WWII vet an example of duty and service will turn 102 on Thursday

Joseph Garcia the father of five children lives in Cache Valley Assisted Living and Memory Care. He will turn 102 years-old on Thursday. He relaxes in his chair Monday Feb. 22, 2021.

PROVIDENCE – Joseph Garcia turns 102 on February 25. The WWII veteran has his own room at the Cache Valley Assisted Living and Memory Care in Providence. Although a celebration is warranted, COVID necessitates a milder approach.

Joe Garcia stand in front of the World War II memorial in Washington, DC, in 2005. It was his first visit to DC. During the visit, he also met with Senator Hatch who thanked him for his service.

Garcia’s hearing is gone so he answers questions when they are written on a whiteboard with an erasable marker. The Veterans Administration said his hearing was compromised due to being a machine gun operator for 18 months during WWII.

The centenarian was born in Kansas City in 1919 and has lived though some of the toughest times in our nation’s history. As a baby of a single mother that was abandoned by her husband, they boarded a train right after WWI and headed for California

“They lived in railroad yard in Kansas City. Garcia’s mother Aurora had come up from Mexico and lived in a railroad yard,” said his grandson Frank Montoya. “He was still a baby when they took the train to Bakersfield California.”

“In Bakersfield, my grandmother met guy who owned a dry-cleaning business. After they married they moved to Fresno California,” he said. “When my grandfather was 16 years old his mother Aurora died of scarlet fever leaving him alone with his stepfather and his kids.”

At 17 years old Garcia was turned loose to make his way in the world.

A 1940 photograph of Joseph Garcia and Katherine Garcia (née Lujan). They were married 64 years until her passing.

“He worked in farms as a mule skinner, he managed the mules for a farmer. He also worked at a foundry machining parts for ships,” Montoya said.  “He was considered an essential worker, so he didn’t have to serve in the war.”

In 1944, he enlisted in the 41st Infantry Division.

Garcia joined the army and after basic training he was shipped to New Guinee, then to the Philippines as machine gunner, leaving his wife alone with their two children.

He felt like he had to help the war effort.

My grandfather was a liaison for the Army in the Philippines because both he and some of the Filipinos spoke Spanish,” he said. “He could also get intel from the locals to know where the Japanese soldiers were,” Montoya said. “He became popular over there because he could communicate in Spanish to the native Filipinos.”

His language skills helped many of the troops get home cooked meals while they were stationed there.

Montoya said he tells the story of his grandfather following another soldier up a hill on a dead run with bullets hitting the ground all around him.

“A man in a Piper Cub airplane flew over yelling at him to get down from the hill. There was a large number of Japanese soldiers on the other side of the hill,” the grandson said. “The pilot was wearing a red baseball cap and yelling and waving over the noise of the airplane.”

A picture of Joseph Garcia’s children Emily, Delores, Rachelle, Carman and Joey hangs in his room.

The pilot saved Garcia’s life.

“He was telling the story at a reunion in 2015 and the man sitting next to him teared up and pulled an old red ball cap out of his back pocket. He was that pilot,” Montoya said. “He lived an exceptional life and been an example of honor, integrity and duty to country.”

Garcia was part of the occupation of Japan in 1945. He was assigned rotations in Hiroshima after the atomic blast that leveled the city and killed thousands of people.

“When he was 97 years-old he had a heart attack and drove himself to the emergency room,” he said. “They finally took away his drivers license at 99 years-old.”

Garcia was a big-time influence on Montoya. His example of duty and service was the reason he joined the Army. When Montoya graduated from BYU’s ROTC program he had his grandfather pin the bars on his uniform.

“I was proud to have him at the ceremony,” he said. “I still want to live up to his expectations.”

After serving in the U.S. Army for four years, Montoya went to work for the FBI for 25 years and retired in 2016. He currently lives near his grandfather in Providence.

The photo of Joe Garcia in uniform with his wife Katherine is circa 1944.

According to WWII Veterans Affairs, there are an estimated 325,574 veterans still alive of the estimated 16 million men and women who served in the war.

Garcia is considered one of the Greatest Generation, or the WWII generation, born between 1901 and 1927 that lived through the Great Depression and participated in the Second World War. That generation wanted to create economic growth and development, enable people to advance themselves and end poverty, according to Harvey J. Kaye a historian and sociologist.

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  • Cathy Elliott February 23, 2021 at 10:01 pm Reply

    Happy Birthday Sir and THANK YOU for your service. You are part of the greatest generation!!

  • Ronald & Staci Goodrich February 27, 2021 at 10:44 pm Reply

    The freedoms we enjoy today are because of the selfless service those who have always served to protect those freedoms. All too often at great cost. My Father-In-Law was involved in the D-Day invasion as a flame thrower person. The things he saw he would never talk about because they were so horrible, yet he instilled in all of us how important the joining of the United States was to preserving not only our freedoms but those of so many other countries.
    My Uncle served in the navy on the USS Arizona when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. My Father served in the Korean war as a welder in the Navy. He also saw things he would not talk about during this war but always talked about our duty as Americans to help provide people of other countries the freedom and right to live the life they desired and have the opportunity to be successful in the world.
    Thank you for your service and the stories. Frank, thanks for sharing this post, and for sharing your family with us.

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