Community support helps Korean War veteran thrive

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Enrique “Henry” Cruz (Photo by Gabriel Weinstein)

By Gabriel Weinstein, Staff Writer

Enrique “Henry” Cruz loves to chat. Cruz honed his conversational skills in the Marine Corps from 1953-1955. He reported to Camp Pendleton in California in 1953 and shipped out to Korea in 1954. He was stationed at a mountainous base a few miles from the Korean Demilitarized Zone, which separates North and South Korea, where he worked as a cook.

“It was a nice experience. It’s good to get out and do things with other countries and other people. I’ve always liked to talk to people,” he said. 

Cruz surrounded himself with a diverse set of conversation partners on the base. After chopping vegetables and preparing spaghetti dinners he would spend time with the base’s non commissioned officers. He made a point to get to know the local Korean population and even learn some Korean.

“[We talked] about the countryside, how they lived and how they got along with their families and their friends,” he said about his conversations with his Korean friends.

Over the years, Cruz gradually lost contact with his Korean contacts. His Korean rusted and his Korean friends never learned how to write in English. 

Though he fell out of touch with his Korean friends, Cruz’s experineces in Korea never faded from his memory. Living in a war zone where many local residents had enough just to scrape by had a profound impact on Cruz.

“Looking at them it hits you that you have a lot more in life than they do. They do with a lot less than what we do and we should be thankful for what little we have here in the United States,” he said.

After his tour in Korea ended in 1955, Cruz left the service and returned to Colorado where he had been working before he enlisted. He then returned to Cimarron where he spent a year working at the Philmont Scout Ranch before packing up again for Southern California. He spent 28 years in the Los Angeles area as a courier for banks and raised his children there.

Cruz made it a point to pass on the values he learned in the Marine Corps to his children. The military tradition in Cruz’s family lives on as his one of his grandsons is now serving in the Navy.

“I learned to be good to people. If you can’t help them don’t hurt them,” he said. 

After more than two decades in the Los Angeles area, Cruz returned to Cimarron in the 1980s.  In Cimarron Cruz has found a community that is able to relate to his experiences in the military and values its elders, traits he cherishes. The warmth of the community has helped Cruz recover from the emotional burden of war and live a comfortable retirement.

“I feel good being here. There a lot of veterans and older people and they look up to me for different things. I am thankful for that,” he said. “People here, they like to talk to their older people. If they [older people] need anything they are ready to help.”