The eldest of four brothers, Trinidad Mesa didn’t mind getting called up, as long as his siblings got to stay home.
“They didn’t hear me,” he said. “They just took us all.”
Frank, second oldest, was called first. Every plane needed a mechanic, so Frank flew throughout the U.S. and the South Pacific.
Then came Trinidad and Ygnaico, both called to the Army.
Alfred, the youngest, “wet behind the ears,” went last. The Navy pulled him to the Pacific to patrol the U.S. coastline.
They say their mother got by because she had Anna, their youngest sister.
The brothers were able to write each other through V-mail, but they couldn’t say much. Just that they were somewhere else doing something important.
What Trinidad saw put him constantly on edge for years.
“The mothers, if they saw all these guys like that ... It was pitiful, really pitiful.”
The Mesas came to Laramie from Colby, Kan., in the late 1930s, following jobs on the railroad. The four brothers met a family of four girls, and they all hit it off. But when war came, they were called away from each other, to serve with their brothers-in-arms.
Frank worked his way up from small planes to larger jets. Overseas, Japanese fliers fired, and a piece of shrapnel became lodged in Frank's hand. He brought home malaria, too. The military thought he could handle more, so they sent him to Chanute Air Force Base in Illinois for jet training.
He still says he did nothing, compared to the others.
Men were coming home, released from service, when Alfred was sent in as a replacement near the end of the war. He went on missions up to Alaska and back and remembers the blackouts. Every light pointing out to the ocean was painted black, so as not to be seen.
Trinidad and Ygnaico, who now lives in Colorado, were sent to Europe. Trinidad didn’t even have to go. Born in Mexico, he wasn’t yet a U.S. citizen. He was told citizenship papers would be waiting for him at the end of the war, but more than citizenship, he wanted to go into combat.
He wonders now why he so badly wanted in.
His was the 3rd Infantry Division. By war’s end it would count more combat deaths than any other.
The casualties came right away. They traveled to Italy from North Africa in ducks, amphibious landing crafts that traveled on land and sea. They wore no life preservers, and Trinidad once saw a guy float by, drowned.
In Naples, Italy, the tank traveling in front of Trinidad was hit by mortar fire and burned to a crisp. A soldier hung out the top opening, and another lay on the ground. All Trinidad could see were the bones.
He was never told where he was going until the troops got there. He had no watch and lost track of the days.
One night, they dug foxholes as shots from a ridge came down on them. In the morning, a jeep with two of Trinidad’s fellow soldiers drove near his foxhole. He watched as mortar fire shot their heads clean off, cigarettes still lit in their mouths.
“We’d get replacements for the guys that were dead and pretty soon, a couple days later, they’d come back the same way – dead,” he said. " ... I was afraid I’d be next. I was always worried about me.”
The 3rd Infantry Division moved through Italy to Strasbourg, France. Trinidad remembers being moved to the German border, where they waited in a forest, wet and cold. They were told the Germans might come around and attack from the south, so they had to be ready.
He didn’t know it then, but his brother Ygnaico was moving down from Belgium at the same time. Between them, the Battle of the Bulge broke loose.
Trinidad would not fight there, but Ygnaico would.
Everywhere he went, Trinidad collected small tokens: Coins from Italy, France and Germany. Dollar bills from Tunisia. Swastikas and Iron Crosses from the bodies of German soldiers. He brought them back to Wyoming and still has them, now taped down to a poster board he keeps at home.
Last May, he and Alfred went to Washington, D.C., with Honor Flight-Wyoming, a program that flies World War II veterans to the capitol to see their memorial for free. Trinidad took pictures, memories to add to his collection.
He snapped one of a quote from Adm. Chester W. Nimitz etched in the memorial’s stone:
“They fought together as brothers-in-arms. They died together, and now they sleep side by side. To them we have a solemn obligation.”
All four Mesa brothers came home. Ygnaico brought back shrapnel and bullet marks in his back and, the brothers say, nerves that were never the same. Trinidad returned without injury.
It is those brothers they lost we must remember now.
“We owe them,” Trinidad said, “but you can’t pay them.”