HOUSTON — "Hey, I'm a dedicated, very dedicated American," says Joe Ramirez, Sr.
He is also a proud American. He's seen a lot in his 85 years. But when he was 18, he'd experienced very little. That's when he enlisted. The only boy with eight sisters, Ramirez was just hoping for the opportunity to travel. Just three days after graduating from Sam Houston High School he began serving this country in the Korean War.
"I, myself, was shot five times."
After three and a half months of straight combat, his platoon was ambushed by thousands of Chinese soldiers. He lost 13 brothers in just one day. Those who survived headed into the mountains but after five days, they found themselves trapped and were forced to surrender. For the next 33 months, Ramirez was a prisoner of war.
"They had all the Anglos together. All the blacks together. And all the minorities in one bunch. They figured they could convert us into communism."
Barely eating. Hardly sleeping. Oftentimes, survival looked grim. But in 1953, peace talks were underway. He was aware of Operation Little Switch, which exchanged sick and wounded POWs in return for Chinese and Korean internees.
"Eventually in August of 1953, they had Operation Big Switch and that's when I was exchanged."
Ramirez was part of the final exchange of prisoners of war by both sides. It happened two days before he turned 22. He was grateful to be home and thankful to be alive. But, reentry was hard. Harder than he expected.
"I couldn't stand the telephone. I couldn't stand the TV. I couldn't stand a bunch of people. I said, I have to go back in. My father gave me the okay."
And so he did return to the army and this time, his wish for the opportunity to travel was granted. For the next two decades, he was stationed all over the map. He got married, raised two sons and two daughters. He became a widow and, he married again.
Fort Bliss was his first army home. Then Fort Hood, then Fort Sam Houston, and France. Ramirez returned to America and was stationed in St. Louis, then Denver and his last post was in Okinawa, Japan. He retired at the rank of master sergeant.
Age may have slowed down Joe's body, but not his mind.
"I am very interested in education. All my kids went to college. My grand-kids went to college," Ramirez said.
His family is a true source of pride. Ramirez's oldest son retired as a brigadier general and is now commandant of 2500 cadets at Texas A & M.
He's met two sitting U.S. Presidents. First, Bill Clinton and more recently, Barack Obama.
"One of the greatest days of my life," Ramirez said.
Nowadays, he spends most of his time with his wife of 31 years, with his fellow veterans, and with his room filled with memories.
We salute you, Joe Ramirez!