It was a cold, rainy September day when Pasqual Reyes was taken captive in 1944.
The Army infantryman from Southern California previously helped liberate Italy and France from the Nazis with the 142nd Infantry, 36th Division during World War II.
Pfc. Reyes had fought his way through Belgium and into western Germany when new danger arose. His worn and wounded company kept pushing forward as the enemy advanced.
Reyes and a couple others created a diversion to help.
“My grandpa was the leader of a squad,” Ron Reyes said. “They volunteered, knowing they would be killed or captured, to fire on their enemy’s position so they could evacuate other soldiers.”
Their plan worked. Reyes later received a Bronze Star for that selfless act of bravery.
Reyes’ comrades were pushing onward as he and two others were taken captive. He spent nine months as a prisoner of war at a German camp north of Munich.
Reyes would survive that experience and return home, later moving to Madera in his retirement. He died Dec. 18, 2019, at a hospital in the central San Joaquin Valley. He was 96 years old.
Reyes was buried with military honors Jan. 10 at Calvary Cemetery in Madera following a funeral mass.
“He was quite a guy, very humble,” said Royal Goodman, senior vice commander of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1981 in Madera, before the services. “This is going to be an emotional funeral.”
Reyes started talking more about his WWII experiences after the VFW organization recently found him.
Goodman called it ironic since Reyes lived just “down the road” from the Madera VFW. Reyes joined the veterans group about a year and a half ago, after members reached out to him.
He started opening up more about what he went through. His wife, Ramona, thanked Goodman. She told him her husband seemed more “at ease.”
“The thing that he reinforced in me,” Goodman said, “was you don’t see all of the injuries (from war). … There are injuries mentally. … There are things that you have to experience being a kid, things you never ever get rid of. And when you are gone to war, your wife or mother or whoever is also in a war, because you live with the expectation that any day, any second, you are going to be taken out.”
Surviving as a prisoner during World War II
A German officer in a tank told Reyes and two others to surrender in September 1944 or be fired upon and killed. They were taken captive and loaded onto freight trains, similar to what happened to Jews shipped to concentration camps.
“They were shoulder-to-shoulder, unable to sit down or move for three days,” Ron Reyes said. “During that time, soldiers were wounded, some had died. There was no food or water for three days. They had even been hit by fighter pilots, not knowing it was a prisoner-of-war train.”
Reyes was taken to the Stalag 7a POW camp near Moosburg, where he stayed for nine months until the camp’s liberation. He remembered seeing U.S. Gen. George S. Patton with an ivory-handled pistol on his hip ramming the gates of the camp.
Until that day in 1945, his grandson said, “He just mentally kept positive and sharp, and gained the trust of the guards.”
Goodman said Reyes was frequently allowed out of the camp to buy bread at a nearby bakery for the guards. He came back each time because attempting an escape so deep in Germany seemed futile.
Reyes lied to the guards about the cost of the bread so he could buy more for his fellow prisoners, which he carried back in hidden pockets cut into the lining of jackets, Goodman said. It was better than the molded bread prisoners received once a day from the guards with a cup of water. Reyes told his grandson the bad bread was made with sawdust.
Reyes managed to bring back some other foods, too, including rice, potatoes and other vegetables.
“A German general who lost his arm in the Russian front took a liking to my grandfather,” Ron Reyes said, “and had him over for dinner, which was unheard of. … He was intrigued with my grandfather and wanted to know where he was from.”
The general was confused about why a man of Mexican descent who could speak Spanish was fighting for the U.S. Army. He explained that he was an American, born and raised.
Goodman said Reyes spent time in “the hole” at the POW camp, but that Reyes wouldn’t elaborate on what that meant.
After the camp’s liberation, some of Reyes’ colleagues were so malnourished their bodies couldn’t handle more food and other liquids.
“After they got out, they introduced them to half a cup of eggnog,” Goodman said, “and it shocked them and they died.”
Life after war
Reyes’ daughter, Yvonne Reyes, remembers her father being unwilling to wait for a table at crowded restaurants growing up.
“How come we have to leave?” Yvonne recalled asking, “and my mom would say, ‘Because your dad was a prisoner of war, and they would make him stand in line for his food.’ … He did suffer quite a bit from being a prisoner of war, the PTSD.”
Reyes shared some of his experiences with fellow veterans at the VFW.
“He told a couple of stories, and anytime he talked about it he broke down,” Goodman said. One of those stories: Shooting at machine gunners, then finding the enemy soldiers he had killed were very young – 13, 14 and 15 years old.
“It just tore him apart every time he saw it,” Goodman said.
He also endured the pain of losing a son to war: Ron Reyes’ father, Ronald, who was killed in Vietnam.
“He loved nothing more than the American flag flying high and proud above his house on his street in Madera,” his grandson said.
Despite the horrors Reyes lived through, his family and friends fondly remember him as a happy, positive man.
Reyes married Ramona in 1948. The couple had four children. He also had two sons from prior marriages.
He lived in Hacienda Heights after the war and worked for a metal fabricator. After he retired from that work, he moved to Madera to be closer to his wife’s family and started his own trucking company. Reyes enjoyed camping trips and hosting family gatherings.
Daughter-in-law Marcia Neira said he had a “quiet strength.”
“He was always positive,” Neira said. “I never saw the man get angry or upset. He loved life. He loved spending time with his children and grandchildren, and had a great sense of humor.”
“My grandfather was always that constant,” Ron Reyes said, “just a hard worker, and always had this bright side. It didn’t matter how bad things were, it can never be that bad. … He was always a positive force.”
Born: April 15, 1923
Died: Dec. 18, 2019
Occupation: WWII veteran, retired metal company worker and truck driver
Survivors: Wife Ramona Reyes; sons Michael Reyes and fiancé Theresa Harris, George Reyes and daughter-in-law Gloria Reyes, and Bobby Reyes; daughters Nancy Bustos, Yvonne Reyes and daughter-in-law Marcia Neira, and Elaine Martinez Curry; and many grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great grandchildren, including grandson Ron Reyes.
Services: Reyes was buried with military honors Jan. 10, 2020 at Calvary Cemetery in Madera following a funeral mass at Saint Joachim Catholic Church in Madera.
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