Louis Moreno Sr. had Honor Flight to DC memorials

By Ajo Copper News staff

Ajo Copper News of Ajo, Arizona

At 93, Louis Moreno Sr. still gets around without the use of a cane on most days. He blames a hip implant that went awry, not his age, for the times he resorts to the cane. "They tell me I'm too old now to be put under again to fix the implant," he said with a shrug. His son mentioned that "he's a little slower every year, but he still works hard around the house, and does a lot of baking."

Sharp as a tack, gentle in spirit, and humble in nature, Moreno may not strike most people as someone who stormed ashore at Okinawa with a 30-caliber water-cooled machinegun in his arms a little more than seventy years ago. The Southern Arizona Honor Flight Program, however, knew exactly what Moreno had done, and recognized the proud veteran with an expenses-paid visit to the memorial sites of Washington, DC. last week.

"It was powerful," he said of the memorials to World War II, Vietnam, and the Korean War, along with a side trip to the Arlington Cemetery. At a dinner banquet the first night, the 25 veterans on the excursion dined, reminisced, and listened to the accolades and appreciation offered by a number of speakers. The group also visited Maryland's Fort McHenry, where the Star Spangled Banner was composed during a shelling by the British in the War of 1812. Moreno noted that the fort still flies a 40-by-30-foot American flag emblazoned with 16 stars and 16 stripes.

"There was a young woman at one of the memorials who we chatted with," Moreno recalled. "She was searching for anyone from Ajo. It turns out she was the granddaughter of [former] Ajo school superintendent Jack Petersen. That was wonderful. Then the reception we got at the Tucson Airport on the return flight was unbelievable. I never saw so many wonderful people, lining the aisles, saluting, shaking hands with us and giving high-fives and big hugs."

The journey began in July 1944 with a draft notice and a report to basic training at Camp Roberts in

California. Trained as a machinegunner, Moreno was tasked with firing the weapon and carrying it. The number two man in the crew carried the tripod while seven others carried ammunition and water cans for cooling the barrel.

Soon sent far into the Pacific, Moreno joined the 7lh Infantry Division for the invasion of Okinawa on April 1, 1945.

"It was pretty rough, and very scary," he said. "Machineguns were shooting all around and artillery was bursting everywhere. The beach was not too bad but the Japanese had drilled caves all over, and the third or fourth day moving inland got hot for all of us." An excerpt from a 7th Infantry Division website explains that the unit experienced the heaviest Japanese artillery fire of the Pacific war, absorbing more than 40,000 rounds of high explosive in two weeks. In his Honor Flight write-up, Moreno recalls being close enough to a mortar bombardment explosion that he was buried in his foxhole and may have been reported missing-in-action if his buddies hadn't dug him out.

With August 12 came news that the war was over. The 7th Division was sent to Korea for occupation duty. Moreno shipped home in January 1946 and returned to work at the smelter in Clarkdale, near Camp Verde, until it shut down in June 1950. He transferred to the mine in Ajo, starting in the converter as a swamper and later moving up to Cottrell plant operator where he controlled the flow of hi-pressure air into the converter and reverb furnaces. He retired in 1977, soon tired of that, and went to work in janitorial services at a Motorola plant in Mesa until 1987. Returning home to Ajo he said he lived happily ever after.

"Until this year," he continued. "I lost my wife in January after 72 years of marriage. But we have five children — three girls and two boys — fifteen grandchildren, twenty-two great grandchildren, and five great great-grandchildren. I just love Ajo. I've gotten so used to the heat here that I enjoy the summers even more than the winters. I really like the community and the people here."

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