Edward Soares: 7th Air Force, Headquarters Squadron, CenPac

By EDWARD SOARES

As told to Mary Louis

Edward Soares, 1943

I was born in Newman, California to Mary and Severo Soares, who were Portuguese immigrants. When I was about a year old, my family moved to San Jose, where I grew up on a dairy farm. I had three brothers and two sisters. Carl was first, then Frank, Silverio, Mabel, myself, and finally Evelyn.

I graduated from Roosevelt Junior High School. Ironically, Roosevelt was a name that would hold much importance to me later in my military career. My education stopped there because I had to go to work. I picked prunes in Santa Clara Valley in my teen years. Later I worked for Pacific State Steel in Niles, California.

Young Love

During my teen years I met a wonderful girl named Mayme Costa at a Portuguese fiesta in San Jose. She was also of Portuguese heritage. At the first dance I asked her out but she said no. But I was persistent and told her that I would see her next day. I went to her house and met her parents and we began our courtship. We were never alone. Whenever I took Mayme out her mother accompanied us.

We were engaged when I received my draft notice. It was October 29, 1942, and I was 20 years old.

Our family had heard all about the war after the bombing at Pearl Harbor the year before, but I was a little taken aback because none of my older brothers had been drafted. Of course, they were older than I was. My oldest brother, Carl, did join the National Guard but stayed stateside.

On November 12, 1942, I went to the Presidio in Monterey for induction into the U.S. Army’s 16th Ordnance Battalion as a mechanic.

Boot Camp

I was sent to Fort Warren in Cheyenne, Wyoming for two months of boot camp. I endured marching and target practice in the bitter cold. I also went to mechanic’s training. But all was not bleak there. One day I was called into the general’s office. I was very nervous, wondering if I had done something wrong. It seems that my parents, who worked as gardeners for a Colonel Gibbs in Monterey, had asked if somehow the Colonel could request that someone look out after me, their youngest son. Colonel Gibbs sent the request to my battalion general.

When I arrived in the General’s office, I saluted but he told me not to bother saluting and then offered me a chair. I sat down, dumbfounded. He told me that I was being promoted to the rank of corporal and was being given my own platoon.

If I thought I was cold in Wyoming, then I knew real cold when I was transferred to Tacoma, Washington to the Mt. Rainier Ordinance Depot that same winter. Our barracks only had tarpaper on the outside. There were 50 of us in that barracks. Each of us paid 25 cents a month to a soldier to keep fires going inside so our quarters would be bearable. While there, I received six months of specialized training as a mechanic.

A DC-3 Soares worked on at Hickam Field, 1945

A DC-3 Soares worked on at Hickam Field, 1945

Hawaii

From Washington I was sent to Pittsburg, California for a few hours as we prepared to disembark. On May 23, 1943, we departed from San Francisco’s Fort Mason headed for Hawaii. It took our ship 10 days to reach Oahu, where we were awaiting placement. Many of the men on board became violently ill during our passage. I was lucky and never got sick.

I worked as a mechanic at Fort Shafter in Honolulu, repairing jeeps and trucks. One day in 1944 I visited Honolulu at Hickam Field, which was operated by the 7th Air Force. I liked what I saw of the aircraft maintenance and heard the stories of the crewmembers traveling a lot. I saw a lieutenant and asked if I could transfer to the Air Force. Amazingly, when he saw my interest he agreed. My transfer was completed easily and I became a member of the 7th Air Force Headquarters Squadron, CenPac (Central Pacific Area) with my same rank of corporal.

I wanted to see more of the world so I figured I could do that by changing branches of the service. From Fort Shafter I was transferred to Hickam Field to work on C-47 cargo airplanes. But I was never sent to any of the Pacific battle zones. I think my parents’ request to have someone watch over their youngest son kept me safe from being in any combat zones.

Ed Soares (holding American flag) with platoon, Mt. Rainier Ordnance Base, 1943

Ed Soares (holding American flag) with platoon, Mt. Rainier Ordnance Base, 1943

Roosevelt Honor Guard 

I was a crewmember aboard various planes so I was able to island hop. Parts of my duties were as a crew chief of a DC-3, which transported intelligence officers to various bases on the Hawaiian Islands to deliver information and supplies. The air bases we flew to were operational centers for various battles in the Pacific. Intelligence officers would hand-carry packets with orders and aerial reconnaissance information to commanders for the various battle sites.

I also worked on P-47s, P-38s, and P-51s. I never did fly anywhere else other than the Hawaiian Islands. But while I was at Hickam I reveled in the stories that I heard about Pacific war heroes – including aviation pioneer Hap Arnold, a fighter pilot and Air Corps Chief who helped shape the future U.S. Air Force.

While at Hickam, I saw the damage done at the nearby Schofield barracks during the Japanese bombing. There were bullet holes visible in many buildings more than a year after the shelling. I realized then how real the danger of enemy attack was.

Hickam was remarkable in my military history for another reason too. President Franklin D. Roosevelt visited Hawaii in July of 1944. He arrived on a great day weather-wise — not too hot or humid. I was chosen to be part of the honor guard, and held the American flag to greet him as he landed. The President just passed by us en route to meetings with battle commanders. Unlike modern-day presidents, he did not seem to have a large security detail with him. It was a proud moment in my career.

In November of 1945 the points required for discharge were changed from 80 to 60; one point was awarded for each month of service. I received extra points when I was promoted to Corporal, and when I transferred from the 16th Ordnance Battalion of the Army to the 7th Air Force, Headquarters Squadron. That was my reward for being promoted from repairing trucks and jeeps to repairing aircraft. Since I had 61 after three years in the military, I was free to discharge.

I was sent back on a C-54 ATC, an American transport plane, to Camp Beale, California for two days while my discharge was processed. I was discharged on November 8, 1945. From there I was bussed home.

Civilian Life

Mayme and I were married in San Jose on February 24, 1946. We had two sons, Edwin and John, and raised them in San Jose. Initially I worked for R. Cali Transportation hauling hay and fruit and as a mechanic. Then I transferred to Milpitas Materials where I worked as a shop superintendent for 34 years ‒ quite a step up from picking prunes! I credit the military for all of my mechanical training.

Mayme stayed home with our sons while they were young but then worked in a school cafeteria, eventually becoming the manager. We had a good life during our working careers.

One memorable event was that Mayme and I traveled with some good neighbors to Australia in 1971 for our 25th anniversary. While “down under” we also visited New Zealand. We were gone a month. Upon return, we continued working until the conclusion of our careers.

Ed and Mayme in 1946, before their marriage

Ed and Mayme in 1946, before their marriage

Retirement

In 1979, Mayme and I retired and moved to Columbia. We retired within a week of each other. It was a much-needed slower lifestyle that we enjoyed. We moved to Tuolumne County because we had friends we used to visit on Italian Bar Road. We liked the area, so we looked for property. When Mayme saw this acre of land and fell in love with it, I bought it for us.

In retirement we traveled to see friends and explored Mexico twice. We also took a Caribbean cruise. We also traveled with the SIRS (Sons in Retirement) to places like the Golden Gate Fields to watch the horse races.

After moving to Tuolumne County, I set up a welding and truck repair business until I started receiving my Social Security. After I sold my business, I started making little cars out of red cedar. I’ve donated the cars to the SIRS to be sold at their fund-raisers. I made Model A’s and Model T’s and even a logging truck.

In San Jose I was a member of the American Legion. I remained active in Veterans of Foreign Wars and the Elks Club after retirement in Tuolumne County. I became a fixture as a greeter at the 9am mass at St. Patrick’s Church in Sonora for many years.

Memories of Mayme

Mayme died on January 15, 2010 after almost 65 years of marriage. Since then I have struggled with mobility issues and need a hip replacement soon, so my active lifestyle has been somewhat affected.

I am glad to have served my country in the military. I was able to see more of America by being stationed in Hawaii, and I learned a trade that served me well in my civilian career.

I am glad that I did not see active combat, now in retrospect. When I was young I wanted to be sent to the front lines but am grateful that I did not so I could return to my Mayme. She waited faithfully for my return for three years. I missed her terribly while I was on active duty and miss her now since her passing. Almost every day I wrote letters home to Mayme. Those letters were censored. Of course, Mayme wrote back.

Halfway through my tour of duty, I even called her – it cost me $9 for three minutes.

Food, Friends

We had good food to eat. Hawaii was full of fresh vegetables, fruit and meat. We picked up cartons of pineapple and other fruit as we flew around the islands. We even ate on china, not tin plates found in combat zones.

We always had adequate supplies because we could fly somewhere to get what we needed. That was an ideal situation because we could always get parts and tools for repairs. The aircraft that I repaired were for the island hopping that we did for intelligence and supply purposes. I never worked on a fighter jet.

The only stress I felt was that we were always flying over shark-infested waters. That motivated me to make sure all the aircraft were in good condition. When I saw the battle-scarred Pearl Harbor area, I was also reminded that there was a real enemy out there in the Pacific. I never carried a good luck charm, but I did keep a small prayer book in my gear.

I did not experience any combat stress but still found myself drinking a little more than my normal consumption. I think that may have been for something to do after work. My buddies and I would shoot pool and drink beer.

Luau

I had leave time every week, frequently on weekends. One time I went to a Filipino luau in Kalihi. They served dog as the main course so I never returned. But something good came of that luau. I met a Portuguese couple, Helen and Phil Pavoa, who lived six miles from Hickam near Diamond Head in a little place called Kamiki. I would visit them every Friday to eat some good Portuguese cooking.

In the late 1950s, Helen and Phil came to visit Mayme and me in San Jose. They brought a 100-pound bag of sugar from the islands. There were a lot of Portuguese who lived in Hawaii.

Other leave time was when Hollywood stars would come to entertain the troops. I remember seeing Francis Langford, but there were others too.

The only time I was ever in trouble was when I went AWOL for 24 hours. Helen’s brother called me to invite me to a luau at Kono Bay. I was supposed to work that day, but I was never one to pass up an opportunity to party. He picked me up in a 1937 Chevy. I was restricted to the base for a month, but because they still needed a mechanic to fly with the officers, they allowed me to be a crew chief. So my “restriction” really was not severe punishment, and the month passed quickly.


I stayed in touch with some of my buddies after the war. There were five of us from San Jose that went to Hawaii during the war. So upon discharge it was easy to keep track of them. I knew some of them before, during, and after the war. Clarence Mendosa lived one block from Mayme and I after we bought our home in San Jose.

Soares and friends on a day off in Waikikki. Left to right, top row, Tony Lewis, Ed and Al Mattos; bottom row, Charlie Maciel and Tony Freitas, Ed's cousin.

Soares and friends on a day off in Waikikki. Left to right, top row, Tony Lewis, Ed and Al Mattos; bottom row, Charlie Maciel and Tony Freitas, Ed’s cousin.

Buddies

Another flight crew chief was Andy Anderson; he lived in San Jose, too. Tony Lewis was stationed at Fort Shafter, living on School Street, while I was there until I transferred to Hickam.

Two of the San Jose men went into the Navy. My first cousin, Tony Frietas, was stationed at Pearl Harbor after the Japanese bombing.

Because Hickam was nearby, we were able to see each other and then after we were discharged, I saw him at family gatherings until he became a Catholic Brother and moved to Los Angeles. He taught machine shop to underprivileged kids there.

The fifth man from San Jose that I saw in Hawaii was Charlie Maciela. He was a Navy officer who flew personnel and supplies between the U.S. and Hawaii.

After the war we socialized in San Jose, too.

Mr. Soares, April 2012

Mr. Soares, April 2012

Longevity

I’m the only one left alive of the five from San Jose who saw duty in Hawaii at the same time. I just turned 90, and I know that I am likely to live another good while because my Grandmother Souza lived until she was 104. Longevity must run in my genes.

I have never used the VA health benefits, because I still use the Operating Engineers health insurance I kept after retirement. But I did use the VA home loan program to buy my first home in San Jose. The mortgage was only $47 a month. When we retired, I was able to sell our San Jose home and buy our Columbia property outright.

Like most veterans who served during war, I feel war is hell. But the military and the war educated Mayme and me. It was a good life experience. As I told a local newspaper reporter once, “I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.”

At my age I would not want to be in the military again, of course, but I am glad I did when I was able to serve.