By RENE TORRES
Special to the PRESS/NEWS
After Pearl Harbor, many of our local boys did not hesitate at the opportunity to join the war effort. In fact, according to Valley-wide selective service records—Cameron and Hidalgo counties revealed that over 27,000 of our boys were registered to serve. That did not include the numbers from the Willacy and Star counties.
Noe Gonzales was one of those eager to serve and joined in 1942. But he departed with a heavy heart because, months before, he had discovered paradise.
Her name was Amelia, a beautiful 16-year-old who worked as a ticket taker at the Dittmann Theater and later at the Grande in Brownsville.
She was the oldest sibling of 11 in her family, and possessed a lovely singing voice that could be heard on the airways of station KWWG in Brownsville.
She displayed a striking appearance in her theater uniform, attracting the
attention of many, but especially Noe. His visit to the theater became more frequent and not necessarily to enjoy a movie, but to have the opportunity to see Amelia. It was love at first sight for both.
The love affair took a pause when Noe had to report for active duty, but their affection continued through love letters. For months, he wrote passionate letters that promised marriage after his return from basic training.
That’s the way it happened! It was during his furlough that he married his teenage sweetheart. But soon after, leaves to face the enemy overseas, but with a sigh of relief, that he had secured the love of his life.
As the war intensified, Noe’s letters to his dearest Amelia alternated between fear and hope of what the future might hold.
The rest of Noe’s story is told in his obituary:
“Noe was born in Port Isabel in 1919 and was the first baby delivered in this area by the late D.J. Hockaday. Noe attended the Port Isabel schools and graduated from high school in 1938. He played on the Tarpon basketball team. They captured the Valley Championship in 1937. In those days, the team used to play on a hard dirt floor; there was no gym. There was also no classification system, so this championship was quite an accomplishment for the Tarpons. Noe was also on the roster of PI’s first baseball team. The greatest resentment of his life was that he was not able to attain a college degree.
In 1942, he attended the Harlingen Army Gunnery School. They practiced on the pre-developed South Padre Island before the first bridge went up in 1952. He also took training as a radio operator. During this time, he served as Technical Sergeant in the Army Air Force and belonged to the 327th Bombardment Squadron.
He served as radio operator and gunner on the B-17 Flying Fortress on 25 missions as a Staff Sergeant in the U.S. Army Air Corps before it became the U.S. Air Force. He received citations from General Doolittle, who was the Commander that led the raid on Tokyo in 1942 in revenge for the bombing of Pearl Harbor. General Doolittle gave him citation medals before he left England to head back home to the United States.
On behalf of Prime Minister Winston Churchill, he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal and three Oak Leaf Clusters. The citations were for extraordinary achievements.
Gonzales was the first man to return home from the war front. A committee honored him with a barbecue and a street dance on February 27, 1944. He served as a PI-ISD Board of Trustees in the 1960s for several terms. He was an avid supporter of the Tarpon sports programs. He was a lifetime resident of Port Isabel and a life member of Our Lady Star of the Sea Catholic Church.”
He was an active member of his beloved Port Isabel, always extending a helping hand to those in need.
Noe was 13 years old when he jumped into his father’s shrimp boat—working at sea for months and learning what it took to earn a dollar.
At a very young age, he mastered the skills of making and repairing fishing nets. He spent much of his adult life self-employed.
Around Port Isabel he is one of the best in his craft. His shop was neat and well organized with every tool in its place and every stick well defined.
Editor’s Note: Rene Torres is a retired assistant professor from the University of Texas at Brownsville, and Texas Southmost College. He has a long history in the Rio Grande Valley as an educator, sports historian, and humanitarian with a wealth of community service to his credit.