Front-Line Soldier: De Leon recalls Korean War combat duty, letters home - Brownsville Herald: Local News

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Front-Line Soldier: De Leon recalls Korean War combat duty, letters home

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Posted: Saturday, November 9, 2019 8:30 pm

Ernesto F. De Leon served on the front lines during the Korean War as a member of the 82nd Airborne Division out of Fort Bragg, N.C., even seeing duty on Heartbreak Ridge, but you never would never have know it from his letters home.

DeLeon served from August 1951 until October 1952. He said when he left for Korea his mother seemed so sad, like she thought he wouldn't come back alive, so he devised a plan to downplay the danger by telling her he had a desk job away from the front lines.

“I said I might have two fronts here, my Korea front and my home front, so I took my Parker 51, my high school graduation present … and I started writing to mama ‘don’t worry about me I’m not a front line soldier I’m a typist. I type.” De Leon made friends during basic training with Stanley Peeale, who became a reporter with the Stars and Stripes, and the two shared a typewriter. After that his letters arrived home neatly typed to complete the ruse and signed with the fountain pen.

"Mama was very tender person, very sweet and I knew she was going to be hurt if something happened to me," so he downplayed the danger.

In actuality De Leon was on the front lines from day one as a member of the 62nd Counter Flyer Platoon, and saw unimaginable things that have stayed with him through the years.

He cited two examples. De Leon was stationed at an observation post on the front lines. After a mortar attack he came by later to find his friend with a hole in his forehead the size of a quarter.

"And even now I associate that nice, neat hole as when I drill a piece of wood with a drill. ... and every time I see a drilled hole I'm reminded of that man's death. That's what war does to you," he said.

De Leon also remembers the temperatures, 30 and 40 below zero, and being hungry enough to eat frozen corned beef hash like a popsicle.

"I don't like corned beef hash, never did. My folks there at the ranch they love corned beef hash, and we were out there waiting on the enemy and they started passing out C rations, and at random I got a can of corned beef hash. It was molded already but I was hungry and so I started eating it like a popsicle," he said.

"So I go home and they give me 30 days of leave, and my momma's waking me up and she asks me 'what do you want for breakfast' and I said 'what do you got' and she said corned beef hash."

De Leon was one of the lucky ones. When he went in it was for a two-year enlistment, but he was given the option of serving on front-line infantry, in which case he would be done after one year.

"Believe it or not, one year later Uncle Sam kept his promise and in one year I was home," he said.

De Leon was born and raised on a ranch near Bishop outside Corpus Christi. By the time he was drafted, thanks to his mother's Huevos Rancheros and tortillas his weight had ballooned to 195 but he came out of basic training at 145 and has remained fit over the years.

After graduating from Bishop High School in 1948 "I felt that I had a duty to defend the USA. ... The biggest pride I have is to say 'yes, I was there to defend the nation where I was born,'" he said.

After the Army he went back to school, attending Del Mar College in Corpus Christi first, and then Texas A&I University in Kingsville, now Texas A&M-Kingsville. There he earned bachelor's and master's degrees in business and met Beatriz Ortega, his future wife.

Once she graduated there were no jobs in Bishop, but they found jobs working for the Edcouch-Elsa Independent School District.

Later, he worked for the Texas Education Agency before discovering his love for salesmanship, going to work for State Farm Insurance and eventually owning his own independent realty and insurance agency in Brownsville, De Leon Real Estate and Insurance.

He and his wife have four daughters, nine grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. Daughters Sylvia and Edna run De Leon Real Estate and insurance.

glong@brownsvilleherald.com

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