopez:

And, it went right back -- right into him. The same time I got hit, he yelled. So, I'm sure. And, just by the trajectory, I would say it was the same slug. So I call him my blood brother.

Nelson Priest:

And, would I de-ascertain that this was a rifle or machine-gun bullet?

Anthony D. Lopez:

I would say it was an automatic because dirt was kicking up all around. And, when the lieutenant got hit, it was automatic fire.

Nelson Priest:

How about the young, blond cripple you described? Did you -- were you able to recover his --

Anthony D. Lopez:

No. We got him up and we got him to the hospital, but he died the next day. So I don't know if he was hit again on the stretcher or if he just had too many wounds.

Nelson Priest:

Was he conscience when you first got to him?

Anthony D. Lopez:

He was, kind of -- I would say half-conscience. He realized that we were going to try to get him out of there.

Nelson Priest:

And, that's how you were awarded your Purple Heart?

Anthony D. Lopez:

Yes.

Nelson Priest:

And, the Bronze Star, please?

Anthony D. Lopez:

That's same -- the same time.

Nelson Priest:

Now, Tony, after you were wounded, could you continue to tell us your story and, consequently, the story of the 503rd on Corregidor, please?

Anthony D. Lopez:

Yes. After I was wounded, we kind of -- my friend, O'Connell, had to go because he couldn't -- he couldn't walk. His leg was, pretty well, hit. But I stayed with the outfit for the next day. And, they just kind of banded me up. And, we went on patrol the next morning. And, we hit some pretty good opposition. And, we come back that night and we decided the only way to get them out of those caves was going to to be either flamethrowers or direct fire from the artillery. So we did have the artillery with us, the 462nd, and they had these 75-millimeter howitzers which we would have them pull around to the mouth of the cave and then just blast the caves. Anyway, on -- the after the third day, I was kind of feeling pretty bad. I couldn't hardly walk anymore. So I went -- then I went to the field hospital. And, that night the Japanese broke through our lines. And, we had probably a dozen up on top site. But they didn't last very long because we were firing from the hospital, and our officers were firing from their headquarters, so they did quick work with those guys.

Nelson Priest:

To your knowledge, did your unit sustain any casualties in killed or wounded in this incident?

Anthony D. Lopez:

During which?

Nelson Priest:

During this latest incident you just told us about.

Anthony D. Lopez:

When they broke through the lines? Yeah. Yeah. Actually, we had one -- one Platoon in D Company that was pretty well -- pretty well beat up that night. They kind of took them by surprise. And, you could hear it. I was in -- laying on -- by a window there in the hospital there -- a broken out window. And, I could hear the things going. You could hear helmet-to-helmet and rifle butt to just -- and you could just hear them yelling. And, they fought all night.

Nelson Priest:

And, so did this conclude the fighting on Corregidor, or was there more to come?

Anthony D. Lopez:

No. No. Actually, after I left -- I left on the fifth day. They put me on the hospital ship. And, that night, I understand, that they come out with a full bonsai attack. And, they were, pretty well, wiped out. We had one boy that was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor there because he -- he was out on -- he was on point, and the rest of the outfit had to pull back. And, he -- I guess either he didn't hear or he was too busy. And, he had a machine gun out there and he just kept firing all night. And, my understanding was that he had about 230 piled up around him the next morning.

Nelson Priest:

Did he survive or was he --

Anthony D. Lopez:

He did. He was shot. And, maybe that's one reason why he didn't move. He was shot in the back. And, he had a -- the slug stayed up against his backbone somewhere against his spine. But he came home, and he lived here in Denver. And he --

Nelson Priest:

Did you know him in Denver --

Anthony D. Lopez:

I knew him -- no.

Nelson Priest:

-- before the war?

Anthony D. Lopez:

No. I didn't. I knew him in the 503. And, but he did come home. He then he died here, I would say, six years ago, something like.

Nelson Priest:

And, was that the conclusion of fighting on Corregidor?

Anthony D. Lopez:

The fighting on Corregidor went on for two weeks. And, after two weeks, that's when they finally --

Nelson Priest:

They wiped the Japs out. There just simply weren't anymore.

Anthony D. Lopez:

Yes. They said there were maybe 50 stragglers that came in afterwards. And, they tried to swim the island, and everything else, to get out of there but they just couldn't.

Nelson Priest:

Is this still 1944 that we're in?

Anthony D. Lopez:

This is 1945 -- February.

Nelson Priest:

So, perhaps, the end is in sight. February of '45, of course, was the date of Iwo Jima. The battle of --

Anthony D. Lopez:

Yes.

Nelson Priest:

-- Iwo Jima occurred.

Anthony D. Lopez:

Yes. Right. So they were -- like I say there were battles going on on different islands. And, actually right across the bay from us the 11th Airborne was going some heavy fighting in Manila.

Nelson Priest:

Now, did you go into Manila yourself at all?

Anthony D. Lopez:

No. No. The 503 never went to Manila.

Nelson Priest:

Is Manila on the island of Luzon or is it on --

Anthony D. Lopez:

It is part of Luzon.

Nelson Priest:

And, there was some heavy fighting that occurred in the streets of Manila. I recall having seeing all the photographs from that.

Anthony D. Lopez:

Yeah. Yeah.

Nelson Priest:

So where were you when the war ended? Had you been taken back to Australia or were you still in the islands?

Anthony D. Lopez:

No. We were -- two weeks after Corregidor we went back to Mindoro. That was our base island. And, two weeks to three weeks after that, we were told we were going to hit the island of Negros. So we hit the island of Negros. That was also a beach -- beach landing. And, Negros was, in my opinion, of course I wasn't all through Corregidor, but, in my opinion, it was the toughest fight that we had because we were in, you might say, solid fighting for six months.

Nelson Priest:

Now, Tony, I don't know Negros. Is that part of the Philippines? Are we still in the Philippine Islands?

Anthony D. Lopez:

Yes. Yes. It's still the Philippine Islands.

Nelson Priest:

And, what made this was the toughest part of the action that you had seen?

Anthony D. Lopez:

Well, it was such a large island and there were so many troops in there -- Japanese troops in there that we was continuous patrolling the end of the jungles. And, we did hit firefights there every time we went on patrol. And, it was tough. Plus, we hit -- hit a lot of bad luck with dysentery and jungle rot -- a lot of malaria. And, so we -- it took toll on the company. My company was, at one time, down to nine men.

Nelson Priest:

From what?

Anthony D. Lopez:

From 135 -- 140. So we kept trying to take one hill one night and -- well, actually for about 3 or 4 nights. And, our -- finally, our commander wanted to know why F Company wasn't taking that hill. And, our lieutenant -- we had one officer left, Lieutenant Bill Calhoon. And, he says, "I'm sorry, sir."

Nelson Priest:

There's not any F Company left.

Anthony D. Lopez:

We just -- I says -- we just -- he told him, "We just can't do it. We don't have enough men. Every time we get up to a certain point, they kick up back down." And, he says, "Oh, there's not supposed to be that many up there." He says, "Tomorrow morning, I want a platoon to go up with me. I want to go see for myself." So he came down the next morning, that was Colonel Jones, and, we come -- we filed out. It was nine of us, including the lieutenant. And, he says, "I asked you for a platoon." And, he says, "This is it. This is all you got in the company." And, he couldn't believe it. He says, "Oh my God," he says. So the next day we got D Company over there to help us out and we went up. But that was a continuous battle.

Nelson Priest:

Tony, were there other units involved here, or was this strictly up to the 503?

Anthony D. Lopez:

No. There was an infantry outfit. I believe it was the 134th Infantry. But they stayed for, oh, I would say, the first month. And, then, they -- they said that the battle was over because they hadn't really seen a lot of opposition. So they pulled out. But the Japanese were stacked up in those hills. And, every time we went out on a patrol, we got it pretty good. So it lasted -- we were there six months. Actually, that's when the war ended.

Nelson Priest:

Negros you were in for six months?

Anthony D. Lopez:

Negros we were in for six months.

Nelson Priest:

That sounds like a major combat zone. So you were there when the bombs were dropped; is that correct?

Anthony D. Lopez:

Yes. Yes. Yes.

Nelson Priest:

What was your -- did you experience elation at the fact that the bombs had been dropped? I know that your were probably anticipating being part of the invasion force that was scheduled to strike Japan Proper.

Anthony D. Lopez:

Well, that was going to be our next mission. We were already told that after Negros, it was going to be right into the main island of Japan. So we -- my opinion is that -- most of us would not have come home if we would have hit the island of Japan because they -- they estimated we'd lose a million people there.

Nelson Priest:

I know the troops in Europe that were involved in the fighting against the German forces in Europe were anticipating being sent to Japan for the invasion -- the post invasion until President Truman, of course, decided, in my view, wisely, to end the war with a bomb. So you were in Negros at the time the war ended?

Anthony D. Lopez:

Yes. We were all in Negros.

Nelson Priest:

Did you return to the United States directly from the Philippines, or did you go back to Australia? Could you tell us a little bit about your route home once the war had come to a conclusion in the Pacific?

Anthony D. Lopez:

Yes. Once we got all of the Japanese troops to come out of the hills and surrender -- this was in September. I think it was September the 6th when we got the last bunch coming out of there. And, the war, I guess -- I think, actually, was over in August.

Nelson Priest:

August? The surrender documents were signed in the first two or three days of September, but the war was declared over in August -- August of '45.

Anthony D. Lopez:

Mm-hm. Right. So when we finally got all of the Japanese troops to come out and surrender, we then disbanded the 503. And, the guys with enough points to come home, we came home. And, the rest went on to Korea or Japan as occupational forces. And, I came home. I came home in December of '45.

Nelson Priest:

And, at what point did you join at 82nd Airborne.

Anthony D. Lopez:

I rejoined before I even was -was discharged. I went ahead and just re-enlisted into the -- I re-enlisted and, then, I came home for furlough and, then, they sent me to the 82nd.

Nelson Priest:

Were you married at that time?

Anthony D. Lopez:

No.

Nelson Priest:

And, at what point did you marry?

Anthony D. Lopez:

Right when I came home after that.

Nelson Priest:

And, then you were eventually sent to Alaska with the 82nd?

Anthony D. Lopez:

Yes. We were at Ft. Bragg. And, we -- they wanted our company to go up to Alaska and test winter equipment -- so we -- our company volunteered to go. It was all volunteer.

Nelson Priest:

Tony, I'm going to take you back to the Pacific, for just a moment. Before the war ended, how did you stay in touch with your family back here in the United States? I know you were moving around, a lot, from Australia to the islands in the Philippines, and so on. How was your lines of communication with your family back here in the United States?

Anthony D. Lopez:

Oh, it wasn't great. We had -- we were allowed to send letter, but it took, probably, two months to get from the Philippines, or wherever we were, to home. And, then, if they answered back, it would be another three weeks to two months before we even got one, if they knew where to find us. Because we were moving all the time. We were always moving from one island to another. So the communication wasn't -- wasn't great.

Nelson Priest:

Did you have any brothers that served in the military during the war?

Anthony D. Lopez:

No, I didn't.

Nelson Priest:

I know from what you've told me that you experienced a lot of diverse living conditions. I'm going to ask you now, what was the food like, overall, while you were in the service?

Anthony D. Lopez:

Our food -- our food was good. It -- it was what we needed to survive on. It was nourishing. We were on rations, and it was good. We can't really complain about the food because we -- it kept us going. As a matter of fact, now that you mention that, one time we hit a Japanese camp, and they were cooking up a big old pot of rice. So we killed off a few, and the rest ran away. And, we hit the camp, and I saw this big pot of rice.

Nelson Priest:

Rice for everyone.

Anthony D. Lopez:

I took my canteen cup and I filled it with rice. And, then I took a package of powdered milk, put it in there, put water on there, and put some sugar in. And, everybody said, "What are you doing?" I said, "I'm eating some rice pudding." Yep.

Nelson Priest:

Tony, while you were in the service, I know, of course, that your Hispanic ancestry -- were you able to utilize your skill in Spanish while you were in the Philippines? I know, of course, that the dominate language in the Philippines is Spanish. Did that serve you well?

Anthony D. Lopez:

I did. I could talk to all the elders. They all spoke Spanish, yes. Not the Japanese, they didn't. But all the elder Filipinos, yes, I carried on good conversation with them.

Nelson Priest:

Were you appointed any special, not privilege, but -- did you have special designation because of your skills with Spanish that your superiors bestowed upon you?

Anthony D. Lopez:

Well, not really because of that, but I know that one time, this was on Negros, and all the Filipino farmers were leaving their farms because they were afraid of the Japanese coming down and raiding them every night. So I asked for a -- this man from this one plantation came and asked our company commander if we could get some help up there so that the farmers wouldn't leave. He said, "Because if they leave we're not going to have crops." So, then, I asked for three men. I said, "Give me three guys, and I'll go up there and I'll set up an outpost. And, I'll patrol their aziendas." He said, "With three guys?" I said, "Yeah. I'm sure I can get some help." So I did, and we went up to this man's azienda and we went out on patrol ever day. To -- there were about six aziendas there -- big plantations. And, we would pick up two or three Filipinos a day that wanted to go with us. So, eventually, after about four days, I had about a 20-man platoon out there. And, they wanted weapons. They used to use machetes. So they wanted weapons. So I went in -- we took one prisoner one day. I took him in to the headquarters because they asked me if you _____ as a prisoner, we need a prisoner. We need to interrogate. So we captured one and we took him in. And, then I asked the seal, I says, "Could we have some of those Japanese rifles that we've got in the trailers out there?" He said, "What do you want them for?" I said, "Well, I've got all these guys that want to fight and they don't have weapons. He said, "You sure they know how to handle them?" I said, "Well, if not, we'll teach them." So, by God, he gave us about a dozen rifles and ammunition, and that was my platoon.

Nelson Priest:

So you were communicating with them in Spanish?

Anthony D. Lopez:

Oh yeah. Yeah.

Nelson Priest:

Tony, you hold us about receiving your hip wound. Was there anything that you did routinely, particularly in times of combat, just to bestow good luck upon your yourself? Did you have anything special that you did besides, perhaps, pull out your rosary?

Anthony D. Lopez:

Well, I don't know. I don't know if I should even mention, but -- it probably wasn't good luck, but.

Nelson Priest:

You're still here so.

Anthony D. Lopez:

We -- I did -- I did something, but it's nothing be proud of so.

Nelson Priest:

We can skip overing that.

Anthony D. Lopez:

Yeah.

Nelson Priest:

It seems like you were in combat or you were hopping around from one island to another for most of your tenure in the Pacific. Were you ever able to take leave or furlough?

Anthony D. Lopez:

No. Actually, the only time I took a leave was when I was in the hospital. And, then -- course I never knew where the 503 would be. So what we used to do is we'd go to the airstrip and say -- ask the pilot, "Does anybody here know where the 503 is?" And, we'd -- may be there three or four days before somebody knew where the 503 was. "Yeah," he says, "We know where it is." We need a ride up there. So we'd hop a plane and go back to our outfit.

Nelson Priest:

Some of the other Veterans that I've interviewed -- most of them served in Europe. And, of course, they have always told me about the soldiers to places like Paris and Rome. So you didn't get any of that, I take it?

Anthony D. Lopez:

No. There was no -- actually, there was no place that we could because everything was under -- Manila was all under fire. And, the islands we were at, there was no -- there was one big town, Negros -- but Victorias. But that was so far from our lives that we just never got down there.

Nelson Priest:

How did you guys entertain yourselves, or did you -- were you so busy surviving that you didn't really didn't think much of entertainment?

Anthony D. Lopez:

Usually -- well, on Negros we were. We were just so busy just staying out of, you know --

Nelson Priest:

Rifle sites?

Anthony D. Lopez:

-- getting ourselves killed. Yeah. And -- but usually any other time, like, when you would go back to Mindoro after a combat mission somewhere, we'd play cards at night. We'd make these little lights with billy cans full of gasoline and sit there and play cards. But that's about it. We used to do some recreational stuff: Softball, boxing, whatever.

Nelson Priest:

If I were to ask you to evaluate your officers and your fellow soldiers during your time in the Pacific, particularly in times of combat, what would your reply be to that?

Anthony D. Lopez:

Oh, I would have to say that it was one big brotherhood, and we all stuck together.

 
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  October 26, 2011
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