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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Saluting my father, my hero, on Veterans Day

John Paul Cruz was my dad. He was born in the state of Jalisco, Mexico. His parents emigrated to the U.S. in the wake of the Mexican revolution, doing agricultural work in California fields and orchards, when he was an infant, just 4 months old. My grandfather also worked as a laborer on the Southern Pacific railroad.

There were hard times on both sides of the border: The oppression of colonial Mexico; the bloody chaos of the Revolution; struggle and poverty; obtaining permission to cross the border;travel as Mexicans in the United States; American bigotry; distances of class, language and culture; the Great Depression and then World War II.

My dad spoke much about going to war and coming home from war, but little about the war itself. My brother and I learned about WWII from reading the many books on the subject that dad brought home. I developed my love of history through reading the books he collected.

They settled in Fairfield, California, where my grandparents lived out the rest of their days, where my father, first-born, led his two brothers and three sisters through the immigrants' maze so that each graduated from high school in this new land.

My dad, a citizen of Mexico, enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1943. He went ashore at Omaha Beach with the third wave of troops, fought through the hedgerows of Normandy, earned a commendation for his service under General George S. Patton during the Battle of the Bulge.

He would talk about the hedgerows. These might have been my first geography lessons. How the hedgerows came to be built, where they were located, why they were significant, how difficult they were to fight through....

He came home after the war, met and married the lady who would become my mother, became a naturalized citizen of the U.S. When I was a child, he became a patrol officer with the Solano County Sheriff's Office, where he would serve for 15 years.

An on-duty collision in the patrol car took his kneecap and ended his career. The damage to his chest would lead to heart problems that ended his life in 1975 at the age of 52. Heart surgery was in its infancy in those days. Procedures common today would probably have extended his life, and he might be alive today.

He is alive in my heart and that of my brother Dana. Every day. One could not ask for a better father figure than John Cruz, or for more perfect love than that he gave for his country and his family.

This photo was taken in Liege, Belgium, in 1944.

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