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Interview with Patricino Gabaldon [n.d.]

Steve Pearce:

I'm congressman Steve Pearce, it is the 2nd day of July, we're in Belen, New Mexico, I'm talking to Patricino, Patrice --

Patricino Gabaldon:

--Patricino.

Steve Pearce:

Patricino. Sorry, I can't get my emphasis right. Gabaldon. His address is [address redacted]. The telephone is [phone number redacted]. He was in the Army, 70th Tank Battalion; he was a sergeant, a tank commander. That was in World War II. Started in the Fort Bliss, training; French Moroccan shores, in Africa, and French Normandy Coast and Sicilian, France and German ___, France and German D-day campaigns. He did sustain combat related injuries, was not a prisoner of war, has the Purple Heart with one oak leaf cluster, a good conduct medal, the presidential ribbon with three bronze stars, European theater, and he's submitting a photo that will come later, and then also a field map that will come later also. So sir, let's talk just a little bit and if you'll kind of talk into this microphone, and hold it up close and it's just -- let's talk about the things that you recall.

Patricino Gabaldon:

I went to the Army in February 11, 1942. From there was sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky where I got my training in tanks, and then from there I went to North Carolina; Fort Bragg, North Carolina, for more training. From there I went to -- we went to Norfolk, Virginia, to go to, to go overseas, to North Africa, invasion of North Africa. From North Africa I went to England to get referred again, and then from there we went to Sicily. And I was a driver, tank driver. I was a driver, first class. And then from there I went as a gunner, as a corporal (leaving) as a corporal, and then in Germany, when we went to Germany I was promoted to sergeant, tank commander. In Sicily I was credited with knocking out the first German tank from our battalion.

Steve Pearce:

What kind of tank were you driving?

Patricino Gabaldon:

German.

Steve Pearce:

German. Were they good tanks?

Patricino Gabaldon:

They were the best they had in the United States, I guess -- at that time.

Steve Pearce:

What were you -- which were the German tanks?

Patricino Gabaldon:

They were better.

Steve Pearce:

Better.

Patricino Gabaldon:

We had more.

Steve Pearce:

You had more tanks, they had better tanks. Okay. So we had more, they had better. All right. {Interview interrupted by news reporter.}

Steve Pearce:

Okay. So we were talking about the Germans had better tanks, but we had more. And so you play the more against the better, and are you a tank commander when we're there in Sicily by this point?

Patricino Gabaldon:

No. I was a tank commander in Germany.

Steve Pearce:

Okay. So back -- if we're to go into North Africa, is that, isn't that where Rommel was?

Patricino Gabaldon:

Yeah.

Steve Pearce:

So were you concerned about going up against Rommel?

Patricino Gabaldon:

Well, we had to, whether we liked it or not.

Steve Pearce:

So tell me a little bit about what you thought about fighting?

Patricino Gabaldon:

___ in a, it was pretty good, I guess -- later.

Steve Pearce:

Were the other people there, the other tank commanders, did they sit around and talk about how to succeed against this --

Patricino Gabaldon:

Oh, yeah. We used to talk in -- then the General Patton, we were under General Patton --

Steve Pearce:

That's right I had forgotten. Patton was there and Rommel was there.

Patricino Gabaldon:

And then, we used to call him "Gut and Blood." He had the guts and we had the blood. And in Sicily General Patton and General Montgomery, from England, were both competing to see who got --

Steve Pearce:

--Montgomery?

Patricino Gabaldon:

Yeah, General Montgomery.

Steve Pearce:

Oh, well. You were right exactly where history books were written.

Patricino Gabaldon:

Yeah. I went all the way.

Steve Pearce:

Did -- tell me which were, what were the battles there in North Africa, what were the names of the battles?

Patricino Gabaldon:

North Africa.

Steve Pearce:

Okay. I was thinking that there was a specific town where you all came together.

Patricino Gabaldon:

Yeah. I just can't recall.

Steve Pearce:

I don't remember where I was in Vietnam, so don't worry about that.

Patricino Gabaldon:

I'm 84 years old.

Steve Pearce:

I'm not 84, and I don't remember either. If you're -- if you think back, how many tanks would be here, did you both line up?

Patricino Gabaldon:

Oh, yeah. Yeah.

Steve Pearce:

How many tanks have you got here?

Patricino Gabaldon:

We had -- let's see, there were three platoons, 15 tanks.

Steve Pearce:

Fifteen or fifty?

Patricino Gabaldon:

Fifteen. Fifteen lined up to make the attack.

Steve Pearce:

So you've got 15 lined up. And then how many did the Germans come at you with?

Patricino Gabaldon:

Two, three, ten, whatever.

Steve Pearce:

So did your tank ever get hit?

Patricino Gabaldon:

Yeah. Germany. In Germany, and it was about 4:00 in the morning, there was a lot of shooting, and then my, my captain ordered me to go over the hill where they were, the infantry. The force infantry division was having a hard time with the Germans. He told me to go and ask them if they needed help, and to take the tank over there. And it was still dark, and I didn't see the other, the German tank that was sitting there, so I thought it was one of ours. I say, "Hey, you ___ help." And then he ___, and there goes a tank in flames. My tank, in flames. I'm sorry.

Steve Pearce:

That's okay, I. So your tank is on fire; how did you get out?

Patricino Gabaldon:

My face was burning, my shoulder was, my shoulder was knocked down. My hands got burned when I was trying to get the, my other tank crew members out of the tank. Two of them ____. I just couldn't get them out. _____ got burned.

Steve Pearce:

You were trying to reach down and your hands were burning, your face was burning.

Patricino Gabaldon:

Two of them, their tank was jammed. And they couldn't get their hatchets open. So I tried to get them out, through the turret, but I just couldn't. I couldn't get them out. Two of them didn't make it. The driver and the assistant driver didn't make it. They -- I got wounded, the gunner got wounded, and the loader got wounded. We made it, we made it. We got out of the tank.

Steve Pearce:

And then they shipped you back. Back behind the lines to the hospital.

Patricino Gabaldon:

Yeah.

Steve Pearce:

How long were you in the hospital?

Patricino Gabaldon:

About one and a half months.

Steve Pearce:

About four and a half months?

Patricino Gabaldon:

About one and a half months.

Steve Pearce:

One and a half months. Did you come home then, or did they send you back to combat?

Patricino Gabaldon:

No. I never came home since the day I left, February the 11th, until May the 21st, 1945. Never got a, even a two-day furlough. Not even a two-day furlough.

Steve Pearce:

Ah, that's incredible.

Patricino Gabaldon:

Yeah. I went --

Steve Pearce:

And we have --

Patricino Gabaldon:

-- I went from the beginning

Steve Pearce:

-- complaining if they're there for six months and seven months.

Patricino Gabaldon:

-- from the beginning to the end.

Steve Pearce:

So about when was this, that you were in Germany your tank was hit?

Patricino Gabaldon:

What date or ___.

Steve Pearce:

What date was your tank, what day did your tank get ___?

Patricino Gabaldon:

Yeah.

Steve Pearce:

That's okay. We're in good shape. We'll take it easy.

Steve Pearce:

June 6th.

Patricino Gabaldon:

You know that was D-day.

Patricino Gabaldon:

Germany was later.

Steve Pearce:

We'll go ahead. And if you will look and then come back. It's not critical, but I'm kind of -- do you -- so you went back to the front lines?

Patricino Gabaldon:

Yup. (?Oh, yeah?)

Steve Pearce:

Did you go back into a tank?

Patricino Gabaldon:

Yeah. Same thing again.

Steve Pearce:

And what was it like? So we're now sometime in '44,and the Germans, we know now the Germans, the Germans finally collapsed. But what was it like? Did you think you were gonna win the war? Did you think that we couldn't win the war?

Patricino Gabaldon:

It was very very ___ very hard.

Steve Pearce:

They still were fighting very hard and had plenty of supplies?

Patricino Gabaldon:

Towards the end they start to weaken up, and then they start to send just young kids. Young kids. They were the meanest ones. They wouldn't give up for nothing.

Steve Pearce:

Were their tanks as good in the end of the war?

Patricino Gabaldon:

Yeah, yeah. They had that Tiger tank. You couldn't compete with it.

Steve Pearce:

You were still in the Sherman's and they had gone from the North African tank to the Tiger.

Patricino Gabaldon:

Yeah.

Steve Pearce:

The Tiger was better even than North African.

Patricino Gabaldon:

Oh, yeah.

Steve Pearce:

How could you knock a Tiger tank out? What would you have to do?

Patricino Gabaldon:

We had to ___two or three of the ____.

Steve Pearce:

Other than just knock his wheels out. You couldn't penetrate his armor, could you?

Patricino Gabaldon:

No. We used to shoot at the track.

Steve Pearce:

If you went out into a -- if you had at the start of the week or start of the month, ten tanks; how many tanks would get knocked out? In other words, how many --

Patricino Gabaldon:

--oh, they could wipe a platoon in a, in an hour.

Steve Pearce:

How many tanks -- I'm trying to get an idea of how many losses -- yesterday we were talking and 50 -- if a hundred B-17s took off and only 50 came back, every time, so they took half every time. So in a regular battle day --

Patricino Gabaldon:

In a hard battle, more than half.

Steve Pearce:

More than half the tanks would be knocked out?

Patricino Gabaldon:

Oh, yeah.

Steve Pearce:

So for you to have only been hit once in four years, three and a half years of hard, hard battle --

Patricino Gabaldon:

-- yeah. I was in the tank. I was wounded, but we were getting ready to make an attack in France. They kept on calling us to see how we were gonna make the attack, if we were going back to our tanks, if a rash of artillery, German artillery, open up on us. And I got hit with it shrapnel, in the back.

Steve Pearce:

Did it hit your spinal cord, or --

Patricino Gabaldon:

Just missed it. I was lucky. Those barracks ____ got ____. Germany was really cold. And I remember my (first) sergeant said, "I bet you have never seen snow. In Mexico." He thought I was from Mexico. They didn't --

Steve Pearce:

They didn't know the difference.

Patricino Gabaldon:

They didn't know New Mexico was a state.

Steve Pearce:

Ah.

Patricino Gabaldon:

And I told him, I said, "Oh, I seen plenty. But not in Mexico. I never been in Mexico. I been in New Mexico, not in Mexico."

Steve Pearce:

He didn't know! Did you graduate from high school here?

Patricino Gabaldon:

I did.

Steve Pearce:

So you were born in Belen?

Patricino Gabaldon:

I was born in a little town, _____, Los Chavez.

Steve Pearce:

Okay.

Patricino Gabaldon:

Where, maybe you know about Dennis Chavez?

Steve Pearce:

Yes, sir. All right. So two famous people from that little town, right? And do you think about North Africa or Germany, which battles were the hardest?

Patricino Gabaldon:

_____ , Germany.

Steve Pearce:

Germany was much harder?

Patricino Gabaldon:

Oh, yeah.

Steve Pearce:

Why is that? What was North Africa like?

Patricino Gabaldon:

They didn't have too much.

Steve Pearce:

So Rommel was down there with not enough?

Patricino Gabaldon:

No.

Steve Pearce:

He -- they put him out there with not enough equipment. So they put their best guy and didn't give him the equipment?

Patricino Gabaldon:

No.

Steve Pearce:

So we had more tanks and we were just able to surround him at some point, just pick them off?

Patricino Gabaldon:

Germany was -- they were very bad. They were --

Steve Pearce:

In Germany they had lots of people.

Patricino Gabaldon:

Yeah. Better equipment. They had better artillery, big guns.

Steve Pearce:

Did, uh -- you weren't involved in D-day over at Normandy at all, were you?

Patricino Gabaldon:

First wave.

Steve Pearce:

First wave! Gee whiz. Tell me a little bit about that.

Patricino Gabaldon:

First wave you could see the sky full of airplanes, just like you see a flock of -- they have over here ___?

Steve Pearce:

Yeah. The geese, yeah.

Patricino Gabaldon:

Yeah. And then the ocean full of ships just they were just (?pounding, pounding?) at the shore. So we took land.

Steve Pearce:

Okay. Now, were you in a ship?

Patricino Gabaldon:

Yeah. And then --

Steve Pearce:

Your tank -- were you with the tank on a ship, and they --

Patricino Gabaldon:

Yeah. The tanks were, uh --

Steve Pearce:

Were you amphibious?

Patricino Gabaldon:

Amphibious, yeah.

Steve Pearce:

So they could drop you in the ocean, and you could still go. I wouldn't have trusted that. I think a tank is gonna sink to the bottom. I think I'd had to have me a boat.

Patricino Gabaldon:

We made it. Some didn't make it. You could see the water there at the shore. It wasn't water, it was blood.

Steve Pearce:

A lot of people.

Patricino Gabaldon:

A lot of people.

Steve Pearce:

What part of the -- which section of the beach did you come on?

Patricino Gabaldon:

Came on the Utah Beach. Utah Beach.

Steve Pearce:

Yes, sir. I understand. Now, Utah Beach -- kind of the most hostile action that we as Americans hear about is Omaha Beach, but Utah beach was the very next one, wasn't it?

Patricino Gabaldon:

Yeah.

Steve Pearce:

And you all had to have the same, same --

Patricino Gabaldon:

I hear that Omaha was very, very, very bad.

Steve Pearce:

Yeah.

Patricino Gabaldon:

It was ____ we couldn't get there.

Steve Pearce:

A friend of mine's father landed at Omaha and he, he lived, but he wouldn't talk about it. How many of your, did your tank -- did you have a unit of tanks on the ship?

Patricino Gabaldon:

Oh, yeah.

Steve Pearce:

And --

Patricino Gabaldon:

A whole battalion.

Steve Pearce:

A whole battalion. And your battalion, how many of the tanks made it safely on shore and through the first day?

Patricino Gabaldon:

We -- just five I think. There were ___.

Steve Pearce:

How many tanks is in a battalion?

Patricino Gabaldon:

Twenty. And then you could see the paratroopers, 82nd Airborne. You could see the soldiers hanging from the trees, dead. They shot them while they were coming down. They fell on top of the trees hanging, dead. It was ____ . And Sicily was _____ poor countries. I remember they used to have just a small herd of sheeps, flock of sheeps. And they used to plow. They had a camel and a donkey, with a plow. They used to plow little patches ___.

Steve Pearce:

Yeah. Did you -- were you a farmer here?

Patricino Gabaldon:

Over here?

Steve Pearce:

Yeah.

Patricino Gabaldon:

All my life.

Steve Pearce:

All your life. How many acres did you farm?

Patricino Gabaldon:

Fifty.

Steve Pearce:

Fifty. So it was unusual for you to see them plowing with ____. You had a -- what did you have? An eight ___ tractor?

Patricino Gabaldon:

Tractor, yeah.

Steve Pearce:

Yeah. So you had fifty acres. You farmed. And what would you grow here?

Patricino Gabaldon:

We used to grow alfalfa, wheat, oats, barley, corn, it varied. Now we only grow alfalfa.

Steve Pearce:

Good market.

Patricino Gabaldon:

Yeah.

Steve Pearce:

Are you working the farm for him? (addressing Mr. Gabaldon's daughter.)

Steve Pearce:

My father was a -- we only had five acres, but we were out of town, and he would work in town to make a living and then come home. To get us shoes literally in the fall, we would have -- we'd raise pigs and garden crops and sell them downtown to the supermarket. There were six of us kids. But, I thought maybe when I was looking at you, (maybe) that I saw things in you that I saw in my father that __ go out and work the land and --

Patricino Gabaldon:

Now they ration.

Steve Pearce:

Yeah. They ration the water, yeah.

Patricino Gabaldon:

They tell us when to water.

Steve Pearce:

Yeah. Are you getting enough water for your alfalfa?

Patricino Gabaldon:

Not too much.

Steve Pearce:

How much are you getting? How many cuttings do you have this year?

Patricino Gabaldon:

If we're lucky we'll have three.

Steve Pearce:

We'd have four or five. We can six down South, sometimes seven, but mostly six. What do you think after all these years, about the, about the war? What do you think about World War II and your part in it?

Patricino Gabaldon:

It was very, very bad. Very bad. And it was more secret. Now they say, for the boy where they're at and everything. At that time they didn't. We didn't even know __?

Steve Pearce:

Yeah. We knew some but not as much. Now that the press is right there. And I don't know if it's so good for the press. Do you think it's good? _____, knowing every little--

Patricino Gabaldon:

No.

Steve Pearce:

We sit here, and I wonder sometimes.

Patricino Gabaldon:

No. Now they say they're sending next week troops or whatever, at that time they didn't say nothing.

Steve Pearce:

No. I mean -- if they said something the other -- the enemy would be there waiting and then --

Patricino Gabaldon:

Sure.

Steve Pearce:

-- just cause more people to die.

Patricino Gabaldon:

Sure.

Steve Pearce:

I wonder. Do you think we did a good thing in World War II? Did you think the Nazis were a serious threat?

Patricino Gabaldon:

Yeah. It was a serious threat.

Steve Pearce:

Was it worth the sacrifice?

Patricino Gabaldon:

I think so, yeah.

Steve Pearce:

If you had a son, and we were back in World War II and you had a son of age, would you want your son to go do what you did?

Patricino Gabaldon:

Not really, but yeah.

Steve Pearce:

Not really, but if he had to. Not really, but if he had to.

Patricino Gabaldon:

Yeah. I'm proud now that I served my country.

Steve Pearce:

Did you get drafted or were you --

Patricino Gabaldon:

Drafted. As soon as I got out of school, high school.

Steve Pearce:

I got a very low draft number in Vietnam, and so I asked to finish college, and they said, "Only if you get an ROTC." So that's the reason I flew. But years later I'm very proud that I served. Some of my friends went to Canada, from ____. I was there. Some of my friends went to Canada, didn't fight, and some of them took the easy way out and ___. I felt like if I was there ____. When I finished pilot training I could have stayed here and been a trainer, instructor pilot. But I felt like you did, that it was something that we had to do it. So I volunteered for kind of a -- not a very glamorous assignment, DC-130s. So I went over to (PACAF), Pacific Air Force, and all of our flying was in Vietnam. I'm very proud now that I did it. I didn't do it out of patriotism. They called my number, and I said I'd go.

Patricino Gabaldon:

I'm proud I went.

Steve Pearce:

Yeah. I'm proud I did.

Steve Pearce:

I get emotional too. I appreciate it because it still means we can touch something inside us. I went to that -- that family here. I went to the memorial service and I got choked up. I almost couldn't say my speech because we're here recognizing a young lady from Belen, New Mexico, that died doing service to her country. I do. I get -- I appreciate you being willing to talk.

Patricino Gabaldon:

When I got out of the service I got married, a month after I got out of the service. And I was sleeping; I was having nightmares. When I was in the Army I used to jump on the bed. My wife was afraid.

Steve Pearce:

The -- I did that a little after I got married. I was not married when I was in the Air Force and then got married, and occasionally I would wake up, sit straight up, and it would scare my wife.

Patricino Gabaldon:

Yeah. I used to jump.

Steve Pearce:

Oh, yeah. A lot of things in the back of your mind that come up. Do you still jump?

Patricino Gabaldon:

Not anymore.

Steve Pearce:

No, it settles down after a while, but it --

Patricino Gabaldon:

_____

Patricino Gabaldon:

Yeah.

Patricino Gabaldon:

That was in England,

Steve Pearce:

Those are some of the things that I think are really touching, and they may use here, so I left it going and ___. We had a guy yesterday -- he flew B-17s and he was saying, I trained in B-26s. He said they call that the "prostitute plane." I said, "Why did they call it that?" He said, "Oh, it was very fast." He said it was fast because it had short wings. He said you'd be flying and the wings are so short, he said, you would say, "This airplane has no visible means of support."

Patricino Gabaldon:

The best moments we had when we saw the American plane

Steve Pearce:

When you're in the tank battle would you sometimes hit the planes?

Patricino Gabaldon:

Oh, yeah.

Steve Pearce:

Which planes would you see coming over? Fighters? Bombers?

Patricino Gabaldon:

Fighters. The Mustang, American Mustang, Thunderbolt.

Steve Pearce:

Thunderbolts, (?OP-47s?).

Patricino Gabaldon:

Yeah. Oh, we were glad to see it. Then the Germans, they would settle down.

Steve Pearce:

Yeah. They --

Patricino Gabaldon:

So they would see them.

Steve Pearce:

You might appreciate knowing, I've got a grandson who's three. And already at three, he somehow, he likes airplanes. And he has got little models of the B-51, and he says it's a Mustang. Thunderbolts, and ____. He's got twenty airplanes and he knows them. He's not even three, he's two and a half. But he can pick every one of them up, and he can name them by name. So I would think that -- that to me is something I appreciate. Maybe you would enjoy that too, that the younger generation remembers that these planes were, that they saved lives.

Patricino Gabaldon:

(?They were fighters?) Yeah.

Steve Pearce:

Anything, any regrets about the war?

Patricino Gabaldon:

___

Steve Pearce:

No regrets.

Patricino Gabaldon:

We got together like we were brothers, ____

Steve Pearce:

Yeah.

Patricino Gabaldon:

I was the only, the only Spanish guy, and I was the only one from New Mexico in our battalion.

Steve Pearce:

They were just looking for people that could do a job. Nobody cared.

Patricino Gabaldon:

No, no. Everybody was very friendly. Very friendly. They treated me very, very good. Everybody used to call me the "Little Red Mexican," because I had freckles and red hair at that time.

Steve Pearce:

Is that right? My wife is a redhead. They called you the what?

Patricino Gabaldon:

Little Red Mexican.

Steve Pearce:

That was a term of endearment.

Patricino Gabaldon:

Yeah.

Steve Pearce:

Do you have comments? Things that you think about? What do you think about when you think about your father and being there in the ___ history _____

Patricino Gabaldon:

___sergeant sent a letter to____

Patricino Gabaldon:

____ shaking hands with President Roosevelt, in Africa. He went to check on the soldiers over there. That was a big ____

Patricino Gabaldon:

He used to go where we were. At that time we were there, guarding the breach. He used to go over there where we were, that little boy. We used to give him pieces of ___ we used to ____ chocolate, chocolate. We used to give him sweet cakes. We used to call him ______

Steve Pearce:

Yeah. They were pretty hungry in North Africa.

Patricino Gabaldon:

Yeah, I remember. They had long hair. So I had a pair of scissors, just one pair of scissors. And I gave him a haircut.

Steve Pearce:

That's pretty neat.

Patricino Gabaldon:

We used to take a bath in the helmet. Just to kind of clean up a little bit.

Steve Pearce:

Those are the things that I think people will forget. Even that bath in the helmet is something that not many people will say. But it will cause us to pause and think. So you might have a big battle over here. But you don't think about bathing in the helmet, so that's the reason that we're here is to get those small deals and get the big deals. This has been really (neat) Everyday I'm just stunned by the stories that I'm hearing.

Patricino Gabaldon:

Yeah. We used to have a can to pea.

Steve Pearce:

Uh-uh. That's all you had.

Patricino Gabaldon:

In the tank. __ get out. The battle's ____

Steve Pearce:

(?Yes, sir. It's rough.?) We really appreciate it, Mr. Gabaldon. We appreciate your service, years after the fact. I appreciate you coming out today. I think if we will simply put these memories down, the whole generation of nieces and nephews that didn't have someone, that maybe someone didn't come back or someone didn't serve, they can go and share these stories and feel the sacrifice that we've had to make, and so thank you very much for coming out today.

Patricino Gabaldon:

I appreciate it.

 
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