Oceanside neighborhood to honor native son Joe Balderrama
Pete Nares, Sylvia Pinon, Roy Vallez and Pete Magana, from left, hold a picture of Joe Balderrama outside the Chavez Resource Center in Oceanside. Balderrama was the first Hispanic soldier from Oceanside to die in World War II.
Michael J. Kacmarcik |
Saturday, September 30, 2006
People who lived in Oceanside’s Eastside neighborhood in the early 1940s remember Joe Balderrama as a tall, quiet teenager who drove a maroon 1939 Studebaker.
They say he lived in a modest home with his family on the 700 block of San Diego Street, right across from the park that now bears his name.
Although it has been more than six decades since Balderrama walked the streets of Eastside, his legacy lives on.
Balderrama was killed Oct. 13, 1944, in Achen, Germany, a year after he volunteered for the Army. He was 19 when he was killed.
Balderrama is believed to be the first Hispanic serviceman from Oceanside to die in World War II. This year marks the 62nd anniversary of his death.
“He was just a real likable guy,” said Pete Nares, 79, a World War II Navy veteran who knew Balderrama as a youth.
“(His death) really affected me because he and I were real tight. . . . But I knew the war was going on and everything else. I just never expected that he’d go as fast as he did,” Nares said.
A program honoring Balderrama will be held at the Eastside Community Fall Fair and Car Show from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Oct. 14 at Joe Balderrama Park.
Balderrama’s friends and family members say the anniversary of his death takes on special significance because many people who drive by and visit the park don’t understand the contributions of the man it’s named after.
A large portrait of Balderramma hangs on a wall alongside photos of other veterans from the Eastside at the park’s Chavez Resource Center.
Concha Hernandez-Greene, chairperson of Eastside United Community Action, a neighborhood activist group in the community, said young people who frequent the center often ask about Balderrama’s picture.
“And then I have to tell the story,” said Hernandez-Greene.
“I would like for people to know that the Eastside has a history. We’re proud of our neighborhood,” she said.
According to documents from the American GI Forum of the United States, Oceanside Chapter, Balderrama was born Aug. 21, 1924, in Pueblo, Colo. He moved to Oceanside with his parents, four brothers and three sisters in 1931.
Balderramma’s three brothers John, Jesus and Foster, also served in the military during World War II. All of his brothers have died.
Balderramma is buried in Golden Gate Cemetery in San Bruno.
“I think it’s important that we remember that freedom didn’t come cheap,” said Pete Magana, 78, a Korean War veteran and longtime Eastside resident who knew Balderrama.
Magana and Herb Martinez, members of the Oceanside Chapter of the American GI Forum of the United States, requested in July 1967 that the Oceanside City Council vote to change the then-named Eastside Recreation Park to Joe Balderrama Recreation Park.
At the time, Martinez was the chairman of the organization and Magana was the secretary.
On Aug. 9, 1967, the City Council voted unanimously to grant their request.
“To me, my thinking was, ‘That 19-year-old kid gave his life.’ I don’t care how much I give. It’s not equal to what he gave,” Magana said.
For Nares, seeing Balderrama’s picture on the wall at the Chavez center still is an emotional experience, even though many years have passed.
“He would have made a good dad for anybody,” Nares said.
The Balderramma family, which has several members throughout San Diego County, is having a family reunion at 11 a.m. tomorrow at Guajome Park.
Members of Balderrama’s family said they continue to look at his legacy as a source of pride.
At Sunday’s reunion, Balderrama’s family members will undoubtedly share stories of the 18-year-old kid who left his beloved neighborhood to serve the country he loved.
“It’s been handed down to all of us,” said Balderrama’s niece Sylvia Balderrama Pinon, 57, ofher uncle’s legacy.
“The young kids, they don’t know. But if you talk to the older crowd, they know the Balderrama name,” said Roy Balderrama Vallez, 57, Balderrama’s nephew.
“He died for the community and died for a worthy cause — to keep peace in this country.”