Canicas on the Rebound con Alicia Armendarez, XMAS 1953
Part One: Where our hero returns to Austin In triumph and a broken heart
Christmas 1953 was filled with passion, innocence, love lost and won, dreams altered and/or abandoned. In addition to baile y borrachera!
Published on LatinoLA: February 3, 2002
It was the year I made a triumphant return home after my second year as a US Navy Korean War hero.
A whole year had passed since I had been in Austin. My transformation from post-adolescence to early manhood was complete. And I was returning to the Friendly City of my birth to enjoy 30 glorious days of leave as a seasoned sailor man "with a turd in each pocket": Having crossed the Pacific twice, and up and down the West Coast a number of times ... San Diego, Long Beach, San Francisco, San Clemente, Seal Beach, Astoria, Seattle.
I had also been to Pearl Harbor several time, and to Guam, Yokosuka, Yokohama, Kobe, Sasabu, Opama (Japan) plus to several other bays and beaches that had never known the landing of a USS LST (Landing Ship Tanks)
So I came home a man of the world, wearing my Hong Kong tailor-made dress blues which had gold embroidered Chinese dragon on the insides of the sleeves of the jumper; on which I wore two rows of service ribbons, including the Japanese Occupation Ribbon, the Korean Campaign Ribbon with five Battle Stars, representing three offenses and two defenses in the war zone.
The US Navy and the War Department wanted me, my family and friends to be sure my bravery, courage and combat readiness emanated when I arrived home.
I wanted to look as handsome as Frank Sinatra in the movie Anchor's Aweigh; so I had my hair styled, got a mud pack, face message with my pimples squeezed out, and got my shoes shined by a real professional in a Houston "white man's" barbershop ... before boarding the train in the final leg of my journey to Austin.
The reason I had ended up in Houston was that I had gotten a hop on a B 25 from Denver. (A long story in itself)
When my train arrived at the Austin depot I half-expected a patriotic hoopla, like a marching band from Austin High, with all kind of cheerleaders and Austin Maroon Banners, with friend and relatives waving to greet me with hugs and kisses ... similar to scenes I had witnessed many times in WWII movies, scenes similar to the ones I had seen many times in the very depot where I was arriving, when I sold newspapers and shined shoes during the war.
I saw only regular civilian passengers arriving and leaving. And they didn't seem to know there had been a war raging 10,000 miles away, a war in which thousands of American had gotten killed. Not to mention a million Koreans.
I made my rounds visiting all my tias, tios and their families and ran into friends coming and going, who asked "When did you get here?" and "When are you leaving?"
At once occasion, during a small reception that was being given for Rocky Caballero, who had become a contender for the Middle Weight Champion of Texas, I caught him looking at my war ribbons green with envy. He and I had put on the gloves a few years before because Pete Gil the lifeguard at Zaragoza Park had seen how furious I had been with Rocky when he "playfully" tried to drown me.
But putting on the gloves with him was a terrible idea because the brute came after me with glee, and Pete had to stop it to prevent me from getting knocked out.
But at the moment he looked at me - a bonafide war hero - I had gotten sweet revenge.
But by the third day of my leave, the joyous expectations I had built up over an entire year of day dreaming, came tumbling down when Tina la Divina, the great love of my life I had been writing to, confessed she had fallen in love with another lad she met when she started attending U.T.
And broken-hearted Christmas leave days ensued.
Despair, loneliness, jealousy, terrible disappoint was hidden behind my smile. And so much for my glorious days as a Korean War hero.
I began using my civilian clothes and dumped my image as a Korean War hero and started nourishing a wound of such great magnitude I felt I'd never get
Catarina became my TU SOLO TU, COLD COLD HEART, and LA MAL CORNADORA all at once. As if I wasn't already among the walking wounded from other traumas of my life, which now including having been sent to Korea to an ever-exploding war.
No more star gazing and passionate post-adolescent necking in the front of Tina's front porch. No more holding her hands filled with love's electric currents, while the moon was all aglow under the spell of the breathtaking magnificence of the Milky Way, the artificial moon towers, the light of el capitolio and of the UT Tower we always saw a night from East 9th.
I had plenty of chances to act out my agony.
In the evenings, I started going to the Colorado River with Victor Sanchez and Johny Candelas, equipped not with fishing gear but rather with a case of Southern Select Beer, to sing as the new Trio los Panchos every Mexican love song we could remember.
And the more beers we had the greater and more sincere we sounded. We also had a number of Hank Williams songs. I sang with authentic Hank Williams passion ... Why Don't You Love Me Like You Used to Do?
Luckily I was a Sifuentes, with a God-given talent to be able to transcend devastating blows if directed to a weak ego. And was able to figure out fairly soon that a Sifuentes must not pine away because of a love lost, because we cannot for very long continue to love someone not able to love us in the same way.
(to be continued)
Frank is a 70-year-old writer who retired in 1994 from 35 years in human services, public relations & resource development in community projects, primarily in ELA. He was active also writing for community-based magazines and newspapers 1967-98.
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