The city of Pueblo has long held close its reverence for the military. Generations of families continue to display pictures of veterans---airmen, sailors, marines and soldiers---in places of honor. This Saturday, the Pueblo Latino Chamber of Commerce will host its fifth Pueblo Latino Veterans Profiles in Courage Awards Banquet.
This year’s inductees include veterans from World War II all the way to Viet Nam. The Chamber will honor five men and one woman. Two of the recipients, Armando ‘Chief’ Trujillo and Joe L. Baca, will be honored posthumously. The others are Patricia L. Marrero, Rudy Sandoval, John Nava and George Autobee.
Marrero served on active duty during Viet Nam-era. She also completed twelve years in the Army Reserves. Marrero has been a member of American Legion Post 203 for over 27 years serving as the first female commander, from 2002 to 2006. Marrero joined the Pueblo Veterans Council, serving 14 years as secretary. She is a member of the American GI Forum Pueblo Chapter serving as secretary and national AGIF treasurer. Rudy Sandoval, awarded the Bronze Star for his service, served in Viet Nam with the 2/22 Infantry ‘Triple Deuce’ 25th Infantry Division.
His service to country officially ended with his honorable discharge. But his service to veterans has continued with the same valor. He has helped numerous veterans in Pueblo and across the country as a well-known and respected combat PTSD therapist. Over the years, he has lent a helping hand to countless veterans by helping them navigate the VA health system, understand their medications and assist them in returning to a life of normalcy.
Nava was a sailor, serving in the Navy from 1955 to 1959. After his discharge from the military, he taught in Pueblo schools until his retirement in 1992. He continues to work as a substitute teacher in Spanish, grammar, expository writing, world history, reading and literature.
Baca served in the Army in World War II and fought in the Pacific Theater. His daughter, Bernice Trujillo, said her father was wounded just 31 days after arrival in Okinawa. For his duty, Baca was awarded the Purple Heart, Asiatic Pacific Campaign Medal and the WWII Victory Medal. Baca returned to Pueblo after the war and worked at the Pueblo Army Depot where he retired as a carpenter. In retirement, he volunteered as a foster grandparent and was honored as Senior Resource Development Agency Volunteer of the Year.
Trujillo, also known as ‘Chief’ for his rugged features, was one of the estimated 60,000-80,000 American and Filipino prisoners taken by the Japanese and ultimately forced on what has become knows as the Bataan Death March. The March has been described as pushing the limits of depravity to its ends and characterized by unimaginable physical abuse and arbitrary killings. It has been condemned as a war crime. As many as 650 Americans did not survive the March.
Trujillo’s son, Darryl Trujillo, said his father periodically shared the experience with him. “He said the day that they were captured, there were in combat.” The fight had lasted for “more than a week,” he said. He remembered his father’s telling of “receiving fire, exchanging fire, starving, running out of ammo,” and malfunctioning weapons. Trujillo was honored with various awards to include the Purple Heart, Army Good Conduct Medal, Asiatic-Pacific Theater Service Medal, three Bronze Service Stars, the American Theater Service Medal, the Victory Medal, Philippines Defense Ribbon, American Defense Service Medal, plus the Distinguished Unit Badge with/ Oak Leaf Clusters. Trujillo retired from the Pueblo Army Depot.
Autobee joined the Marines in January of 1968. He was sold on the Marines, he said, when “I saw my cousins come back in their dress blues.” By June 1968, Autobee was “walking point,” in Viet Nam. ‘Walking point,’ said Autobee, meant walking a distance ahead of the rest of the unit.
“To tell you the truth,” he said, “when you start walking point, you’re kind of gung ho. You just want to do your duty.” He did the job unscathed for “forty days,” he said. His luck ran out when a round from an enemy AK-47 caught his right arm. He recovered but was wounded again months later. He was granted an early release from the Marines when he returned from the war.
Autobee went on to found his own company, World Demographic Research. He also reentered the military as an Army reservist. After a year in the reserves, he was commissioned as a Captain, the rank he held until retirement. Autobee and his wife currently reside in Colorado City, a community just south of Pueblo.
Saturday’s event is timed to coincide with National Hispanic Awareness month, said Gloria Gutierrez, co-chair of the ceremony. “We want to recognize Latino veterans from Pueblo who served, fought and died,” she said. “We want to make sure their stories don’t get lost.” Gutierrez said organizers hope to one day erect a permanent memorial to Latino men and women who have “served God, country and community.”