BARSTOW, Calif. - California’s High Desert has become home to countless veterans over the years. But what are the chances of three friends from two Texas cities no more than 150 miles apart joining the Corps in 1947, coming to Barstow in the 1950s, and remaining there for more than 60 years?
Oscar Valenzuela and Henry Torres from Corpus Christi and Rudy Villareal from San Antonio joined the Marine Corps and continued on paths that would keep the three of them together for the next six decades.
In the summer of 1947, three young men from Texas signed up to become a part of the few and the proud. Although World War II had recently come to an end, and the Korean War had not begun, tensions were still high due to the United States’ involvement in the Cold War. This didn’t damper the drive Valenzuela, Villareal or Torres had to enlist in the slightest.
“There wasn’t much for me to do back home so I wanted to join the Marines,” said Valenzuela, one of the Corpus Christi men.
“I didn’t want to stay home and get mixed up in the wrong stuff, so I decided to leave and do something good for my life,” he added.
Valenzuela and Villareal left in July for recruit training; Torres was only a month behind the platoon in boot camp known as the “Texas Platoon” because of the high number of recruits from the Lone Star State.
After their training at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego and their military occupational specialty training at Camp Pendleton, these “three musketeers” were sent to a new kind of territory: Hawaii and the Marianas Islands.
“It was like a deployment for us,” explained Villareal, the San Antonio native. “When we went over to Guam, it was for 18 months.”
The three Marines each performed different jobs while in the Pacific.
While Torres served as an administrative Marine in Hawaii, Valenzuela worked in an ice plant and Villareal worked as a driver for officers in Guam.
Again, the three would end up in the same area upon completion of their tours in the Pacific. The next spot on their tour would be their last. Enter Barstow, Calif.
It was the early 1950s, and after the three had arrived in California, Valenzuela and Villareal worked for the fire department on base (then Barstow Annex, Marine Corps Depot of Supplies) while Torres continued with his administrative work in the Corps.
“I was an engineer with the fire department when I got to Barstow,” Villareal explained. “I worked with Oscar there while Torres worked for the chief warrant officer over at the headquarters building,” he said.
One by one, Valenzuela, Torres, and Villareal got out of the Marine Corps after their enlistments were over but remained in Barstow, and in some form or fashion, stayed connected to the Marine Base.
Valenzuela and Villareal continued their work at the fire department while Torres became a materiel handler on the base’s Yermo annex. During their time at the fire department, Valenzuela and Villareal became involved in other jobs as well.
“I started to get involved at the golf course on base after it was built,” explained Valenzuela. “I helped out there by giving lessons,” he added.
Villareal started a construction company while working at the fire department and after retiring, worked there until he passed the business to his son.
Throughout the years, the three musketeers have kept in contact with one another and get together periodically to catch up on what’s new and reminisce about old memories.
“I spend a lot of time now in Ventura. So when one of the guys call me, they usually ask, ‘OK, are you in Barstow or Ventura,’” explained Villareal.
When in Barstow, he tries to visit and catch up with Valenzuela and Torres, Villareal added.
When Valenzuela, Torres and Villareal get together, the Marine Corps is sure to be a topic of conversation with the three, whether it’s re-telling stories about their days in the Corps, or talking about the state of today’s Marines.
One thing is certain though: It’s not often three men from any state join the Marine Corps and stay together through their entire enlistment. It’s even more uncommon to find these very same men 60 years later in the place where they ended their time in the Corps. Sixty years, and the three musketeers remain undivided.
— By Cpl. Thomas Bricker, Marine Corps Logistics Base, Barstow