Modest Hero: Ernie Garcia

MEEKER I Modesty is a common thread among World War II veterans, soldiers who fought for our country nearly 70 years ago and won a war that had such a vital impact on America and the world. Bravery became second nature to the thousands drafted in the early 1940’s, from airborne units to infantry divisions, heroes were made daily due to the extreme conditions. Ernest Garcia was one of those heroes.
Ernest was raised in Red Wing, Colo., near Walsenburg, where his parents had a ranch. He was drafted into the Army and served in World War II from 1942 to 1945 as a military medic. He was a member of the Insignia of the 38th United States Infantry Regiment for the 2nd Infantry Division.
“I took care of the injured right there,” he said of his role on the front lines of the war. Rules of combat state that a medic is not to be fired upon, but Ernest said they were shot at anyway. He didn’t carry a weapon, except for his courage. In almost three years of service, he traveled all across Europe, from Normandy to Czechoslovakia, a great deal of that travel was on foot. Winter months were spent sleeping in dug-outs for warmth. Conditions were beyond tough, particularly for the 18-20 year old men fighting for freedom.
“It made us grow up fast,” Garcia said.
For his service, Garcia was awarded a Bronze Star for heroic or meritorious achievement, a Purple Heart for soldiers injured in the line of duty, a World War II victory medal that reads, “Freedom from fear and want, freedom of speech,” a Combat Medical Badge 1st award and an Honorable Service lapel button for WWII. He keeps each medal in the box in which they were received.
He received the Purple Heart when he got out of the Army for injuries he suffered in the line of duty. He was working as medic when an explosion left shrapnel in his right knee and left shoulder. Garcia was taken to a hospital in England. Following his recovery, he returned to the front line to care for his fellow soldiers until the very end of the war. Local VFW advocate Tom Kilduff pursued and obtained the other medals for Garcia some years ago.
Garcia was on his way to serve in Japan “when the U.S. dropped the bomb,” he said, referring to the bombing of Japan that resulted in their surrender and the end of the war. He had a delay en route, which was the best news for him. He flew home to an airport near Pueblo, Colo., where his wife-to-be, Martha Rael, met him. The two were married on his break before his official discharge.
Ernest and Martha lived in Gardner and Ridgeway for a couple years and moved to Meeker in 1948. The two had six children: Virgil, Ruby, Elefar, Kathy, Rory, and Dirck. Ruby currently lives in Nevada and Elefar resides in Craig, Colo. Virgil, Kathy and Dirck all live in Meeker. “Ernie” has 14 grandchildren and 30 great-grandchildren. He has enjoyed the family being close and watching his children, grandchildren and now great-grandchildren grow up and play sports in town.
He worked for Spec Clapper on the Miller Creek Ditch when he first arrived in Meeker. He worked on Highway 64 for the road and bridge department, worked on different ranches and did construction along the way, before investing 20 years of his life in working for the county.
Ernest Garcia has handed down an incredible sense of family pride and involvement. His family is well-known for their willingness to help. Ernest is frequently involved in the Fourth of July Parade, the Memorial Day tribute and other VFW functions. He is a proud, young, 88-year-old man who disguises a remarkable story behind a humble cover.
As time passes, so does our opportunity to recognize veterans who have done so much for our country. Perhaps we only see them and say thank you on Memorial Day, or Veterans Day, but we should do better. There are heroes among us. Heroes like Ernest, who cared for wounded soldiers overseas 70 years ago. He hasn’t forgotten, nor should we allow ourselves to forget. We are able to live as we do today because of their bravery. Thank you, Ernest Garcia, and all the United States veterans for all you have given.