By Miguel A. Castro
Lauro Vega distinctly remembers when he was in England anxiously waiting for the 197th AAA Battalion, the company he was in, to receive their orders.
“They told us, ‘All you fellows will be in an invasion but we don’t know where or when,’” he explained. “They knew but they didn’t want to tell us.”
On June 4, 1944, it would be a friend’s reaction to a delicious meal that would convince Mr. Vega that the 197th AAA Battalion would finally be shipped out to be apart of an invasion.
“One day they fed us fried chicken, potatoes, gravy and all that. It was a good meal the best meal we had,” Mr. Vega said as if he could still smell the aroma under his nose. “A buddy of mine said, ‘We’re not getting this meal for nothing. I bet you we’re gonna go to the invasion already.’ By God, he was right.”
After that meal, Mr. Vega and the 197th were loaded onto Navy ships. Had training in England, amphibious training for an invasion. Before we went to invasion, they had us in a big camp, a marshalling area, and everybody was there, all troops that were going to go to the invasion, we were there for about a week, “nobody could go in and out, in other words, it was secret, you couldn’t phone, you couldn’t camp.
They showed us a big map, they said maybe its’ Norway, maybe it’s France, they didn’t want to tell us. Once they … they gave us little small ones, everybody got in French and English dictionaries, so we said, “ay, we’re going to France”
I was used to speaking English all the time, us old guys meet and we speak English.
The 197th was assigned to go onto Omaha Beach where they would give 16th Regiment, anti-aircraft support. The 16th Regiment, part of the 1st Infantry division, was the “first wave” of the D-Day landing.
“Before we landed you could look back and as far as your eye could see, there were all kinds of landing crafts,” Mr. Vega explained. “In other words, I was just one of 1,000 guys that were landing. I wasn’t by myself and that way I didn’t think anything could happen to me.”
Mr. Vega, who was interviewed last October in his home in Chula Vista, Calif., believes this is the reason why he survived not only the D-Day invasion, but also World War II. He continued his service in Europe with the 197th AAA Battalion until Nov. 1945.
Mr. Vega’s story with his birth in 1923 in Southern California. His parents, immigrants from Mexico, would have 10 children; Lauro was the oldest child .
“They (parents) immigrated here, in the Pancho Villa days, in 1915,” Mr. Vega said. “My father was a young boy when his mother brought him over as young kid during the Pancho Villa war.”
At the age of 17, Mr. Vega helped his family by dropping out of school and going into the Civilian Conservation Corps.
Beginning in 1940, Mr. Vega served for a total of six months in the CCC at Camp Vista, located near Escondido, Calif.
“I was a lot of help for my mother because they used to pay us $30 a month and $22 of that went to your family,” Mr. Vega said. “That was a lot then.”
After his service with the CCC, Mr. Vega went to work for a Consolidated Aircraft plant, where they built B-24 bombers.
“I was there when I got drafted. I finally went in February of 1943,” Mr. Vega said. “At that time (early 1943), all my friends were going.”
Mr. Vega was drafted and began his basic training at Camp Callen in California.
Since he had worked with Consolidated Aircraft, he was then sent to an anti-aircraft training camp at Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas, where he went into the 197th AAA Battalion.
From El Paso Mr. Vega went to Camp Picket in Virginia where the 197th trained for landings such as the D-Day invasion.
Finally, in 1944, the 197th was sent to Camp Kilman in New Jersey where they boarded the Queen Elizabeth and traveled to England.
Mr. Vega is thankful to have made it out of the war alive but admits there were a few times he knew he could have died.
He remembers one time when a shell landed close to him and killed one of his friends.
“This one came and my buddy Jack didn’t duck so it got him,” Mr. Vega explained. “I ducked but still the concussion knocked the breath out of me, I could feel the powder inside of me when I breathed.”
In Nov. 1945, the 197th and Mr. Vega, who was 22 years old, was taken to Southern France and then shipped off to Newport News, Virginia. He was discharged in Northern California.
After the war, Mr. Vega worked as a construction worker, carpenter and truck driver. He also married Nina Villalobos in 1951 and the couple had five children, two girls and three boys.
Mr. Vega said he was glad to have fought in the war because when he was there he felt he was “representing the United States and National City and preventing this from happening in my home town and country.”
(Rene Zambrano interviewed Mr. Vega in Chula Vista, California on October 8, 2000.)