Edward John Sotelo
United States Army, 44th Infantry Division, Corporal
World War II (1944-1946)
Edward John Sotelo was born in Jerome, Arizona on July 21, 1923. His upbringing was tough because when he was very young his father passed away. His mother then opened up a confectionary store and Ed grew up in the store, selling ice cream and soda pop. After graduating from Jerome High, he caught the next bus to California and half of his class was on the bus. At seventeen and a half, he went to the shipyards in Richmond, California. It was easy for him to get a job because so many men were at war. As he was waiting in line to see if he could get a job, he observed the person in front of him say that he was a sheet metal worker. Then, when the employer asked Sotelo what he did, he also said he was a sheet metal worker. As soon as he was finished talking with the employer, he caught up with the person who had been in front of him in line and asked him, “What is sheet metal?” The man responded, “Stick with me son, I’ll show you.” Sotelo was not there for long because less than a year later he was drafted into the military.
When asked which branch he would like to serve in, he said that he would like to serve in the Navy, but then the recruiter said, “Sorry, we need Army” and Sotelo was in the Army. His family was familiar with the military since his brother served in the army and two of his cousins and an uncle had served in the military. Although his family was sad to see him go, they were fairly certain he would serve, and he did.
Sotelo went to basic training camp in Camp Roberts, California. At Camp Roberts, he learned how to operate firearms and how to march. He had to get up at four in the morning and hike ten miles before breakfast. He was then sent to artillery training at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. He then went to New York where he got on the Queen Elizabeth to “go across the pond.” He landed in Scotland. Sotelo caught the train to Southampton, England. The train was not allowed to have any large lights on, and they moved under the cloak of night, so Sotelo was unable to see any of England as he moved through the night. From Southampton, he crossed the channel to Cherbourg, France. He then went to a repositioning depot. The depots took the new soldiers and sent them wherever soldiers were needed, whether it be because of a fallen soldier or simply because they needed more soldiers in a certain area. Sotelo was sent to replace a fallen soldier in the 557th Field Artillery Battalion.
As soon as he joined the 557th Field Artillery Battalion, Sotelo earned the nickname Frisco, after he told them where he was from. While in the 557th Field Artillery Battalion, he carried the shells for the 155 Howitzers, and the rest of the crew fired at the Germans. He then went to the 44th Infantry Division. Sotelo says that, “You were just firing all the time, you don’t know where you’re firing.” The 44th Infantry Division traveled through different towns in Southern France, and they went town by town, making their way to Germany. The 44th Infantry Division took over abandoned homes, and they would stay in those homes as they went through the small towns. Sotelo says, “You were pretty much on your own. You’re just going, and you hope it’s not you [getting killed].” One of the other members of the 44th Infantry Division told Sotelo “As long as it’s not you getting killed, it’s ok.”
The living conditions were never steady. At first, Sotelo would just dig a foxhole and sleep in there, but as the Germans retreated, our forces were able to use what the Germans had left, such as abandoned homes. He said that sometimes the French people would let the soldiers come and stay in their houses. He said that they were always on the move and only really stopped at night. Sotelo said that the morale of the division was good and for the most part, they felt their service was of value. The 44th Infantry Division made their way through France right into Germany and kept going right into Austria. He said he is very lucky because he estimates that about one-third of his fellow soldiers were killed or wounded. As they made their way through Germany and Austria, the 44th Infantry Division took a lot of captives. He felt sorry for some of them because they looked so young.
Once they were in Austria, the European portion of the war ended, but the war was still going on in the Pacific. So the 44th Infantry Division was pulled out and brought back to the United States. They were being prepared to fight in Japan, but then the war ended. Fortunately they did not have to go to fight. Although he did not have to fight in Japan, he did go over there and served a year in occupied Japan. While in Japan, he was promoted to Corporal rank.
In January of 1946, Sotelo came back to California where he was discharged. He was very happy to be back and to see his family. After coming back to California, he got married. He started to work for the naval shipyards where he had worked before being drafted. He started out working in the sheet metal section, but then moved up to drafting and design. He then rose to be a top draftsman and designer, and kept working there until his retirement.
Sotelo is a member of the Veterans of the Foreign Wars organization and American Legion. One day before going into combat, a Catholic priest administered the Last Rites to Sotelo. At first Sotelo was reluctant to receive them because he was fine, but then he came around to the idea. He said, “The heck with it, I got the Last Rites, I don’t have to worry about it.” To this day, Sotelo still says, “Hey, if you can walk and you can talk, then you’re ok.” Sotelo claims, “Everyday is a good day.” Sotelo says that if you take advantage of the discipline and skills that the service teaches you, it can really aid you. Sotelo says that we should, “be proud that we are Americans. This country has stood up for you, so you should stand up for it.”
Interviewed by James Stanton Leavitt on June 25, 2012