By 1940, signs of the end of The Great Depression were evident all over the United States. Hardship areas however, still abounded throughout the land. One such area was the farming community of Marfa, Texas, where the Railroad and FORT D.H. Russell were the main contributors to the economy.
It was the end of the school semester. A still beautiful widow was laying out the clothes her son would wear to graduation ceremonies. “If only you had a suit to wear” she sighed.
“I’ll be wearing a gown” her son reminded her.
“But after, after”, she insisted.
Juan Roberto Nieto did not graduate with his class the prior semester. He had gone to work in the agriculture fields of California instead. Now back in school, and with graduation but a few hours away, appropriate attire was the least of his concerns.
Comforting his mother as best he could, he kissed her cheek and dashed off to his yard-work job. As he peddled his bike across town, his thoughts were on his mother’s unshakable faith. He knew that she would be praying for a miracle up to the last minute.
As he neared the Marfa Train Depot, he saw a lone soldier standing on the loading platform. As Juan Roberto drew closer, the soldier called out to him:
“Hey kid”, he shouted. “Do you want this suitcase? I’m tired of lugging it around”
Juan Roberto stopped and after a moments hesitation, he said “Sure, I’ll take it”
When the lady he worked for saw the suitcase, she was concerned that it might have been stolen. The sheriff was called and he confirmed that indeed some soldiers had been mustered out that day, and that Juan Roberto’s story was true.
After work Roberto raced home and handed his mother the answer to her prayers. His eyes watered as he watched his mother open the suitcase. Inside, was a black suit, a white shirt, a tie, and a pair black shoes–all in his size!
After graduation, Juan went to work for the Civilian Conservation Corps. His assignment took him to New Mexico where he claims to have crossed the Mesilla Valley several times killing gophers! When WWII interrupted his education, high- test scores got him assigned to the Army Branch of the Air Corps overnight! He was to spend the next three years as a radio operator/ mechanic aboard a C-47 that transported squadrons, and material to and from all corners of the European Theater.
Back from the war, the goal-oriented ex-soldier pursued a higher education, and upon completing his dissertation, a colleague presented him with a bronze nameplate.
Inscribed in Latin, it reads: “The Odyssey of he who killed gophers is hereby ended”
Along with his Air Medal, Campaign Ribbons, Oak Leaf Cluster, and other war- mementoes, it is one of Dr. Juan Roberto Lujan’s most prized possessions.
Elisa Lujan Perez