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Interview with Charles Rodriguez [3/16/2002]

Charlene Riggins:

[I am Charlene Riggins and] this is March 16th, 2002. I am interviewing Charles Rodriguez at his home here in El Modena, a suburb of the city of Orange. This is for a project, an oral history project, for Cal State Fullerton University. Ok. Charles, before we get started with your experiences with the Merrill's Marauders I want you to tell me a little bit about yourself.

Charles Rodriguez:

Myself, ok. That's good.

Charlene Riggins:

Where were you born?

Charles Rodriguez:

I was born in Contra Costa County. It is about 100 miles from Oakland. But I lived in Oakland for two years; I lived there with my dad and mom. But my mom died so that left my dad and me alone and we moved from Oakland to Escondido. Then while there, my dad got involved in the church and then he claimed that El Modena was a better place to work for the crop of oranges, so my dad moved over here to El Modena. Originally, my dad's land was here so I was raised here in La Paloma. This was originally La Poloma, not the city of Orange. I was raised in La Poloma from 1929; my life was of the culture of the community. I went to school in El Modena. By that time, they had segregation here; they had the white people in one school-Roosevelt, and Lincoln was for all the Spanish people. So, they had segregation through there. But that was settled in the courts about the segregation, so that cancelled that out. But, originally I was raised in El Modena from 1929 and I did a lot of walking, enjoying everything of all the cultures before I went into the war. But, my dad was a minister in El Modena through the Methodist church. Originally, my dad is already dead, but I am alive and I'm telling the truth that I was raised in El Modena. I met my wife, my wife Margaret. Originally, I got married to her in Yuma, because she was a teenager and I was already twenty-four years old when I came out of the military. I got married. I took her to Yuma. I got on a bus and I took her to Yuma.

Charlene Riggins:

Charlie, could you do me a favor. Do you remember your grandparents at all?

Charles Rodriguez:

No, No, No, No. Now, originally, my grandfather was a doctor in Mexico City. Originally, my culture comes from Spaniards, come clear from Spain. My grandfather was a Spaniard, my mother was Indian, they called her "Cota', Indian Maya. You see you got three tribes in Mexico - Cota, Yaki, and the Maya. So, originally my mother was Maya.

Charlene Riggins:

Ok.

Charles Rodriguez:

So

Charlene Riggins:

Good. Did you have any brothers or sisters?

Charles Rodriguez:

Yeah, I had my brother Porcha and Ezekiel, but they're already dead. Yeah, I'm the only one left around now. Originally, I worked for El Toro Marine base for thirty years when I came out of the military. But, I had a misunderstanding with El Toro, the supervisor, things like discrimination and I couldn't handle that. So, I pulled out of El Toro, I withdraw all my money, retirement I had. But, I got caught, that I went into the hospital, a local hospital cause, originally I had a disease, they call it 'scrub typhus', and they took me to emergency, to the hospital. You want anymore?

Charlene Riggins:

Your growing up here in El Modena, tell me more about the atmosphere of El Modena. You indicated that there was segregation in the schools.

Charles Rodriguez:

Yeah, segregation. Segregation, involved in 1930.

Charlene Riggins:

1930?

Charles Rodriguez:

Yeah, I was going to school there, the Lincoln school there and they had segregation there.

Charlene Riggins:

Now did you personally experience any negative aspects of this segregation or discrimination?

Charles Rodriguez:

Yeah, mostly this town was controlled by Germans. They called them red necks in Orange, they called them red necks. They controlled this town here. There was a woman, very religious woman, of the Friendly Church in El Modena, they had a Friendly Church there. She was the one who controlled the town. There was no liquor.

Charlene Riggins:

Do you know what her name was?

Charles Rodriguez:

Mrs. Jones

Charlene Riggins:

As a result of Mrs. Jones running the town, she was the one dictating the laws?

Charles Rodriguez:

I'd say yeah, I'd say yeah, yeah. Mostly the people were only Spanish people; they were all the labor and everything. The white people, they were sending their kids to college, they were smart you see. All the ranches here were controlled by Germans, so all the Spanish people worked for them.

Charlene Riggins:

What were some of the crops that were worked in the fields?

Charles Rodriguez:

Well, it was oranges, lemons, I used to go north and pick cotton. I picked grapes. I did everything, Momma.

Charlene Riggins:

Now during the 1920's, 1930's while you were growing up here in El Modena, what were some of the social activities that you involved yourself in?

Charles Rodriguez:

I got involved, since my dad was a minister, I didn't follow too much of my dad. Because, I was a young guy, kind of wild, I joined the "Zoot Suitors" in that time, you know, because there were a lot of gangs there, just like we got right now. At that time life was different than now. We used to have better bands, like Glen Miller and Duke Ellington. I used to like the colored guys who played music, boy those guys played good. There was Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Glen Miller, Harry James, and all those big bands. I used to go Los Angeles, to the Rendezvous and hear big bands.

Charlene Riggins:

Now the Rendezvous was a club?

Charles Rodriguez:

No, that was a big place there, a big dance floor and everything.

Charlene Riggins:

Oh, a dance ballroom.

Charles Rodriguez:

Yeah, a dance ballroom and at the top a big bar if you want to go get some whiskey, whatever. But, there was a time when everything was jitterbug. I met Glenn Miller here in Balboa. Yeah, (unintelligible) he was talking with another guy and he decided to play there and we danced in Balboa. I used to go everywhere. I used to go to Tijuana, go dancing up there. I was a character Momma. No, really. I was not a saint. But, that was my life you know. I was always in trouble. Always being persecuted by gangs, you know, tried to kill me because I was kind of a lover guy; I liked the girls so I played around with them and they always like to play with me you know. I was always in trouble with the guys, you know. I used to go to Santa Ana and have fights in Santa Ana; we had fights in Delhi. They had different gangs at that time.

Charlene Riggins:

Now, were these gangs, you mentioned the "Zoot Suitors", now, were these gangs considered "Zoot Suitors" and was their purpose for more social or for more gang fighting?

Charles Rodriguez:

Gang fighting, yeah.

Charlene Riggins:

Now, what prompted you to become a "Zoot Suitor"?

Charles Rodriguez:

I don't know. But, you know I didn't have a mother and my dad was a minister and I don't know. I was small and my brother, my brother that died, but still, I was a kind of guy, a loose guy. You know. I didn't look for trouble, but I always had trouble with me. Because, you know, my trouble was dancing and girls all around. They called me gigolo, the guys. You know. I was in trouble, but I never ended in jail. I never got caught by a cop, I was to smart. You know. But, there was a lot of fighting, going to Tijuana and have a lot of fun with girls up in Tijuana. Get drunk with tequila and all that junk. I lived on the move, you know. I used to go to Watts and Compton with all the Colored people there; I used to be in the bars there. Me and the other guys there would go up there and dance and everything with Colored girls, big bands and everything. I used to be a character. I couldn't be a saint that's because my wife knows me already.

Charlene Riggins:

Now, as a "Zoot Suitor", you said you went into L.A. and you also mentioned Compton and Watts, did you experience any prejudices between the Black people that you partied with or were they more accepting of the Latinos at that time?

Charles Rodriguez:

No, no, no, no. At that time no. But, the only trouble we had it was the white guys. But, there was no trouble between the Latinos and Colored guys, no. I used to go to Watts and everything. I used to hang out there a whole bunch and we never knew trouble. But, those guys they knew how to play music, man. Those guys, you know good music. I always did like the big bands like that, not the old junk you have now where they hop around like a bunch of rabbits. But, I really enjoyed my life when I was young. But, I don't know, Mrs. Rodriguez here got me hooked and she quieted me down a little more. She's a quieter woman, not me. I'm a, my personality, what I am to tell you the truth, I'm a mover. I got to be moving, moving. If I go to church, I don't come to see a coffin there. How about some music; I want some fire. I don't go to a dead church. You usher in the 'batistas', man those guys when they get in there they know what is required, yeah. But, I like that.

Charlene Riggins:

With that visual of the "Zoot Suit", now it was 1939 that's when they became very popular; when the war broke out and things were really hard to get, you know materials and things, how, obviously with the "Zoot Suit" it took a lot of material to make those suits and obviously they had to be personally made.

Charles Rodriguez:

Yeah, tailor-made.

Charlene Riggins:

Now, during this time when the war broke out and things were scarce how were you able to afford to make your "Zoot Suits?"

Charles Rodriguez:

Well, I used to go to Zachary's up on 4th Street in Santa Ana. I had credit with this guy. He was Jewish and he had this store in Santa Ana and I used to have credit there. I would go up there and had my clothes tailor-made and I had to go every week to payoff whatever lowed him.

Charlene Riggins:

How many suits did you personally own?

Charles Rodriguez:

I had about four.

Charlene Riggins:

Could you describe the colors of them?

Charles Rodriguez:

I had one black, the other was brown and I don't remember the other ones.

Charlene Riggins:

Now, could you again describe how the "zoot suit" women were dressed?

Charles Rodriguez:

Well, they had shoes; the shoes were pointed with a long heel.

Charlene Riggins:

Ok, with high heels.

Charles Rodriguez:

Yeah, high heels. The dress was kind of short, they had to show their legs and then their hair was you know, was pulled up all on the top like a....

Charlene Riggins:

Like a bun?

Charles Rodriguez:

Yeah, yeah, and then they'd have a flower; they used to have a flower (he positions his hand to the side of his head indicating where they wore the flower), and the style was always going like this (he stood up and mimicked a style of walk).

Charlene Riggins:

So they would walk with a little sway?

Charles Rodriguez:

Yeah, yeah. We had a lot of fun though.

Charlene Riggins:

Now, getting back to your "Zoot Suiting" days, do you remember anything about the "Sleepy Lagoon" murder or the "Zoot Suit" riots back in 1943?

Charles Rodriguez:

Yeah, they were having riots with the sailors. Because the sailors started coming in to Los Angeles and start messing around with the "Zoot Suitors" and they had a lot of fights. They were trying to crowd out the "Zoot Suitors", you know, the sailors coming in there. But, I didn't get involved there, no not me, I didn't get involved there, but I knew they were having misunderstandings with the sailors. They were trying to take over the girls and they started a fight. But, I knew that.

Charlene Riggins:

But, you weren't involved in all the fighting?

Charles Rodriguez:

No, no. I wasn't involved with the fighting, no.

Charlene Riggins:

How did your dad feel about you being a "Zoot Suitor"?

Charles Rodriguez:

I don't know. I had, to me I had a good dad. He never told me nothing. I remember, I used to come home and he always a lot of books, a bunch, like me, I got a bunch of books and everything, same thing like my dad. He was always reading and everything. He was kind of an intelligent man because when he was in Mexico City he went to college. He graduated from college and he wanted to be an engineer. But, the only thing that happened to him was that he got involved because it was the time of the revolution in Mexico. With the revolution of Poncho Villa and the slaughtering of all the people up there, my dad moved out of there and moved to this country.

Charlene Riggins:

Ok, so your dad moved from Mexico City during the revolution. Now that was about in 1910?

Charles Rodriguez:

1910, yeah.

Charlene Riggins:

And he moved from Mexico to California because they were, were they persecuting the educated?

Charles Rodriguez:

Well, you see the story is that there's a little place, a town right on the coast of Mexico, they call it Tepee (??) and my dad was working for a Spanish company, they had what's called 'manta'. It's like this; it's a manta, like cloth, a material. He was the treasurer and the bookkeeper; he was the one who controlled the money. At that time, what they would do the company would put all the money under the factory, because all the money was made out of gold in this country. They'd put all the money under there and on top you would have the money, the spare. So, when they made an attack there, the bandits came in to attack there, they knew my dad right away. So my dad says, "You go ahead and get everything there". So they got all the money on top, everything, took all the cattle, cars, and everything, but they didn't get the money in the bottom. So, they took my dad out to the lawn and they were going to hang my dad. He had to pay a ransom or this general was going to hang him. So, from the town they brought a burro packed with two bags of gold that was the ransom they offered for my dad and that's why my dad came here.

Charlene Riggins:

So, that's why he left Mexico?

Charles Rodriguez:

Yeah.

Charlene Riggins:

But, he was able to pay the ransom.

Charles Rodriguez:

Yeah.

Charlene Riggins:

Now, did he pay the ransom from his own funds or from the funds from the company?

Charles Rodriguez:

No, it came from the company.

Charlene Riggins:

So, the company was willing to put up the money to save your dad?

Charles Rodriguez:

Yeah, yeah.

Charlene Riggins:

Now, that was in 1910 and that's when your dad moved to Mira Costa?

Charles Rodriguez:

Yeah, he came to Contra Costa, in the north.

Charlene Riggins:

Contra Costa?

Charles Rodriguez:

Yeah, I think it's on the other side of Sacramento.

Charlene Riggins:

Now, when your dad moved there do you remember what he did when he first came to California?

Charles Rodriguez:

No, no. Because, you see, I was born there. They claim that my 'pima', the one that takes care of the baby, was an Italian. See there were Italian and Portuguese up there, there were no Spanish. (Unintelligible dialogue) I was raised by Italians. My dad worked for a cement plant and then he moved to Oakland. That was about when I was two or three years old because I went to school there. I remember that my dad and my mom had a misunderstanding. I didn't know what was going on, you see, we moved over here and left mom over there.

Charlene Riggins:

So, he moved from Oakland and took you and left your mother in Oakland.

Charles Rodriguez:

Yeah.

Charlene Riggins:

Did you ever see her again after that?

Charles Rodriguez:

I never saw her no more.

Charlene Riggins:

Never saw her again.

Charles Rodriguez:

No. My dad was the one who brought me up, not my mom.

Charlene Riggins:

Ok, can you tell me more about your mother, what you remember about her?

Charles Rodriguez:

I don't remember nothing.

Charlene Riggins:

You don't remember anything?

Charles Rodriguez:

No, no. I don't even remember how she looked or nothing. I remember, see my dad and mom had this misunderstanding and I remember I ended up in a Catholic, what do you call it in the Catholic Church?

Charlene Riggins:

Like a Catholic school or orphanage?

Charles Rodriguez:

I don't know, I was there in a Catholic school and I was small. I remember I used to see the nuns and at that time my mom and dad was Catholic. When I was small I was baptized but when we came over here he changed from Catholic to the Methodist church.

Charlene Riggins:

So, he changed from a Catholic and became a Methodist?

Charles Rodriguez:

A Methodist, yeah.

Charlene Riggins:

So, your memory of your mom is very vague? You indicated that she died.

Charles Rodriguez:

Well, they claimed she died. My dad always told me that she died but she was still alive. My dad went back up there to find out about the kids and they were no longer there. He told me the family died but he was lying (unintelligible).

Charlene Riggins:

So, he told you your mother was dead and that was so you wouldn't question where she was.

Charles Rodriguez:

Yeah, yeah.

Charlene Riggins:

But, he knew she was still alive.

Charles Rodriguez:

Yeah, originally my dad, one time he was crying and he told me the whole thing what happened. But, there were problems.

Charlene Riggins:

Ok, so they had marital problems?

Charles Rodriguez:

Marital problems, yeah.

Charlene Riggins:

So when your mother did die or pass away your dad was still married to her?

Charles Rodriguez:

Correct, yeah.

Charlene Riggins:

Do you recall if he went to her funeral?

Charles Rodriguez:

No, because when we left Oakland I remember I was small. I was the one running after the car because he'd leave me behind. Mom was still alive then. But, later on I don't remember nothing, you know.

Charlene Riggins:

What about your other brothers and sisters at that time?

Charles Rodriguez:

Well, originally I had a brother and a sister up there in Oakland, but I don't know, because I was small.

Charlene Riggins:

So, you really didn't get to know your siblings?

Charles Rodriguez:

No, because we were separated. I was going to be left behind in Oakland, but I was running and I was small and my dad had bought one of those Model T's, you remember the Model T? Well, he bought one of those convertibles and I was running and I jumped on the car and he brought me with him.

Charlene Riggins:

So, you ran.

Charles Rodriguez:

Yeah, I could have been left in Oakland.

Charlene Riggins:

But you wanted to be with your dad.

Charles Rodriguez:

Yeah

Charlene Riggins:

That was kind of a wise decision do you think in your case?

Charles Rodriguez:

Yeah, yeah. Well, to me I never had the love of a mother. I had the love of my dad. (Unintelligible dialogue)

Charlene Riggins:

So, you knew right off the bat, at that young age, you wanted to be with your father.

Charles Rodriguez:

Yeah, my dad, yeah. My dad was a good man. He was well educated and everything. He used to short himself, he would say, "of all the jobs I had up there working for this company and everything, I was in a good position there, but here I am picking oranges and I lost all my education because of the Mexican thing, I got to pick oranges over here". That's what would get him, you know.

Charlene Riggins:

Ok, so he felt that his education was lost?

Charles Rodriguez:

Lost, yeah.

Charlene Riggins:

So, he ended up in Contra Costa, well actually you moved down to this area in Orange.

Charles Rodriguez:

Contra Costa they call it Martinez County.

Charlene Riggins:

So, he left Martinez County, came to the Orange County area.

Charles Rodriguez:

No, he came to Oakland.

Charlene Riggins:

When did he start picking oranges?

Charles Rodriguez:

Well, at the time in Escondido. But, they claimed the oranges paid higher prices over here, so he came to El Modena.

Charlene Riggins:

So, would you consider your dad then in the category of a migrant worker?

Charles Rodriguez:

Yeah

Charlene Riggins:

So, basically even though he was educated in Mexico City, that education was lost when he came to California?

Charles Rodriguez:

Yeah, that's why he got so disgusted about that. He said that he was intelligent but he had to come out here and pick oranges.

Charlene Riggins:

Was that, do your think a result of his racial background, being Hispanic? There weren't jobs open for Hispanics with education.

Charles Rodriguez:

Yeah. Remember now, the white race always have been with the idea to keep you under the foot. I know that trick too. But, the point is this, that they always had labor, all the labor, everything was done by the Spanish people, not the white guys. They were pretty smart. They sent their kids to school, college and everything and they had all the Spanish people working the crops and everything. You got the same thing right now with the wetbacks. Cheap labor, pay them one dollar an hour, when the rest of the guys make more money and they hire a laborer for one buck. So, you got a slave there, free slavery for one buck.

Charlene Riggins:

Now while your dad was picking oranges, as a farm laborer/worker, was he involved in any of the unionizing of the farm workers?

Charles Rodriguez:

No, no

Charlene Riggins:

So, he didn't really get involved in the whole union movement?

Charles Rodriguez:

No, no.

Charlene Riggins:

He was basically using that (his job) as a source of income.

Charles Rodriguez:

No. He was just like me, I'm neutral. I don't get drawn into nothing. So, its riots, I'm playing neutral, I don't get involved in anything. Political, originally I'm a Democrat, not a Republican. But, to me I don't get involved with politics. I'm neutral, you see. My job is to take care of my house and let the world go around.

Charlene Riggins:

Ok. When we were speaking the last time you indicated that you moved to El Modena and this was your father's land.

Charles Rodriguez:

Correct, yeah.

Charlene Riggins:

How did your father come about acquiring this land? Do you remember?

Charles Rodriguez:

Well, I lived right here in the corner, this corner here (he points in the direction behind him), I lived in the second house and I met the Romero's. Then we moved to another house. I lived in about four houses on the block. Then my dad bought this property. Originally, dad's property and this one here was all together and they divided it and my dad bought this one here.

Charlene Riggins:

So, when he bought the property it was just a vacant lot?

Charles Rodriguez:

Correct. No, no. There was a little house.

Charlene Riggins:

So, was it kind of like a wooden house?

Charles Rodriguez:

A wooden house with a lot of cucarachas (??).

Charlene Riggins:

With a lot of cucarachas?

Charles Rodriguez:

A lot of cucarachas and rats. Rats would be in the water and see those big rats run through all over.

Charlene Riggins:

So, how old were you when your dad bought that house?

Charles Rodriguez:

Well, I was about, well it was 1939, 1938? I was already here before the war.

Charlene Riggins:

You were in the house before the war?

Charles Rodriguez:

Yeah.

Charlene Riggins:

Did your dad ever remarry?

Charles Rodriguez:

No, no. He never did.

Charlene Riggins:

Now, let's get back to your "Zoot Suiting" time. When you were a "Zoot Suitor" World War II had already broken out. We were right in the middle of war. In 1942, that's when Pearl Harbor was bombed.

Charles Rodriguez:

No, that was 1941.

Charlene Riggins:

Nineteen-forty one, ok. Now, what made you decide to go into the military?

Charles Rodriguez:

Well, at that time you had the draft because the war was still hot. We had an enemy hit us over here without us knowing what was going on. They were talking politically that there had been an attack by the Japanese guys and they were caught off guard. But the point is, they hit Pearl Harbor in 1941, but I didn't get caught there, I got caught in 1942. They sent me a letter, "you have been selected by your neighbors", that I had to go and defend this country. If not, they'd put me in jail. Well, a lot of our guys ran to Tijuana and the white guys ran to Canada as deserters. But me, when I received that card, that letter I said, "Dad, I'm caught dad." So, I had to go and serve for my country and that was 1942. It was September 16th, when they had the Spanish celebration and I had to report to Fort McArthur.

Charlene Riggins:

Now where did you report?

Charles Rodriguez:

Fort McArthur.

Charlene Riggins:

Fort McArthur. Now that's in Los Angeles/San Pedro?

Charles Rodriguez:

San Pedro, yeah.

Charlene Riggins:

Ok. Where did you go for your basic training?

Charles Rodriguez:

Well, I went to Fort McArthur, I got all my uniforms and everything and I took a train to Texas.

Charlene Riggins:

What part of Texas?

Charles Rodriguez:

Abilene, Texas, the 90th division, the Texas/Oklahoma division.

Charlene Riggins:

Do you remember the name of the fort that you trained?

Charles Rodriguez:

I forget. But, I served there. Fort Warrington, no, no that's where I got discharged, But I got transferred from Fort McArthur to Colorado, to the 89th division. .

Charlene Riggins:

The 89th division? Now, when you went in, you went in as a private, what was your first detail, what were you trained as? Were you just infantry?

Charles Rodriguez:

I was infantry and at the same time I was in the medical core. I was in both. My training in Texas, it was a forty mile hike, full pack, 90-pound pack. Nothing but desert in Texas. I took my training there and then I was transferred to Colorado. I served there in the armor division. I took my training in Colorado and while I was training in Colorado there was a request from President Roosevelt to the 89th division that wanted special mission troops to be volunteers. So, me as a sucker, I got up and was ready to take my hat off and swear with an oath that I'm going to join this mission. So, Roosevelt took one battalion from Colorado, Camp Carson, another battalion from Panama Canal, and another battalion from Guadalcanal. They were already fighting over there.

Charlene Riggins:

So, there was a battalion from Colorado, a battalion from Panama, and a battalion from Guadalcanal and these were all volunteers?

Charles Rodriguez:

Yeah, all volunteers.

Charlene Riggins:

And this was for a special mission?

Charles Rodriguez:

A special mission, yeah. So, we got out of Colorado at midnight as a secret mission and the only one who knew that was the FBI. See, everything was supposed to be secret. We pulled out of Colorado at midnight and ended up in Oakland, Camp Barkney or Barkley(??) and embarkation (??) [They disembarked]. At one o'clock in the morning we walked out of there from the boat at midnight and everything was supposed to be secret.

Charlene Riggins:

Did they tell you where or what this secret mission was?

Charles Rodriguez:

No, no. This thing was secret and nobody knew where we were going.

Charlene Riggins:

Now, you volunteered for a secret mission not knowing where it was going to take you?

Charles Rodriguez:

Correct.

Charlene Riggins:

Why? What propelled you?

Charles Rodriguez:

Well, I was already tired and I wanted to visit you know. I wanted to get out of there and I swear it. They told me, they took big guys out of there, and the sarg (sergeant) told me, "You still want to move on." Now look, I'm all ready I'm going to get out of here. So, I sweared with an oath. I had to swear with an oath. So, I cut off my neck and I volunteered and I nearly got killed in Burma.

Charlene Riggins:

Oh my God. Now, when you volunteered for this special mission, not knowing where you were going, do you think it was out of a sense of adventure? Because, you mentioned you was a man of action.

Charles Rodriguez:

Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Charlene Riggins:

So, did you feel like you weren't getting the action you wanted?

Charles Rodriguez:

Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Charlene Riggins:

Now, you also mentioned that you were in the medic core. Where did you get your training for the medic core?

Charles Rodriguez:

In Colorado Springs.

Charlene Riggins:

So, when you volunteered for this mission was it as an infantryman, a medic or both?

Charles Rodriguez:

Both, infantry and medic.

Charlene Riggins:

Ok, now after you left Colorado Springs with the other battalions that were brought in where did you go from that point? Where did you go when you left Colorado where did the battalions go? Where did you end up?

Charles Rodriguez:

I ended up in Oakland.

Charlene Riggins:

In Oakland.

Charles Rodriguez:

Yeah, they called it Camp Barkley or Bockney (??).

Charlene Riggins:

Now, from Camp Bockney (??) where did you go?

Charles Rodriguez:

We got the boat; we sailed down to New Caledonia. That's an island near Guadal Canal. But, we couldn't get in to Guadal Canal because they were (unintelligible), the Japanese were (unintelligible), so the boat had to go another way into New Caledonia to be protected. Now remember, we were going in a big ship, they called it Lurline (??), a big ship. So, we stopped in New Caledonia, most all the officers got off.

Charlene Riggins:

All the officers got off at New Caledonia.

Charles Rodriguez:

Yeah, but one mistake was made. One of the officers got drunk and everything was supposed to be secret. But being drunk, he opened his mouth and the FBI got the guy, this colonel, they got him. He was giving away information. Nobody knew where We were going, you know. So, from there I went to Australia, to New Zealand and then I went to a little port and continued to travel from there by ship. We got caught in, what do you call it?

Charlene Riggins:

A hurricane?

Charles Rodriguez:

Yeah, a hurricane. We got caught in a hurricane and we got caught by a Japanese sub that sent a torpedo to the boat but it missed. So, we landed up there in India. We landed in Bombay, a port of India and we got transferred from there north to Karachi in northern India. Right now, that's where they were having trouble in India. We went to Karachi, to a place there that was controlled by the British. We took our training with the British.

Charlene Riggins:

Now, when you got to India you still had no idea what your mission was about?

Charles Rodriguez:

No, no.

Charlene Riggins:

So, it was still top secret at that point?

Charles Rodriguez:

Yeah, yeah.

Charlene Riggins:

Now, when you got to India, that's when you started training for this mission?

Charles Rodriguez:

In India, yeah, yeah.

Charlene Riggins:

What type of training were you given?

Charles Rodriguez:

Well, for jungle warfare. We had training with using mules because at that time we did not have a Viet Nam. In Viet Nam they had helicopters, if you got into an ambush you called on the radio, called in the helicopters to get you out and they would get you out fast. Us, how could we do it? With mules you're dead. We had training there with the British that brought in Chinese mules. They were little mules that we would put the packs on top with everything and got trained to get ready to go into Burma under the British because they were giving the training and they knew about Burma. After we finished the training we took the train and we started going to the border of India and Burma. We camped there for about two nights, they were all bamboo huts, and you know everything is bamboo. And, one of those lions, ever see one of those lions.

Charlene Riggins:

A Bengal lion?

Charles Rodriguez:

Yeah, yeah they were after those mules.

Charlene Riggins:

Oh, they were after the mules.

Charles Rodriguez:

Yeah, the mules. But, from then on we crossed into Burma and we landed at a little river. We were taking a bath there, the whole bunch of us and I said, "Hey, who's going to be our general?" So, he was all naked and everything, he got up from the water and he said, "I'm the general. You guys have a good time, men." He was taking a bath himself.

Charlene Riggins:

And, who was this, the general?

Charles Rodriguez:

General Merrill. He was a one star general, a brigadier general.

Charlene Riggins:

After your training was completed you had to travel from India to your mission point, how was that travel handled?

Charles Rodriguez:

I was up there in New Deli, in northern India. From there we took a train, we took a cattle train. They took us up towards Burma after we took our training. Then we got up there and then we walked and stayed over night in little huts made out of bamboo and then with moonlight out there in Burma you could see the whole scene beautifully. But, the next day we walked, we started walking. We had these Scotsmen in front of us to build up our moral with these little things.

Charlene Riggins:

Bag pipes?

Charles Rodriguez:

Bag pipes, yeah they were in front of us and then from there they disappeared and we kept going to the border of Burma and there was a mountain that go off like that and the path led us right into the valley.

Charlene Riggins:

Ok, so at this point and time when you got to Burma, after your training and you went into Burma; you still had no idea of what you were doing there?

Charles Rodriguez:

NO, no.

Charlene Riggins:

When did you get orders? When did you actually find out what your mission was about?

Charles Rodriguez:

Well, the general got us together and he made a map. You guys be ready to go behind the lines of the Japanese as tactic guerilla fighting, counter attack, hit and run, that's our job. You have two battalions, we split each into three, one with a certain job. But, our mission was to penetrate behind the Japanese lines. Once we got behind the lines, then we had three battalions, each one would do a different job and they would be about 100 miles away from each one. So, we done that and our mission would start there.

Charlene Riggins:

Your mission was to go in behind enemy lines.

Charles Rodriguez:

Go behind the lines of the Japanese, yeah.

Charlene Riggins:

What was the purpose of this?

Charles Rodriguez:

To counter attack and block them off.

Charlene Riggins:

To block them off from getting into China?

Charles Rodriguez:

Well, they had the Lido Road, the Burma Road they had it controlled. The point is, the Japanese knew what they were doing, come up and got that controlled. In other words, that was the supply line into China. So, what they were going to do was to starve them to death and that was the only way they were going to conquer the Chinese. At the same time, they were going to cross towards India. Trying to get out towards Hitler, get together and that way conquer the whole thing. Their target was India and we had them blocked this way.

Charlene Riggins:

Now, we are in Burma and I want to know what it was like as a Hispanic soldier on a special mission with a troop of what they were considering trained elite guerilla fighters. Did you, were you accepted in as one of the men, I mean, did you experience any prejudices.

Charles Rodriguez:

No, no. When you are in the outfit there is no discrimination there. If you're Catholic, Protestant or Jew it don't make no difference there because you are all going to be brothers in the foxhole.

Charlene Riggins:

Now, you are infiltrating into the Japanese lines, what were your thoughts at that time? Did you think maybe you had made a mistake or were you thinking this is the excitement you were looking for?

Charles Rodriguez:

Well, I wasn't thinking anything like that. Alii was thinking was that I had a job to be done. I volunteered and I figured I'm already in this and no way out for me now, you see. But, we met the Chinese; we had contact with them because we were just off the Burma imperialist (??). We had a lot of big white guys on patrol and we got caught in elephant grass. We could hardly see each other and there were Chinese and we thought they were Japanese and we started throwing bullets to them. They started counter attacking us and we had a misunderstanding there for a little while until we sent a patrol to see what was going on up there. That's when we realized it was the Chinese marching up there, they were Chinese not Japanese. So, they recognized us as their own and the Chinese were very happy to meet us. That was the first time they met us, white people, they gave us rice with rats.

Charlene Riggins:

Rice with rats?

Charles Rodriguez:

Really, I'm not lying.

Charlene Riggins:

But, that was their food substance and that's what they ate.

Charles Rodriguez:

Yeah, yeah.

Charlene Riggins:

Now, the Chinese were fighting with the British forces?

Charles Rodriguez:

Correct, the Republican Chinese.

Charlene Riggins:

Now, at this point and time what was your battalion? What was this guerilla force? Were they under British control at this time?

Charles Rodriguez:

We were under Stilwell. Commanding General Stilwell was with the Chinese. But, the point is that we were under Stilwell, not under the British. So, General Merrill was connected with Stilwell, the general of the Chinese, he was not Chinese. He was under Chiang Kaishek, the commanding general of the Chinese. They were all republican Chinese, but Stilwell was with the Chinese. But, we had to be under Stilwell.

Charlene Riggins:

As American forces?

Charles Rodriguez:

As American forces, but my general, a one star general he was the one we were under.

Charlene Riggins:

Now, did you ever meet General Merrill?

Charles Rodriguez:

Yeah.

Charlene Riggins:

What type of person was he like?

Charles Rodriguez:

He was a good guy, you know.

Charlene Riggins:

Was he good to the troops?

Charles Rodriguez:

Yeah, he was very good; he went all the way with us. In all the dirt and everything, he went all the way with us walking and everything all the way. He always took to the guys.

Charlene Riggins:

Now, which particular battalion was he affiliated with?

Charles Rodriguez:

I think he was mostly with "B" battalion. I was in "C" battalion.

Charlene Riggins:

Ok, "C" battalion. You were with "C" battalion and General Merrill was with "B" battalion?

Charles Rodriguez:

Well, he mostly was with "B" battalion because that was headquarters. You have headquarters with the general there with his assistants and he had to be protected because he had so many things going on.

Charlene Riggins:

Right. Let me ask you this, here you are in the middle of the jungle fighting the Japanese with Chinese troops, were there any of the native people that fought with you?

Charles Rodriguez:

Yeah, correct. We had Gurkies. They were trained by the British, the best troops that the British had were the Gurkies. They were characters; very strong people, very disciplined and they were under the British. But, we had scouts as Gurkies. They knew the territory we didn't know the territory. See, we could walk in there blind and get into a massacre. But, we had Gurkies as scouts; those guys would cut your throat. We had Nagahs (??), another type of Indian tribe. I met different natives. I met some Chinese Chundas (??) that come from the Himalayan Mountains. They look like women big, tall ones with long hair and they look like women. They come from the north, the Himalayan Mountains. I met all kind of people, all kind of natives. The Nagahs (??) the women are very short. The women are very stubborn and very rough, but they're short. That's another kind of tribe.

Charlene Riggins:

Now, who were the Chindits? What was there function?

Charles Rodriguez:

Well, their function, you mean what?

Charlene Riggins:

How did they fight? How were they used within this campaign?

Charles Rodriguez:

We used them for scouts. Say for instance now, here we are here, we've traveled all night long. Our job is to walk all night long, find our target and hit while it's quiet. Now, we get a town like this here, now were talking right now, and suddenly you break the barrier down and you massacre the whole bunch. So, we walk aU night, hit our target at 12:00 in the morning, we caught them off guard sleeping. Massacre the whole bunch, get out of there fast and hit our target someplace else.

Charlene Riggins:

The jungle, what was it like?

Charles Rodriguez:

It had a lot of bamboo. It's a bamboo land, that Burma. It's very thick; the bamboo is very thick with jungle and everything. You have a lot of death and diseases. You can get elephant typhus, you can get jungle ulcers, and you can get anything that you want.

Charlene Riggins:

Now, as you are marching through this jungle you are doing so without support. You don't have anyone coming in to support you. So, you are marching, how did you survive? What was your food substance?

Charles Rodriguez:

Well, the air force in India used to have C-47's. They're the ones that would fly in and drop the supplies we needed. They would drop parachutes with the food and supplies. We used to pull them up, we had big rakes, and we'd pull them up. But, if they missed the target and they go towards the Japanese we got stuck, we'd starve ourselves.

Charlene Riggins:

Now, that's another thing that I'm interested in. What was the camaraderie? I mean, here you are marching in the jungle and you have men suffering with elephant typhus or with rotten disease, did you take care of each other? How did you take care of each other?

Charles Rodriguez:

My job was mostly to take care of the guys. See, I used to take care of about forty guys myself. Being a medic, that was my job.

Charlene Riggins:

What was your first engagement? What was your first actual battle engagement, where were you?

Charles Rodriguez:

Well, that's when I told you about the Chinese, that was our first attack by the Chinese. But, when we started going in there we used to see outposts but we didn't meet at the outposts. We went toward the mountains, the Himalayan Mountains, one side of Cambodia. We went into Burma through there and hit their main points. Not the little, small outposts.

Charlene Riggins:

How did you find out, how did you get your intelligence? How did you know where the Japanese were?

Charles Rodriguez:

Well, we had Japanese guys here, volunteers. We used them to tap the lines. Now, those Japanese they knew how to speak Japanese and they could hear the Japanese talking up there. We could get information on how much troops were in that town, how much artillery and everything before we hit the town.

Charlene Riggins:

One of the major battles was to take over a particular town. I believe it was called.

Charles Rodriguez:

Myitkyina?

Charlene Riggins:

Right.

Charles Rodriguez:

The main target was Myitkynia. Myitkynia was controlled by the Japanese. That was the main point. In Rangoon, the British commandos were on a mission to Rangoon trying to take a ship from Rangoon to Mandalay and Myitkynia was in the north. If we could get Myitkynia, the air force was there.

Charlene Riggins:

The Japanese air force?

Charles Rodriguez:

Yeah. The main point of the heart of all the Japanese was there. They had the 18th Imperial Japanese there. The best troops they had of the Japanese, the royal guards of the time.

Charlene Riggins:

So, that was an important objective of Merrill's Marauders?

Charles Rodriguez:

Yeah, that was the target.

Charlene Riggins:

Now, when you went into Myitkynia, what was your force? I mean number of men, how many did you have? Was it all three battalions or just one?

Charles Rodriguez:

At that time it was three battalions, yeah.

Charlene Riggins:

And it was coordinated where you were coming in from different angles?

Charles Rodriguez:

Yeah, and the Chinese too. The ones that came to help us afterwards were the 475 Infantry Rangers. They're the ones came afterward when we were fighting in Burma, in Myitkynia, they came in with gliders. That was the 475 Infantry Rangers.

Charlene Riggins:

And their mission was to come in as support.

Charles Rodriguez:

To support us, yeah.

Charlene Riggins:

And this was to take Myitkynia?

Charles Rodriguez:

We took it and our mission was already complete. Let them do the dirty job. We pulled out of there, we done our job already. Two missions, get out of there.

Charlene Riggins:

So, you had two missions?

Charles Rodriguez:

Yeah.

Charlene Riggins:

And that was to take Myitkynia.

Charles Rodriguez:

Take Myitkynia and let them take over the whole thing and we pulled out of there.

Charlene Riggins:

Then once you pulled out of Myitkynia what was your next objective.

Charles Rodriguez:

Home.

Charlene Riggins:

To come home.

Charles Rodriguez:

I ended up in Calcutta. The last guy to take the boat, a Navy ship. I was sick and they brought me back in a Navy ship, back home.

Charlene Riggins:

Now, back to your battles. You were there as an infantryman and a medic. What was the demeanor of the people fighting? I mean were there any men that wished they had not joined this special mission when they started seeing the death and destruction was there any people who tried to run away or to get out?

Charles Rodriguez:

Well, You can't, you can't. Where are you going to run? The British made the same mistake, I saw that. Yeah, I saw the British make a mistake when they hit Rangoon going through Mandalay Bay they got into a trap. They sent a whole division of paratroopers and they all got wiped out, a whole division. They all got slaughtered; you got too many Japanese in Burma. The rescuers (??) that got involved, a lot of them got out watking to China, walking through the jungle to China into India; escape, you know. But, that was the British. See, once you are behind the lines there's no way out. You're gonna get killed or you are going to escape one way, you know. We had this thing already known that if we got lost we know where to get us, escape into China walk ourselves to death or go into India.

Charlene Riggins:

Ok, so those were your escape routes.

Charles Rodriguez:

Yeah, before you get bumped off.

Charlene Riggins:

Now, another thing. The soldiers that got injured say for instance, after a particular skirmish there were some injuries, did you have hospitals or did you have anything set up?

Charles Rodriguez:

Yeah, we had aid stations behind the lines. We had doctors; we had two doctors under us. In "C" battalion we had one doctor and the medics and soldiers too. "B" battalion had a doctor too. We had an aid station where the plane would come into the jungle; we made a little strip where this prop plane could come in there and pick up the wounded guys. Like me, when I got injured and they pulled me out of there I went into convulsions and I went out. I landed in India in a hospital.

Charlene Riggins:

You didn't know where you were?

Charles Rodriguez:

I was dying momma.

Charlene Riggins:

Ok, one other question. Well, I have a lot of questions. You are on this secret mission, you are in the middle of the jungle, and you had to keep yourself camouflaged from the enemy. How did you stay warm? Were you able to make campfires?

Charles Rodriguez:

No, No. Otherwise you would get spotted.

Charlene Riggins:

So, how did you stay warm? But, you're in the jungle so I guess that doesn't matter. But, heating food, you weren't able to cook food?

Charles Rodriguez:

No, no. You had little K-rations. In the morning you had beans, no, it was bacon and eggs. But, it was little cans, you'd open it up and that's all. At noon a little bit of cheese and the afternoon stew.

Charlene Riggins:

That's not enough food.

Charles Rodriguez:

A lot of times what we used to do we'd get a grenade in the river and throw the grenade into the water and get fish. Then we cut a bamboo, cut out the green get the fish put it in there and then make a fire but in the daytime, not in the nighttime cause you get caught. Make a little fire and bake the fish. At the same time the natives showed us how to eat things from the jungle for survival.

Charlene Riggins:

So, food and different animals to survive on.

Charles Rodriguez:

I remember I was going to eat an orange, it looked like an orange tree and he said, "Don't eat, that's poison" and I was going to eat it. It looked like an orange.

Charlene Riggins:

But, it was poison.

Charles Rodriguez:

Yeah.

Charlene Riggins:

So, they helped you?

Charles Rodriguez:

Yeah, they helped find things to eat in the jungle.

Charlene Riggins:

So, the only time you basically had hot food or fresh food was during the daytime?

Charles Rodriguez:

I remember for Thanksgiving they flew in with parachutes cans with turkey, it was cold, cold turkey for Thanksgiving.

Charlene Riggins:

Now, your campaign with Merrill's Marauders I'm sure it left you with a lot of lasting memories, give me an idea, what to you is one of the things that stays with you as far as your campaign, as far as being part of that campaign, what's one of your lasting memories of being a Merrill's Marauder?

Charles Rodriguez:

Well, I don't know. I always have been proud of my outfit. I'm the guy that fights only for Merrill's Marauders (??). I'm associated with Veteran's of Merrill's Marauders Association/Modern Soldier. Mean guy (??). He's the one that make this book (The Bastards of Burma). This one here, I got the little one and big one. That's why I bought them. All the stories of Merrill's Marauders are here and I wanted to have that for my kids and everything like that. But, that's why I volunteered for the Merrill's Marauders Association. The point is that I'm very proud of the outfit. I'm very proud we got along (??). I always believed we were volunteer guys, everybody volunteered for something like that. You didn't know whether you'd get killed or know if you were even coming back. But, at the time they were risking their lives to go up there and try to defend this country here and a lot of people don't appreciate it. What does that tell ya? You forgot, you forgot Pearl Harbor. But, I'm a man that never forgets, I got an elephant brain, I never forget nothing.

Charlene Riggins:

Now, what exactly, give me just in army talk, what was the name of your particular battalion? Was it battalion "B"?

Charles Rodriguez:

"C". You had "A", "B", and "c" battalions.

Charlene Riggins:

How many men were in your particular battalion?

Charles Rodriguez:

A thousand.

Charlene Riggins:

You had a thousand?

Charles Rodriguez:

Two battalions made two thousand.

Charlene Riggins:

So, it was a thousand per battalion.

Charles Rodriguez:

Correct.

Charlene Riggins:

And, of your particular battalion, of your thousand men, how many came home?

Charles Rodriguez:

Well, out of the whole thing, it was three thousand went in, just I think you might find it came out two hundred came back home.

Charlene Riggins:

Two hundred came home and the others perished in the jungle?

Charles Rodriguez:

Yeah!

Charlene Riggins:

What was it like fighting in the jungle? I mean the little bit of training you had in India, did that really prepare you for fighting in the jungle?

Charles Rodriguez:

Well, yeah. Jungle warfare is different (unintelligible). Like in Europe, it's an open battlefield; you can see your enemy. But, in the jungle it's different; you can't see your enemy before they blow your brains out. In the jungle that's why you dress up in green, you got to mix in with the tropical, so they can't see you. When you are in the jungle you are all camouflaged, they can't see you. You can be there and the only thing you can see is the barrel of the gun. Same thing that got me, they were up there, tied up, snipers ready to blow your brains out.

Charlene Riggins:

They were tied up in the trees?

Charles Rodriguez:

Yeah, all camouflaged.

Charlene Riggins:

And that's how they used their snipers?

Charles Rodriguez:

Yeah. They were all camouflaged. You can't see them. It's like walking into a booby trap. So for instance, you got a booby trap here, you walk in, you hit that booby trap well you blow the whole thing, you blow yourself. You had to be very careful in the jungle. It's not like an open battlefield like in Europe or like in California here. This war is different war in all respects of an open battlefield. But, the only trouble you got a bunch of rats in the hole and you try to get them out. I told the guys the only way to get them out it was flamethrowers; burn them out. So, that's where they had their trouble, this trouble here, it's not the war like us, enough of an open battlefield. Ours is jungle warfare.

Charlene Riggins:

So, the main things with jungle warfare are booby traps and camouflage.

Charles Rodriguez:

Yeah.

Charlene Riggins:

What were some of the tactics that the Merrill's Marauders used to flush out their enemy, to flush the Japanese out?

Charles Rodriguez:

Well, our tactics were mostly, our job was like I said - hit the target. Have the whole battalion walk to where you were going to hit the target and damage the whole thing. Blow up the train. You had the train coming from the south with the troops, put dynamite under the bridge, a pack of dynamite, and when the train comes blows the whole thing. That's why you had fighters in demolitions, a guy that knows how to put dynamite to blow the whole thing. So, everybody had different jobs to be done. One guy would make a roadblock; we had roadblocks. You call a roadblock when you were retreating back we'd put roadblocks and can kind of protect your rear and everything and plug the whole bunch and they were retreating back. So, there were different jobs each one had a different job.

Charlene Riggins:

I want to backtrack a little bit and ask you if you can remember any particular event while you were in the jungles of Burma that stands out in your memory.

Charles Rodriguez:

Well, at one pOint we were in the valley and the Japanese surprised us they were throwing artillery into the valley and they had us pinned down and I had this picture of my wife, Margaret had sent me a picture, and we had to get the hell out of there fast and I left my whole wallet in the foxhole. And I never forget the idea that some Japanese got my picture of Margaret over there. But, we got out of there. Another experience was we were trapped on "Maggot Hill."

Charlene Riggins:

Maggot Hill?

Charles Rodriguez:

Maggot Hill, yeah. We were trapped, they had us up in the hills and they had us surrounded. They called it a horseshoe formation and they had us trapped up there, this battalion. There were two battalions, we had another battalion, I think it was "B" battalion coming from the north we pointed them with the radio, we had radio, and we called up for support to get the hell out of there to get us out of that ambush or they were going to kill the whole bunch. So, they called them in and at that time, my God it was stinky Momma, maggots and everything. Japanese dead we had to take them out of there (unintelligible) and several were heaving their K-rations, you know. I'll never forget that, you know. Those Japanese were keen and would circle our camp and every morning they'd have a "banzai", they called it a "banzai" they would come charging up the hill. We had the machine gun on the hill at the trail and every morning they would make a "banzai".

Charlene Riggins:

A banzai, that's like a charge?

Charles Rodriguez:

A charge, yeah. The whole bunch would banzai and we cranked up the machinegun go all around cut down the whole bunch. That's why we called it Maggot Hill. I'll never forget that but I never got scared. I knew that we were trapped and we had support from another battalion coming from the north that took us out of there. They're the ones that called in for, because we didn't have artillery, so they called in for two seventy-five millimeter artillery. So these guys, there were five guys there that knew how to mess with artillery. So, when you load the artillery in there they called us up through the radio and say they saw us guys pinned down, duck down. So we had to get down in the foxhole and they shoot the artillery, when you shoot artillery you go up like this (He indicates an upward motion with his hands) but they were doing point blank.

Charlene Riggins:

Shooting straight across?

Charles Rodriguez:

Yeah! So we had to duck and you could here the shot going right on top of you, you know, and hitting the target the Japanese, my God you could see nothing but flesh. They were destroying them with artillery and we got out of that ambush. They were really slaughtered. There were so many Japanese bodies.

Charlene Riggins:

So, you were in the middle of the horseshoe surrounded by the Japs?

Charles Rodriguez:

Yeah, yeah.

Charlene Riggins:

How long did that take, a couple of days?

Charles Rodriguez:

Yeah, a couple of days. It was about a week. Pinned down and we didn't have enough supplies to eat because when the parachutes came in the wind would blow and they wouldn't hit the target where we were and would go towards the Japanese. What we would do is clear a target so the C-47's would see the target and they would drop the stuff. We would call up on the radio to the Air Force to come in and bring us supplies. They were bringing the food and everything.

Charlene Riggins:

But you are saying that a lot of times it missed the target.

Charles Rodriguez:

Yeah, they would miss the target and a lot of times we were starving to death.

Charlene Riggins:

So if the food supply parachute would miss its target how long would it take for another supply plane to come through?

Charles Rodriguez:

A couple of weeks. We had the Indians to show us how to eat things.

Charlene Riggins:

Now we are out of the jungle and you found yourself in a hospital.

Charles Rodriguez:

Well, see they make a strip where the plane could land. The called it a paddy field. The planes would come in like that with a little strip and a compass and the little plane would carry just one person, the pilot and just one person. So they would use that as an aid station. Supplies come in like that, we get the patients get him in like that pulls him out. Then we would call again and the guy comes in, that's why he takes a risk because he could get shot down. Well, I got caught and they shipped me in that plane but I blacked out. I didn't know where I was going I blacked out and ended in a hospital in India. I woke up there, not in a regular hospital; it was made out of bamboo. Another thing they had a tube blowing air, they had this big blower in there. When I was unconscious, I was going to die, they had me with an oxygen mask, if they was going to put the mask on you're going to die sooner or later. What I was doing was taking the thing off and I see the nurse and she was clapping her hands like that saying you made it and I was taking the god darn thing off like that and she ctapping saying you made it, like I was going to die you know.

Charlene Riggins:

So, you were that close to death?

Charles Rodriguez:

Yeah, and I made it.

Charlene Riggins:

I'm going to take you into another arena here, kind of getting back to the whole "zoot suit" movement, earlier in our interview you mentioned the music and how you enjoyed the music. Can you remember some of your favorite songs during that time, during the 30's and 40's?

Charles Rodriguez:

Flamenco. I liked, there were a lot of songs I liked. I remember the songs that the bands played. My favorite guy to play was Duke Ellington.

Charlene Riggins:

Duke Ellington?

Charles Rodriguez:

Duke Ellington, man did he play. He had a lot of fire. I used to like that.

Charlene Riggins:

So, big bands?

Charles Rodriguez:

Big bands, yeah. I used to like the blues and the way they act. (unintelligible). When I see somebody playing the trumpet it makes me remember back to Harry James. When I see a guy playing drums it reminds me of Jimmy Dorsey. He used to play all doped up.

Charlene Riggins:

All doped up? Did you prefer dancing, like did you jitterbug?

Charles Rodriguez:

Yeah, my love was to always dance. I'm still a dancer. I dance with my daughters. I entered a competition in La Habra they had a wedding and I entered a competition with these guys that paid me to be a good dancer. The guys gave me a line and I went up there and got my daughter and I met a white guy and he got mad, yeah he got all mad. I danced with three daughters that day.

Charlene Riggins:

You taught them how to dance?

Charles Rodriguez:

Yeah, yeah.

Charlene Riggins:

Good, good.

Charles Rodriguez:

I'm a dancer. I like to dance. I'm a music lover, a music lover. I like to dress up myself, especially if everybody keeps up. I like to dress up myself. Yeah, I put on my camouflage or my khaki but I like to dress up myself because appearance means a lot. You're dealing with a lot of different people, your personality means a lot, and it's just being prepared. They're watching you, you know (unintelligible). So, my life is to (unintelligible) be sharp when you look in prospect (??), even if you don't have the personality. I playa part of a guy that knows how to look smart.

Charlene Riggins:

So, you feel your appearance is important?

Charles Rodriguez:

Yeah, appearance means a lot; your personality means a lot to people. Especially with girls when you get to talking and the girls are looking at your walk and you got to make that mover. Since I'm old I held back a lot of what I want to say, yeah. I'm married now. The way I act they think I'm a young guy, they think I'm a young guy. They call out, "hey you're not a grandpa are you." I tell the girls, "I'm sorry girls but I'm your grandpa. I've always been like that, that's my personality. I'm worst than Sam, my son. My son Sam is a character. Might be that just in his mind, my way was good and that's the way he acts.

Charlene Riggins:

Ok, so you feel you have been a great influence on your children?

Charles Rodriguez:

Yeah, Mom is different. She's quieter, more Indian style.

Charlene Riggins:

So, what year, when were you actually discharged?

Charles Rodriguez:

I was discharged 1945 at Fort Hood (??) Washington.

Charlene Riggins:

So, you're discharged out. You're suffering from scrub typhus but you come home. So, the first thing you did when you came home was to go get Margaret?

Charles Rodriguez:

Yeah, correct. I going to tell you, I wanted her.

Charlene Riggins:

So, you got Margaret. When did you get married?

Charles Rodriguez:

I got married in 1945. Look here I'll tell you. When I was up in Burma I sent a letter to my dad making a request to go up there and ask for Margaret's hand. But, she was young and I was in trouble. My dad said a young girl like that and you're so old. When he went up there, my dad was a smart man, he went to college and he was dealing with her mother. The woman was a big woman and she was pretty smart too. My dad had competition, I'll tell you, with that woman asking for the hand of Margaret. They woke her up, Margaret come in here we got to talk to you and the poor girl came and man they had to use all the tricks and everything. "Don't worry," my dad said "I'll take responsibility." When I came home, the first thing I done, I said honey and she was living, her mother had died, she was the one taking care of her mom. And there was this house where she was staying and I told her I came to ask to marry me. So, the first thing I went to Los Angeles and got a bus.

Charlene Riggins:

Where did you go?

Charles Rodriguez:

I went to Yuma.

Charlene Riggins:

Yuma, Arizona?

Charles Rodriguez:

Yuma, Arizona, yeah. I got up there it was about midnight or one o'clock in the morning and everybody was alone and there's a colored girl with a guy. I said, "Hey honey go tell her what were here for" and she went and asked her. She said, "oh yeah baby we just got married ourselves. Oh, thank you momma, we went up there it was twelve o'clock in the morning. A little chapel there got married there and the minister took us in a car and took us to the judge. He came out with his robes and everything, put the seal, guaranteed it, you're hooked. When we came back on the bus Margaret had an apple and he couldn't pass us. So, the guy from immigration said you can't pass that; oh I'd like to see your papers to Margaret. I still had on my uniform. But, she didn't have her papers; she left them at the house. I said, "don't worry buddy that's my wife, we just got married, I'm military, I just got out. Well, that's ok buddy go right through man. .

Charlene Riggins:

Now tell me more about Margaret. When did you first realize that she was going to be your wife? Were you childhood sweethearts?

Charles Rodriguez:

Well, I don't know what happened. It's a mystery to me. She was living right on the corner and she would look at me when I was milking the goats. I had goats and she would look at me and she told them look at that ugly guy. From then on I just sorted (??) her out. She was beautiful.

Charlene Riggins:

So, when you were married, when you came back from Yuma where did you live?

Charles Rodriguez:

In my dad's house. I brought her to my dad's house. My dad looked at me like that you know, but there was nothing my dad could do.

Charlene Riggins:

But, was he happy about it?

Charles Rodriguez:

Yeah, my dad was happy. She asked where we should live, so we lived with my dad, but it was an old shack, momma.

Charlene Riggins:

Describe it for me.

Charles Rodriguez:

It had a little living room, a bedroom and a little kitchen. In the kitchen we had a table, an old kind of table and the chairs were boxes, you know the orange boxes.

Charlene Riggins:

Orange crates?

Charles Rodriguez:

Yeah. That was what we would sit on. Boy, we were poor man. Outside was the shower. The shower was a canvas; we had the water sink connected with a tube to the shower, to take a cold shower. And the toilets were outside, momma.

Charlene Riggins:

And you still had goats?

Charles Rodriguez:

Goats, chickens and everything. My dad would plant a lot of things like vegetables. Remember now, we had hardships. When I came back I came to claim social security because the state of California was giving a thousand dollars for the soldiers, a muster pay. When I went up there they said well you can go and pick oranges. I got on my discharge "harvest picker" that came back to me to come back and pick oranges. I said the hell with you I'm not going to pick oranges, I'm sick. They said well okay you know what were going to do we'll give you a suitable job. I retired from El Toro Marine base as a painter.

Charlene Riggins:

Charles, how many children do you have?

Charles Rodriguez:

Nine.

Charlene Riggins:

You raised the nine children here in La Paloma?

Charles Rodriguez:

La Paloma, yeah.

Charlene Riggins:

Was that difficult?

Charles Rodriguez:

No, well you know when you have nine kids not all of them are the same. Sam, oh hell he was a hell of a character. That kid. Sam is a good boy, he's an intelligent kid but, he was a very annoying kid. He bugged me because he was a kid, you know. I had Charles. I had a lot of trouble with the girls. I had trouble with Barbara, dope and everything. We had kids, you know. It's hard, you know. But this poor woman took a lot of pressure with all the darn kids. She never went out; she never had a babysitter or nothing. We had a lot of good times with the kids, you know.

Charlene Riggins:

Now as a veteran and as a father what do you feel is important for your children to understand about life? .

Charles Rodriguez:

Well, I try to let them. Here's the point, I'm a neutral man I don't get involved with my kids. With the kids I'm very neutral. But, I don't get involved with their business.

Charlene Riggins:

So, you basically try to instill a sense of independence in your children?

Charles Rodriguez:

Yeah.

Charlene Riggins:

Charles, do you have a message you would like to give to your children or anyone else who will be hearing these tapes?

Charles Rodriguez:

I think to Sam. Because Sam brought this up and I want to leave everything mostly in the long run to him.

Charlene Riggins:

Well Charles, I'd like to thank you for the time that you have given me.

Charles Rodriguez:

Why certainly.

 
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  October 26, 2011
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