LISTEN to Francisco Paredes on Hometown Heroes
94-year-old Francisco Paredes of Atwater, CA appears on episode #328 of Hometown Heroes, debuting August 16, 2014. Born and raised in the Dragoon Mountains in southeastern Arizona, Frank is proud of his Mescalero Apache heritage. There were 16 children in his family (8 boys and 8 girls) and Frank would become one of four brothers to serve in World War II. Listen to Hometown Heroes to hear Frank remember the accident he survived while working as a teenager in Arizona’s copper mines, as well as his stint in the commercial fishing industry off the California coast.
He enlisted in the Army in September, 1941, and found himself at Oahu’s Schofield Barracks on the morning of December 7. Listen to Hometown Heroes to hear Frank remember what he did the night before, and what he was doing when he realized American forces were under attack. You’ll also hear him recall jumping on a machine gun and firing at Japanese aircraft, and also the emotionally draining duty he had in the aftermath of the attack.
By the end of World War II, Frank had experienced combat conditions in air, land, and sea. After arriving in Australia, he learned the 5th Air Force needed volunteers to serve as aerial gunners. He’d had no aerial training whatsoever, but he decided to volunteer. On a bombing run to Port Moresby, New Guinea, the B-25 was damaged by enemy fire, and Frank, who had never operated a parachute before, had to bail out over the water. Employing shark repellant, the entire crew survived for hours in the water until being rescued. Assigned to the 32nd Infantry Division, 126th Regiment after that, Frank trekked across the Kokoda Trail through the Owens Stanley Range on New Guinea. You’ll hear him remember how supplies dwindled to the point that the soldiers ended up eating horse meat, and how malaria, dysentery, and dengue became commonplace among the troops. He survived the Battle of Buna-Gona, and you’ll hear him candidly recall the face-to-face encounter with a teenage Japanese soldier there. He was wounded for the first time in New Guinea, a bullet striking his left knee. After recovering from that injury, Frank was assigned to the 2nd Engineer Amphibian Brigade, later redesignated in July 1943 as the 2nd Engineer Special Brigade.
Operating LCM-696 in support of the 1st Marine Division, Paredes participating in multiple amphibious landings in the Pacific. You’ll hear him remember Cape Gloucester in particular, and share how he was wounded the second time on the shore of Tacloban, Leyte in the Philippines. Listen to Hometown Heroes to hear Frank remember being underwater, trying to free the body of a dead Japanese soldier from the LCM’s propellers, when an enemy aircraft attacked the crew. After surfacing, Frank was wounded in the ribs and the back. “Maybe it’s my time to go,” he remembers thinking. “But the Big Boy upstairs took care of me.” Among the unique groups Frank interacted with were the Coastwatchers and the Navajo Code Talkers. The third incident in which he was wounded was an operation that produced a Presidential Unit Citation for the Boat Battalion of the 592nd Engineer Boat & Shore Regiment.
A landing near Ormoc drew strong opposition from Japanese aircraft, and a bomb that detonated in Frank’s vicinity sent him flying into the air. On the way down, he felt something hit him under the chin. The doctor who later examined him told him the shrapnel was too close to his jugular vein to remove, and to expect the small piece of metal to migrate away from his jugular over time. Listen to Hometown Heroes to find out how long it took for that shrapnel to show up again, and how he found it. Among the other stories you’ll hear from Mr. Paredes is the somber tribute to a friend he carried out in New Mexico after coming back to America, how he was recalled for the Korean War and survived some frigid situations near the Chosin Reservoir, and how he met and married his wife.
He also shares briefly about his experience visiting the National World War II Memorial and other Washington, D.C. monuments with Central Valley Honor Flight. Veda Jones, one of his five children, was his guardian on the journey. He credits his Native American heritage for his youthful spirit, and he stays active through volunteer work in Merced County. If you want to shake his hand and thank him for serving our country, dropping by the Victor S. Machado VFW Post 9946 in Atwater is a pretty safe bet to catch him action. To learn more about Central Valley Honor Flight, click on the logo below. To find another Honor Flight hub in your area, visit the website of the Honor Flight Network. Enjoy the videos of Mr. Paredes below as well, and click here to read a bit about Frank’s brother Raul Paredes, and his historic role with the 5th Marine Division at Iwo Jima.