Editor’s note: World War II officially ended Sept. 2, 1945, when the Japanese signed surrender terms. We’re honoring the war’s area veterans over the next several months with these brief profiles.
Tony J. Ortega
Date of Birth: May 10, 1919
Dates of Service: 1940 -1945
Lives in: Tucumcari
Theater or Location of Service: Europe – France
Branch : Army
Rank: Staff Sergeant
Unit and Specialty: 823 Tank destroyers, C Company Platoon leader of over 30 men
After Discharge: Tucumcari
Veterans Organizations: VFW Delfido Gonzales No. 2528
In His Words: June 6, 1944, is now known as D-Day, the day of the beach landing invasions in Normandy, France. Omaha beach was probably one of the worst, most intense invasion points for American troops. Attached to the 1st Army’s 29th infantry division, Ortega’s unit landed here and walked into heavy German fire.
“It took almost all day to get the heavy equipment in,” Ortega said. “Our buddies were dying around us.”
The Germans cluttered the beaches “with a lot of stuff,” he said; barbed wire and tank traps made the advance difficult and treacherous. It was the infantry’s job to get rid of the stuff so tanks could get off the boats.
Somehow, the American forces pushed on and walked into an onslaught of fire from Germans who were safe atop cliffs, behind cover, just off the edge of the beach.
“The only way we could go was forward; we couldn’t go back,” Ortega said, trying to explain how a man can make himself walk into a rain of bullets.
“They told us we were going to be facing death all the time, and it was true,” he said. “I think about it now and it just seems like a dream. It’s a job you had to do.
“When we had a day or so of rest, we would tell jokes, sing songs or listen to the radio. It wasn’t that sad, we tried to stay happy. After you get banged up two or three times you lose all sense of fear.
“I saw so many soldiers, Americans, dead in the fields or sides of the road, (all) by themselves. My biggest fear was that. I thought: ‘That’s gonna be me with nobody to take care of me — alone’.”
Ortega says some men simply shut down. “There were a few (soldiers) who broke down … they just couldn’t go on, they had to be evacuated. I only had one that went out on me.”
Ortega believes it was his faith that helped him make it through. “I would turn myself over to God every time we went into an attack, saying: ‘I’m in your hands.’”
Paul M. Jones
Date of birth: May 30, 1925
Dates of Service: 1942 to 1946
Hometown: Portales, NM
Lives in: Portales
Theater or location of service: Atlantic and Pacific
Rank: Torpedoman’s mate 1st class v6
Unit and Specialty: USS Apollo S25, submarine tenders, supplied submarines
After discharge: Portales, NM
In His Words: Seventeen years old and still in high school, Jones made the decision to volunteer. With his parents permission, he left the auto repair work he was doing in his family’s garage to join the Navy.
As a torpedoman’s mate, Jones was responsible for working on the torpedoes of submarines coming in for repair or maintenance.
Stationed aboard the USS Apollo, Jones and his fellow sailors (over 1000 men) spent a year anchored in the harbor off the island of Guam. In the harbor, submarines would pull alongside the ship so that necessary maintenance and repairs could be performed.
“We were very busy” Jones recalls, saying that at any given time there could be up to 20 submarines in the harbor in various states of repair. Most of the work was what Jones calls routine: Oil changes, check-ups and the like.
“Back then they were using the subs to do everything, from fighting surface ships to — everything.”
This heavy usage of the submarines during the war gave Jones and his coworkers plenty to do.
After the war Jones returned to Portales, tested for and received his high school diploma. Following receipt of his diploma, Jones utilized his GI bill to obtain a Bachelor of Arts in Business.
In reflection of his service, Jones says without hesitation, “ I am very grateful to the good Lord and the experience I had, the good I got from it, and the people I was able to help. I am very grateful for the way everything worked out.”
World War II profiles are compiled by CNJ staff writer Sharna Johnson. Contact her at 763-6991 or by e-mail: