JEROME -- Mothers are much the same around the world when it comes to war. That was the case in Jerome when radio announced the news that Imperial Japan had attacked U.S. soil at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and the United States would join World War II.
Hawaii was still a territory like Arizona had been and very far away from mid-town Manhattan. For the teenaged Roberto Rabago, who was born and grew up there, what made Jerome different from others in the United States was that his heritage was Mexican and many members of his friend's families were Hispanic. It was something of a pocket of Hispanic culture that worked in the rich copper mines. Rabago has published 12 short stories about gritty living in the mountainside town during its mining heyday in "Rich Town Poor Town." One of those stories brings into focus how the Second World War affected those Spanish-speaking families.
Officers from American Legion Posts in Camp Verde and Cottonwood will join Jerome residents for a memorial service at 11a.m in Jerome today, Dec 7, 2011, recalling that attack on Pearl Harbor 70 years ago. Of those drafted from Yavapai County, Jerome gave a higher percentage of its sons to that war than any other community. A plaque mounted on the stone amphitheater area remembers those young men lost to that conflict. This is a summary of Roberto's story of his closest friend and brings that memorial into focus.
Joe Stamsek had a foot in two cultures, but his mother spoke Spanish and his current father was "Enrique." That put him in a different class, not as good as "Americans" even though he had been born and raised in America, Roberto recalls. Joe's mother knew about war and reminded the teen boys, eagerly listening to the news.
"I have seen war. I was a young girl in Mexico during the time of the Revolution there. There was fighting all around the little town where I lived. Boys my age took water to the men in the trenches, but bullets don't care if you are a boy or girl or man. I saw men, women and children blown apart, some bleeding to death without anyone to console them. It is a horrible way to die," she told them.
Stamsek was a bright young man with a love for model airplanes and the mechanics and physics that made them fly.
What they did know is that Jerome, with its copper wealth was important to the effort to make bullets and munitions and communication equipment. Jerome was an important player in the war.
Such is the short story penned by Roberto Rabago. Some details are fictionalized, but the foundation and the people are genuine, based on Rabago's cultural background that formed the backbone of Jerome.
"We knew the importance because men with weapons guarded the entrance to the mines, and workers had to show identification cards with their picture before they could enter. Jerome houses had to have blackout curtains to make it more difficult for the Germans to locate the mines should they try to cripple the war effort by bombing it. Still, we felt we were helping to win the war and that made it easier to endure the food and gasoline rationing, to give up meat and butter and drink coffee made over and over from the same grounds."
Three years before Joe Stamsek's 18th birthday, President Roosevelt had signed into law the Selective Service Act of 1940, know as 'the draft.' Initially, the number of men drafted had been small because of the limited training facilities, but as facilities were built and casualties increased, more and more men were called for current and anticipated needs.
Local draft boards, one in each county, were established to administer the draft. The local board staffed with leading citizens for Jerome was in Prescott and had wide discretion to determine who would be called, deferred or exempted or drafted.
Rabago questions whether there was intent to prioritize Mexican children over their Anglo counterparts. He says, "You are not going to draft your neighbor's son."
Stamsek registered for the draft when he was 18, a couple of years ahead of Roberto, and was suddenly subject to forces beyond his control.
When the meeting of the draft board was called in 1943 it selected 30 names. The name of Joe Stamsek was on the list, along with eight of his classmates. There were only 17 boys in the class.
Roberto says that a 1943 classmate of those called up, Joe Quintero, recalls that the boys received their notices the day after they graduated. They were ordered to report to the Phoenix Induction Station afterward. A Santa Fe Trailways bus arrived to take the boys to the Phoenix Induction Center.
Roberto received letters from Joe for a time. After preliminary testing, Stamsek had received a high enough score that he was placed in officer training.
One of his last letters from his friend said he had been removed from officer training and re-assigned to the infantry, Roberto believes, without the needed physical training, because more riflemen were needed for the battle in Europe.
Roberto was eventually called up, too. When he returned to Jerome on leave he passed the Stamsek house and saw it was dark and vacant. He was told the family had moved to California after they got the announcement that bright young Joe had been killed in France. His remains are buried in Espinal-Vosges, the American Cemetery.
The 1940 Census showed the Jerome population at 2,295 and that all of Yavapai County totaled 25,511. Roberto says that means that 25 percent of Yavapai County's dead soldiers in the war were all from Jerome, even though the mining town had but 8 percent of the Yavapai population. Most of those died in Europe.
Nine were inducted from the class of 1943, half the boys in the class of 17. Seven of the nine were Hispanic kids. That is despite the exemption protecting mining workers of critical industries.
"Rich Town Poor Town; Ghosts of Copper's Past" by Roberto Rabago is published by MultiCultural Educational Publishing Co. of Jerome, 2011.