Area WWII vet recalls the carnage
The bodies of Japanese soldiers from the Okinawa battlefield were thrown into a dirt hole – a makeshift mass grave. But American soldiers were taken to a cemetery. “You know, it saddens you to see all those young guys. … You feel sorry for them,” he said. “Maybe you went through boot camp with them and then they are gone.” As a 21-year-old from a small mining town in Arizona, Torrez had never seen such carnage before enlisting in 1944. Now, the veteran keeps snapshots of dead Japanese soldiers in a family photo album. It’s a chapter in his life that defines part of his existence. “Everything is so vivid in his mind,” said Torrez’s daughter-in-law, Joann Torrez. “It’s just been the last few years that he has gotten older and is not able to speak about it as well. But he was definitely a proud Marine.” Before being discharged in 1946, Torrez spent much of his World War II days in Okinawa driving trucks and delivering supplies. “I remember one time, I was driving and I saw a little boy on the street,” he said. “He was crying and all these ladies saw him but nobody stopped to help.” The Japanese boy, who was probably about 5 years old, had a bullet hole in his foot. “He looked like one of my nephews,” Torrez said. “I felt sorry for him so I picked him up, put him in the front seat of the truck and took him [to a field hospital].” It was a humble act in a trying time. But not all of Torrez’s memories are so fond. Although his unit did not see much combat, Torrez still shudders at the thought of enemy soldiers he killed in battle. Some of the stories he will not tell. “You feel bad,” he said, remembering one young Japanese soldier who tried to sneak into a Marine camp at night. Torrez spied him making his way across a bridge. Then Torrez shot him. “He was such a young guy, but we used to think it’s us or them,” he said. By the time Torrez was discharged, he was a different man from the young, handsome Mexican-American who went to war two years before, eager to kill Japanese enemy forces. “Growing up, I never really asked him much about it,” said Torrez’s son, Ernie Torrez. “I guess when you are a kid, you don’t realize those things. … Now, when I look back, I think, ‘What an experience.’” After World War II, John Torrez never served in the military again. Instead, he spent the rest of his life working as a mechanic and helping his wife raise their five sons. One war was enough. And while Torrez cannot admit to being proud of the things he did in wartime, he doesn’t downplay the duty he did for his country. “I can say I was proud to have went into the service,” Torrez said. “I did what I had to do, that’s all.” [email protected] (626) 962-8811, Ext. 2703160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! • WWII Veteran John Torrez SOUTH EL MONTE – He compared them to “cords of wood” – the bodies of American Marines heaped in stacks, ready to be hauled off for burial. “They piled them up high,” said John Torrez, 84, who served as a corporal with Platoon 165 in the 1st Marine Division during World War II. “Mop up” was a duty the South El Monte man always felt a little funny about doing.