The son of Mexican immigrants, Raul Treto was born in Harlingen, Texas on November 4, 1921. He graduated from Harlingen High School in 1941 and immediately enrolled in a radio repair class hosted by the National Youth Administration. “The last instructor, he told us, ‘I’m not supposed to teach you Morse code.’ He was a ham operator. He said, ‘I’m going to teach you Morse code. Some of you guys are going to be going in the service or join up, and maybe it might help you.’ It did help me, you know, later on in life when I went in to the Army. It helped me get out of the infantry.”
Treto got in the infantry in 1942 when he was drafted into the army. He took basic training at Joseph T. Robinson Arkansas and found the duration of that time was a world away from anything he’d experienced growing up on the Texas – Mexico border. One such realization of his new life came when Treto became a sharpshooter. “I never shot... the only thing I ever shot in my life was a BB gun, you know. I made expert. They gave me a sharpshooter marksman. I remember on the range when we were shooting for record, I remember my target, number eight, and…well my Company Commanders…comes down [to] where I was standing. I thought they were going to bawl me out or something, and they kept saying, they said, ‘Son,’ they said, ‘Nice shooting, son.’ I said, ‘What do you mean, sir?’ ‘You hit them all.’ I put them all in the target. Eight bullets, eight rounds. I said, ‘Sirs, I think somebody was shooting at my target.’ They said, ‘No, no. It was your target.’”
Treto also learned how to eat fried chicken during his 18 weeks of basic.
“Oh, man. Being from over here in – from Mexican descent, you know – I had to get used to the food. You know how it is, I ate tortillas. I remember one time, I still tell that to my kids as a joke, you know, I remember eating fried chicken, but we had rice with chicken. There was fried chicken. I was sitting down and trying to eat that quarter chicken and cutting with my knife and the fork. This big guy that was a buddy of mine said, ‘What are you doing, Treto?’ I said, ‘Well, I’m trying to eat chicken, man, what do you think I’m doing?’ He said, ‘That ain’t no way to eat chicken.’ He picked up his quarter chicken and started biting it, you know. I said, ‘Okay.’”
Somewhere toward the end of Treto’s time in basic, it was discovered that he knew Morse code. “I never did tell them that I knew Morse code. I guess they finally found out that I knew Morse code.” Treto was moved from infantry to Company B, 98th Signal Battalion and sent to Camp Crowder, Missouri for additional training. Following this Treto boarded the USS Peereida and made his way to Oro Bay, New Guinea. There he assisted in communication endeavors during General MacArthur’s taking Morotai Island and then in the invasion Luzon in the Philippines.
Treto returned home from the war in 1945. He said he considered himself lucky that, although he was involved in so many battle zones, he never actually had to fight. “We were bombed, but I wasn’t actually in hand-to-hand combat or firefights or anything… I was lucky. I thank God every day.”
Despite the fact that he never saw “real combat,” Treto’s contribution to the war effort was an important one and one that helped lead the United States to victory over the Axis.
This piece researched at the National Museum of the Pacific War’s Nimitz Education and Resource Center.