News: WWII American paratrooper to receive Legion of Honor
Story by Sgt. Barry St. Clair
EL PASO, Texas – Living legends of the 82nd Airborne Division share camaraderie at the Benavidez-Patterson chapter of the 82nd Airborne Division Association “All-Airborne” clubhouse in El Paso, Texas, Aug. 17, 2012.
The membership of B-P chapter includes people from any airborne unit or service, and is the sixth largest chapter in the U. S.
Angel Romero, a member of the B-P chapter, jumped into Normandy, France, June 6, 1944, and has survived through World War II, and the 68 years since.
“We are here today because of those who stood with us,” said Romero, of El Paso. “Some of them gave their all.”
Speaking of the social climate in El Paso prior to his enlistment in the U. S. Army on July 2, 1943, Romero said, “There was a lot of discrimination; we [Latinos] were called ‘mestizos’, ‘beaners’ and many things much worse.”
“We were not allowed to participate in sports in school; we [Latinos] weren’t even allowed in the gymnasium,” Romero continued.
“I had a chip on my shoulder when I first entered the service,” said Romero.
While at basic training at Camp Wolters, Texas, Romero volunteered for training as a paratrooper and it changed his life in more ways than one.
“The Airborne Corps was color-blind. We had one motto – do your job, do it well,” said Romero.
Following his training at Fort Benning, Ga., Romero was assigned to G Company, 508th Paratroop Infantry Regiment, 3rd Battalion, 82nd Airborne Division. The 508th was transferred by troop transport ship first to Belfast, Ireland, through Scotland to Nottingham, England where they were lodged at the palace.
“Our training was excellent,” said Romero. “Our Battalion Commander, Lt. Col. Louis G. Mendez of Colo., told us ‘Be prepared for any eventuality.’ Mendez demanded that there be no errors. We continued to train until it was perfectly done, even if it took all night.”
The unit trained at Nottingham in preparation for the planned jump into Normandy during operation Overlord. It was the most comfortable accommodation the 508th utilized.
The French reception was mixed. Some were angry because they thought the Overlord plan was destined to fail because of how strong the German defenses were. Other Frenchmen actively participated in gathering intelligence information from the Germans or providing vital information about the area around Normandy to the Allies.
“Survival was the only thing that mattered at the time,” said Romero about the situation following the jump into Normandy.
“The French were enthusiastic, especially the younger people,” said Romero. “They participated in the underground and communicated their messages similar to Navajo Code Talkers.”
French women were used by the Germans as snipers against the Allies. Not everyone went along however.
One beautiful young woman volunteered to jump into southern France ahead of the Normandy invasion. She was successful at gathering information from the Germans and was extracted by the English and French. She volunteered a second time, and was captured and shot by the Germans.
“The people of France made us feel proud that we had helped liberate France from German occupation and control,” said Romero.
Romero was honorably discharged from the U. S. Army following jumps into Normandy, Ardennes, Rhineland and Holland. He saw action at the Battle of the Bulge as well. His awards include three Purple Hearts, European Campaign Medal with four bronze stars, Silver Life Saving Medal from the Coast Guard and the Dutch Military Order of William from the Netherlands.
Romero served for 37 years in the civil service at Fort Bliss, Texas following his discharge from the Army, and retired. Romero is scheduled to receive the Legion of Merit from a representative of the French Consulate at the B-P clubhouse here, Aug. 24, for his contribution to the liberation of Paris, France, Aug. 24-25, 1944.