Salinas - "I'm no hero"

 

With noisy, Thursday morning traffic whizzing by, World War II Veteran Reynaldo M. Salinas, 88, remained unfazed as he sat on the front porch of his home, which was nestled along the busy highway. “I came back,” he said, his lined face becoming somber. “I’m no hero. I’m not the only one. There’s a lot of guys that didn’t make it back. Me? I’m just one person, but I’m not the only one.”
 
Salinas, who was drafted, served with the 502nd Parachute Company in the US Army from April 21, 1944 during WWII until his discharge on June 7, 1946. His tour of duty included stops in England, Frances, Austria, Germany, and Belgium during the war. 
 
“I was 19 when I got to Europe,” Salinas said said, “I was 21 when I came home.” 
 
Pfc. Salinas received his basic training in Fort Sam Houston in Texas before being shipped overseas to England. “There were three of us that went from here. Me in the Army, an uncle in the Navy and another guy,” Salinas said. “When we were going, we could see these white walls in the distance,” referring to the Walls of Dover while stationed in England.
From there, Salinas said his company was shipped to France, where the invasion was already going on. He said, “The guys were being shipped in open boats with nothing in it. They told us that if they sink it, they won’t lose too much.”
 
Salinas and his company were then sent to the Rhineland, where the American troops were surrounded by the Germans at the Battle of the Bulge. “The 506th (The Band of Brothers) lost a lot of men. We were there to restore the division. It was very cold. A lot of the soldiers had ‘trench foot’.”
 
Once Germany was invaded, Salinas and his troop crossed the Rhine river and went into Germany. “I went through three concentration camps,” he said. “One in Germany and one in Austria.  We liberated a train full of people that were being taken to the camp in Austria. We thought they were Jews, but were very surprised to discover that they were Czechs.”
When the war was over, Salinas found himself in Austria, where his duty was to help chase after Storm Troopers who wouldn’t surrender after the war. “We killed them one by one,” he said. “They wouldn’t surrender because they knew they were going to be killed.” 
 
Salinas also recalled the concentration camps in the caves that the Army lived in, his face grimacing as he remembered the clothing the POW’s wore. “They looked like potato sacks. They just hung there.”
 
While serving in Vienna, Salinas said he was allowed into what was known as “Hitler’s Rest Home,” which was where his war loot was being stored while Hitler was still in Berlin. He also had the distinct honor of seeing General Patton.
 
Salinas had the distinct honor in Frankfurt, Germany of serving as a special guard for General Dwight D. Eisenhower. He said, “We were told we were guarding war documents. Fifty years later, we were told we were guarding gold.”
 
But perhaps the most memorable “war story” for Salinas is the time a German officer surrended himself to Salinas, giving up his rifle and dagger.
 
“I’ve often asked myself: Why did he pick me?” Salinas said, shaking his head of the experience, noting there were several American officers the German could have surrendered to. “Why did he pick me, a dark Private First Class? Why me? It makes no sense!” 
 
Salinas was born in Yorktown to the late Eufemio and Maria Salinas on January 26, 1929. He attended school through the eighth grade when he began working at an old oil mill, where his father and all of his uncles worked. 
 
After the war in 1954, Salinas got married in 1954 to Maria Reyes. Maria passed away two years ago in Austin, Minnesota which was home to the couple and where Salinas currently resides. The couple had eight children together. “We have grandchildren all over the United States,” Salinas said. “Four of our children served in the military. One in the Army, two boys in the Navy, and one girl in the Navy.” Salinas’ father was a Merchant Marine.
 
Salinas continues to own his home in Yortown and visits occasionally. Several of his brothers have neighboring homes on the property his parents owned, just at the edge of town.
 
Willie Gallegos, Salinas’ nephew, was also visiting. “Did you tell her about jumping?” he asked his uncle.
 
“Oh,” Salinas said with a long sigh, “I almost forgot about that. My first jump -- I couldn’t sleep. I almost quit.” he said. My superior asked me ‘Why, are you getting yellow?’ I told him no and he said, ‘Well, prove to me you’re not yellow.’ so I jumped.” Salinas concluded proudly. “We had to do five jumps, two at night.” Salinas said he never landed in water, but there were several soldiers who drowned from the weight of the equipment and the water.
 
For his military service, Salinas was deorated with the EAME campaign ribbon with two Bronze Stars, a Good Conduct Medal, Army of Occupation Ribbon, Germany, and two Overseas Stars.
 
But Salinas is quick to point out he’s no hero.
 
“I wonder about many things. About the many things that have happened. Of all the boys I went with, I haven’t seen a one I went with. I wonder why? I wonder what happened to them. I wonder why I’m still alive,” Salinas said. 
 
Quickly noting the local men who gave their life in the war, Salinas said, “I’m no hero. I wonder about a lot of things. But wouldn’t that make you wonder too? Why me?”

 

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