“Cargo for the fighting troops”
Alex Chavez was born April 24, 1927 in Miami, Arizona. His parents were emigrants from Mexico. His father, Matias, was from the Province of Jalisco and his mother, Josefa, came from the Province of Durango. His father lost his first wife from an influenza epidemic and his mother’s first husband was killed in the revolution. His family was Catholic and at the time of their emigration to the United States, Catholics were extensively persecuted by the Stalinist-leaning, brutal government under the rule of President Plutarco Elias Calles. Calles presided over the worst persecution of Catholics and clergy in the history of Mexico, including the killing of hundreds of priests and clergy.
The Catholics’ formed a resistance group called the Cristeros. They used the symbol of the Virgin of Guadalupe (the Blessed Virgin Mary) as their banner.
The Cristeros’ battle cry was “Viva Cristo Rey” (Long live Christ the King) and “Viva Santa Maria de Guadalupe!”. The rebellion claimed the lives of approximately 90,000 people: 56,882 on the Federal Government side, and 50,000 Cristeros. Approximately 250,000 mostly non-combatants fled to the United States.
The rebellion was ended by diplomatic means, in large part because of the pressure of United States Ambassador Dwight Whitney Morrow, who was the father-in-law of Charles Lindbergh.
The Chavez family members included five children, three boys and two girls. Josefa Chavez passed away at the age of thirty-six when Alex was three years old. His older sister, Carmen, helped their father raise Alex and his siblings. Alex grew up in the town of his birth.
The town of Miami, Arizona was a Western Copper boomtown. Mexican emigrants were recruited by the Copper Mine to work in the smelter and the mine. Matias Chavez obtained employment there upon arriving in Miami. Miami is located near the San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation. The town hit its peak in population of 7,693 when Alex lived there as a child. Today, the census states that there are 1,936 residents. Copper mining accounts for the largest number of jobs in Miami, 330 at the smelter and 187 at the mine.
Miami school children were segregated until high school. There were schools for white children and schools for all other ethnic groups. The family spoke only Spanish at home and when Alex first went to school, he could not speak English. He remembers well that if a student spoke Spanish within earshot of a teacher, they had to stand in a corner as punishment. The local YMCA operated the public pool and restricted Mexican children to using the pool only on Saturday and required the payment of a dime to enter.
These were the Great Depression years and Alex, an eight-year old, would go to a government warehouse daily and pick up a quart of milk, bread and a bag of food for his family. High school in Miami fully integrated the students and Alex had the opportunity to meet white children but was still hampered by his poor command of the English language. He did not finish high school but was able to improve his ability to speak English when he got a job at a local gas station. His father, who worked in the copper mine, encouraged him to join the military and leave Miami for greater opportunity and to seek a career that would provide a pension. He attempted to join the Navy at the age of fifteen and was rejected because he was underage.
When he turned seventeen, he was accepted by the Navy and reported to San Pedro, California for basic training on May 6, 1944. After basic training, he received orders to join a newly commissioned transport ship named the USS Audrain (APA-59). The USS Audrain was named for a county in Missouri and was place in commission on September 2, 1944 at San Pedro, California. Lt. Commander George O. Forrest was assigned to command.
By September of 1944 he was sailing out to sea as a new sailor on the USS Audrain towards the war in the Pacific only five months after leaving home. Alex had never even seen a large lake in his life let alone an ocean, prior to sailing off to war in the vast Pacific Ocean!
Navy Department, USS Audrain after-action reports provide the following information:
- November,1944 loading elements of the 35th Infantry, 25th Division, Sixth Army, in preparation for the projected assault landing at Lingayen Gulf, Luzon, Philippine Islands.
- January, 1945 troops and cargo were landed on beaches in the San Fabian area, Lingayen Gulf, Luzon P.I. The landings received occasional artillery fire on the beaches and an air attack.
- Upon arrival at Leyte, the ship proceeded to Biak, Schouton Islands, Netherland East Indies, to load troops and equipment of the 186th Infantry and transported them to Bubug Point, Mindoro, Philippine Islands.
- April 1945 orders were received to land embarked troops and equipment of the 24th Corps headquarters. Several air attacks were experienced while in the area, and many enemy planes were shot down.
- During the period of 6 to 9 April a total of fifty-two Army and seventeen Navy casualties were received and on the 10th of April, the ship left Okinawa for Guam, Marianas Islands, where wounded were disembarked.
- August 1945, the Audrain departed Saipan with cargo and troops of the Second Marine Division for Nagasaki, Japan. One of the bloodiest battles was fought on Saipan and the ship was nicknamed the “Savior of Saipan”.
Government records acknowledge that 3rd Class Petty Officer, Alex A. Chavez, and his shipmates were exposed to hazardous material. During his military service he was exposed to asbestos while working in the engine room as a fireman and water tender. He and his shipmates were also exposed to radiation for an approximately eighty (80) hour period, aboard the USS Audrain APA 59. The ship was in Nagasaki, Japan, from September 23-26, 1945, and was tied up at Delma Wharf.
Alex was awarded the American Campaign Medal, Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with 2 Battle Stars, WWII Victory Medal, Navy Occupation Medal with Japan Bar, Philippine Liberation Medal with 1 Star, Combat Action Ribbon and Philippine Presidential Unit Citation Ribbon. He received and Honorable Discharge on 20 February 1948.
Upon decommissioning on May 15, 1946, the USS Audrain provided their shipmates with the following salute:
“Now Relieve the Watch” on the USS Audrain
‘Shipmates, from the 2nd day of September in the Year of Our Lord 1944, when the USS Audrain was commissioned until the 15th day of May in the Year of Our Lord 1946, when the USS Audrain was decommissioned, “YOU STOOD WATCH”. During those tumultuous, terrifying years late in World War II, from San Francisco to the Admiralty Islands “YOU STOOD WATCH”. Through good duty, bad duty, long separations, short turnarounds, extended deployments, mid-watches, hot wars, cold showers, water hours and long workdays, all often without praise, comfort, understanding or letters at mail call, “YOU STOOD WATCH” so that Americans and Freedom Loving people around the world could feel safe and secure from tyranny and the evils of an empire bent on conquest and destruction. Before most of us were born…..”YOU STOOD THE WATCH”. On this day, YOU, Our Heroes from the Greatest Generation Stand Relieved. We who stand before you have “ASSUMED THE WATCH”. So with pride and honor, WE RELIEVE YOU, and assume the watch that you so faithfully stood and with the greatest admiration, we thank you!! We wish you the best and send you away with the prayer for the sailor on the seas, “He who sailed Galilee grant you Fair Winds and Following Seas”. Go forth and Never…Never forget that You were…You are…and You always will be, part of the greatest Navy, in the Greatest Country, in history.”
Alex was married to his wife Frances for 68 years when she passed away on September 10, 2016. They have four children, Dave, Ted, Geraldine and Michael and four grandchildren. Alex retired from PG&E as a Steam Driven Electric Power Plant Operator. PG&E records acknowledge that Alex was exposed to asbestos and other possible hazardous material while employed with the Public Utility. At ninety-two years old, he enjoys visiting with his children and grandchildren.