SLOAN: This is Stephen Sloan. The date is March 2, 2012. I'm with Mr. John Vallsat his home in Laredo, Texas. And this is an interview we're doing for the Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission's Texas Liberators Project. Thank you, Mr. Valls--
VALLS: You're quite welcome.
SLOAN: --for sitting down with me today and allowing us to take over your spacehere (Valls laughs) for a little while. I wanted to start out by--you were telling me a little bit about the Valls family--
SLOAN: --and some of the Valls family background. I'd love to get some of thaton the recording, if you'd share it.
VALLS: On my mother's side, we were here--my family was here fifty-four yearsafter Columbus, in Mexico. They were soldiers in the Spanish Army, and we've been here in the New World, as they called it then, since then. But my uncles, 1:00my great-uncle Armengol, Juan Armengol, and his brothers came to Mexico in 1864, I think. And they had ranches in Mexico. I think one of the ranches was two hundred thousand acres. They were very prosperous because they were hard workers. The Armengol family was my grandmother. My father, Antonio Valls, lived in Ciutadilla, which is thirty miles southwest of Barcelona. And he didn't speak neither English nor Spanish. He spoke Catalan. And when he came to the United States--because my grandfather in Spain died and left my grandmother with three 2:00boys: Jaime, Miguel, and Juan.
And so my uncles from the Armengol family, who were my--that was his sister thatmy grandfather was married to--brought my three brothers, my--I'm sorry, my three--my father and his two brothers to the new country and put them to work. Actually, my father was sent to Cuba to learn Spanish, and then he was sent to St. Edward's University to learn English. And he did both very well. He was very successful. He ran a farm for the company in Cuba, but then he was transferred to Mexico and ran the farm there. It was a vast farm. Then one of my uncles came 3:00to Laredo because another one of my uncles had died here in Laredo. So my godfather is Juan Armengol. He changed his name to John because he was then dealing with New York and everything.
They became very, very prosperous. We had the largest Bermuda onion plant in theworld. And if you ate a hamburger anywhere in the United States between 1909 and 1932, you ate one of our onions or one of our tomatoes or both. We grew Bermuda onion plants, and we sent them all over the United States. We were listed in Dun 4:00& Bradstreet. And, as I remember, the first time that the income tax came out, my uncle paid the biggest income tax in Texas, which was $75,000. And that was just probably 2 or 3 percent because--incidentally, all--
My father then married my mother in 1907 and started my family, which amountedto eleven kids. The second one died at birth, but all the rest survived. There's Ralph, the oldest; Toni, my sister, the oldest girl; then Josie; then Mike: the first Mike died, the second Mike lived; then Louis; then Carmen; then Concha; then Alphonso; then me, John; and then Willy. That was the family. But we been 5:00here--incidentally, when the dictator in Mexico took over, all my uncles came to Texas, but we still owned the land in Mexico. And when the new regime in Mexico took over, they didn't want to pay us for the land that we owned, so my father made arrangements that we were going to sue Mexico. Found out we can't sue Mexico. It's got to be a country. So we went to the United States. United States loaned them the money to pay us for the land that we had, which was millions, and Mexico got the money. But they said, Hey, we'll pay you later. To this day, 6:00we haven't seen a penny.
But fortunately, my father did real well. We really lived great. We hadeverything. Each one of us kids had a nanny, a pilmama. And we had, like Guy B. Harrison says, "Hey, your mother must have been a real good cook." I said, "My mother didn't cook. We had two cooks." And, "What was your house? How many bedrooms?" I said, "We had four bedrooms right down in downtown Laredo. Ten blocks from the river, mind you, on San Bernardo Street." And he said, "Well, how about your mother? Does--who takes care--?" I said, "We got two maids. And we've got a house that the maids and the cooks live in, in the back."
We were doing great until 1939, when my father declared bankruptcy. My uncle had7:00got rid of all the onion plants and all the tomato plants, planted forty-two thousand orange trees. They were ready to bear three years later, 1940--1941. The temperature dropped to fourteen degrees; fourteen degrees the next day and twenty degrees the next day. I can still remember going there. My uncles were burning tires under the trees to try to save them. We saved a few, but all of them--all of them were burned. And my uncles did not believe in insurance. They lost everything. My father--incidentally, my uncle, John Armengol, who was my godfather too, died from catching pneumonia from that. He died two months later. 8:00
SLOAN: He caught pneumonia that night?
VALLS: Yes, he caught pneumonia from that, and he died. My father was left witha huge, huge amount of money that my uncle had borrowed to plant the trees. My uncles did not believe in insurance. They either--we either had feast or famine. Most of the times, it was feast. We lived very well. But--
SLOAN: So they weathered the Depression.
VALLS: Yes. But 1939, finally.
VALLS: Yeah. We even owned a hotel, the St. Anthony Hotel, downtown Laredo. And,you know, that's an interesting story because Pat Neff was the governor of Texas when Blanco had come to Laredo because they were chasing him. He was supposed to 9:00be the president, but there was some friction in Mexico. He stepped across the river and went to the St. Anthony Hotel, was living there until the problems--Pat Neff sent a ranger from the Texas Rangers to kill him. And he did kill him. And my father was subpoenaed for the case. At that time a man by the name of John Valls, not related to us but same name, was the district attorney, and he was--he was tough. A president from Mexico was coming back to Laredo, and he was one of the ones that was involved in getting Blanco killed.
John Valls told the president of the United States, I'm going to arrest him whenhe comes to Laredo. And he was legally right. What the president of the United 10:00States did was he put a company of marines on the train and got the president of Mexico to come to Laredo and went right straight through. He didn't stop. But John Valls would have arrested him. He was a good friend of the family. We knew him very well, but he was not related. He came from the Canary Islands, and his father was William Valls. He was in the Confederate army, and after the war, the Civil War, he couldn't find a job as a lawyer, so he came to Brownsville. And that's where John Valls--well, John Valls, the district attorney, was born in Missouri, someplace in Missouri. I know, because I got all his--(Sloan laughs) his collegiate things, since, hey, they thought I was, you know--sort of like 11:00Baylor sends us a Baylor letter and all that. They sent me all the things. (laughs) I had to tell them, "Hey, I'm not John Valls."
As a matter of fact, I had a call from The New York Times. And he says, "Are youJohn Valls?" and I said yes. And the guy says, "Well, I'm the editor of New York Times, and from the sound of your voice, you're not who we're looking for. We're looking for the old John Valls that was the district attorney." Because there had been a problem here in Laredo with Carter. Carter, a man by the name of Carter, was a border patrolman. He killed a Mexican boy on his ranch. John Valls tried him, found him guilty. They reversed the sentence in Austin, Texas, and The New York Times wanted to find out because Carter became the president of the 12:00National Rifle Association. Harlan Carter. And, incidentally, I went to school with his two brothers, Gene and Lee Carter, and his sister is one of my good friends here in Laredo. But they asked me, You know anything about it? I said, "No, but I can find out." So I went to the court and found out what had happened. And I wrote them the story and The New York Times published it. Then Harlan Carter decided to sue me and The New York Times. The New York Times called me and said, Hey, don't worry. We've got you covered. If they sue you, you're not going to lose anything. But Carter dropped the case anyway.
But that's--my family's from Spain. My mother was born here in Texas, but her13:00ancestors were born in Mexico but all from Spanish people. My great-great-great-great-grandfather was the last mayor of Laredo, Mexico, the first mayor of Laredo, Texas. The king of Spain sent a man to settle claims here in Laredo because people were grabbing land without grants and everything and the country was still part of Spain. The man came. His name was Sotomayor. His wife came with him. She was embarazada--it means pregnant--when she left Spain. She came to the new country. Sotomayor did a heck of a good job in settling 14:00claims. Nobody liked him. They formed a posse, and they were going to kill him. That was my great-great-great-grandfather. They got to a point in the house and they told the man, "Look, my wife is going to have a baby tonight, and they're coming to get us." The man took them in; she had the baby. And the man--they got up and he said, "We've got to go because they're going to come here." And, by the way, before that happened the posse came by and the man told them, "They went thataway," and so the posse left. Later that--my grandfather left. He was never found again. They got him and killed him. But the boy was born, and he took the name of the man that took him in. Name was Martinez. There's a picture 15:00of him right over there: blue-eyed because my--both my parents have blue eyes. And the man had blue eyes. His name was Martinez. He grew up to be the last mayor of Laredo, Mexico, and the first mayor of Laredo, Texas.
SLOAN: Well, I'd like to go back to--you were talking about your early life. Didy'all help out on the farm?
SLOAN: Did you do work? What sort of work--
VALLS: Well, no.
SLOAN: --did you do on the farm?
VALLS: No, not--we had four hundred people on the farm. We had houses for them.They lived on San Rafael Farm. As a matter of fact, they were paid in chits that they used to buy from our grocery store on the farm. They didn't even come to town. And, incidentally, those chits, metal chits--I've got two of them somewhere--were even accepted in Laredo as money. (Sloan laughs) But we had four 16:00hundred people at the ranch all the time. No, my father took me and Alphonso to plant tomato plants at night, to teach us what it was like. I tell you what, that's hard work because you do it at night because you can't plant in the day. You just hit a shovel, put the plant in, get it in dirt(??), and you had to do it. Oh boy, you got tired. But no, no, we were--we had a ranch house, and we had a house in Laredo. The ranch house was great big. We had parties there. Everybody came to the parties at San Rafael Farm. So, yeah, that was--
SLOAN: So what are some of your memories from those years, growing up?
VALLS: My aunt managed the grocery store. One time, unbeknown to me, I was17:00accused of eating three bananas because the inventory showed that there were three bananas left. They blamed me for it. (laughs) I remember--I don't know if I was punished or not, but I was just a little kid. I didn't eat the bananas. But no--and then we used to go and ride a yegua, a mare, that Don Sotero--Don Sotero had a mare, one of the people that worked at the ranch, and we rode that mare. We also went to school. We had our own school. We had our own building at the ranch. And I went to the first and second grade with Miss Beulah Masterson. We called her Miss Beulah. We were there at the ranch at--and we went to first 18:00and second grade. And we did a play of "Harrigan": (sings) "Harrigan, that's me. H-a-double r-i-g-a-n spells Harrigan." I was Harrigan in the play. (laughter)
And I remember the burning of tires under the orange trees to try to save them.And you know what, that's one of the first memories that I have of my life because--another memory, and I don't know which came first, I was run over by a car from a very wealthy person in Mexico. And he ran over me and left. He left, but he got to Mexico and he said, "Hey, don't--I'll pay for everything." He was a good friend of the family's. He was also one of the big shots in Mexico, and he--at one time, he was considered to be--run for president. But they didn't 19:00expect me to live. And I remember they brought me home, finally, and I lived. They broke my leg and my arm and my--fractured my skull. And the doctor said, "He's gone. Don't expect him tomorrow." But I lived. The guy was very nice, but he never came back to the United States. He was a good friend of my brother Mike. He was a young man. He was very, very wealthy. And they still are.
But that was also one of the first memories that I had because they brought mehome and my brother Alphonso--we call him Lefty because he's a left-hander. And we--I remember that they brought us some phones. And he was in one room, I was 20:00in the next, with a string tied to the phone because we were talking to each other, (laughs) except we could hear through the wall. And I remember distinctly my sister Toni saying, "I'm going to the drugstore." And my mother said, "Bring Johnny a present." I remember that. It was all in Spanish, by the way. And when I got my present, it was a beautiful box. It must have been close to Christmas because it was red wrapped with green string, and it was a car. It was one of those cars that you wind, and I remember that distinctly.
And they have a saying that--my sister Josie said that one time I was a littlekid I could barely speak. And my nanny was telling me, "Sorry, Johnny, I'm going 21:00to--I'm going to go away. If you don't do this, I'm going to go." And in Spanish I said, "Váse! Váse!" which is not even right because it's váyase is the word--get away! Váyase! Váyase! I didn't like her. But it--Josie is the one that--I must have been one or two or three or something like that. And then there's another--oh yeah. My nanny, later on--I had a nanny for years--when I was older and they punished me, they always sent me to the basement. And told my nanny--I thought I'd impress her--in Spanish, "If I had a knife, I'd kill myself." "(gasps) Oh! (high-pitched sound of distress)" She ran to my mother. My mother, she says--and later she came crying, says, "You mother says, 'Here's a knife.'" (laughter) That was my first lesson in psychology. I said, "Well, maybe 22:00not today."
SLOAN: So you would go to the basement, just sit in the dark?
VALLS: Yeah, they'd put me in there fifteen minutes, and then they'd let me out.But I had a dog named Duke who was the smartest thing, and he was like--he understood everything I said. He was--I got him in 1933. My brother Louis took me in the car to get him, and he died in 1953.
VALLS: Yeah. Oh, and that dog was--oh boy. I've got a picture of him somewhere.He's--oh man, that dog was--oh! You couldn't--you couldn't--if my buddies even did--said a nasty thing to me, wow. He'd get him. One of my good friends, Danny 23:00Peña, one time--was much bigger than me and much older. And he was, you know, trying to hit me or something. Duke came at him and Danny climbed up a telephone pole, (laughs) and [Duke] kept him there for a long time because I told him--and then, finally, when he came down, I said, "Duke, no. Don't fool with him. He's a friend." He understood. And one time my brother and I were trying--and he asked me, "Let's see what he'd do if you and I got in a fight." So we started shoving each other. He got in between us and was (whines), like, "Hey! Hey, you're family; don't fight!" Wow! Man, I'm telling you. Oh! It was something.
SLOAN: Good dog.
VALLS: But that--my childhood--incidentally, all of us, what we did for fun wasrun around the block. That's where we got our athletic training, at Bruni Plaza. 24:00We lived in--with the mayor, the district attorney, and Don Antonio Bruni, who was King Kong here in Laredo in those days. We lived in the same block. Mr. Bruni and his daughter Erlinda lived next to us, and then the Vallses. On the other end was Dr. Austin, the--I forget the lady's name that was in between, and then J. C. Martin, who was King Kong here in Laredo. If you wanted anything--even the mafia would report to J. C. Martin. I made a big mistake when I graduated from Baylor. I came to see J. C. Martin for a job and, of course, I 25:00got one. The superintendent thought that I should have gone to him, so he never did like me--J. W. Nixon. They named a high school after him. He never did like me. And yet, when we went to the Texas Relays, it was the driver, Coach Green, the superintendent, the principal, and me in the middle, in a very small car to the Texas Relays. And to the state meet, same thing. And to--
SLOAN: Well, I know sports was very important, right.
VALLS: It was. It was my life. All my brothers were great; all of us were great.Alphonso was on the world-record sprint relay team at East Texas State Teachers College. Alphonso also didn't graduate from high school. Coach Barry at East 26:00Texas took him and Carlos Salinas. Carlos Salinas, a Laredoan, was on the same team as Alphonso. They were both maybe one-tenth of one second difference in the hundred. He [Salinas] ran a 48.4 in high school, which was--46 won the world Olympics; 48.4 in high school. And in state meet he knocked down two guys, Beard and Ellsworth, to win the state meet, and was disqualified. He went between them instead of going around them. He won the 440 [440-yard dash] but they disqualified him--Salinas. He has since passed away. But Alphonso was also a 27:00state contender, and he also had a bunch of scholarships. He became a B-29 pilot and flew thirty missions over Japan. But in those days, I mean, we ran as--you know, to entertain ourselves.
SLOAN: Well, you talked about your records. Can you tell me that again, aboutyour older brother set the record, something like that?
VALLS: Oh yeah. My brother Ralph was a gun fiend and all that. He never was anathlete. And then Mike came in. He ran in high school. In one game, he scored three touchdowns--sixty yards, sixty-four yards, and seventy-two yards against 28:00Kingsville. In another game, against Robstown, he scored four touchdowns. A guy from San Antonio, Perry Winkle was his name, a writer, came to interview him and named him Iron Mike. At the end of his interview he said, as the Laredo High School Tigers go, Mike Valls--Iron Mike goes as the Laredo High School goes because he--I did a thing on Mike. He was--he scored three or four touchdowns in any--and he went to--what's in, oh, Kingsville?
SLOAN: Oh, okay.
VALLS: Yeah, whatever--Kingsville [Texas College of Arts and Industries then;29:00Texas A&M University--Kingsville now]. He went there and he got a degree from Kingsville. He came back, but my father was on the school board so they couldn't give him a job in teaching. So he taught in the country school. He decided that wasn't for him, so he went to Marquette University. He went back to Texas A&I at Kingsville to get his master's, and then he went to Marquette University for doctorate. He stayed there four years and he graduated in '46--February 28, 1946--because I was there. Yeah, '46. But he was a super athlete. He also went to state, ran a under-ten flat hundred.
Louis came along, and he was even better. He was also on the same football team,30:00and he was also a great basketball player. And Louis didn't like going to college, so he enlisted in the air force--army air force. And then came Alphonso, who was the first one to high-jump over six feet. In those days, we had the Texas Roll, which was--six feet was an obstacle. I mean--and he was the first one to high-jump over six feet. He ran the hurdles. Uh! He hit a hurdle in the state meet and didn't finish. But they knew he was great, so he got a scholarship anyway. And then I came, and I did everything. I ran the highs, the lows, high jump, pole vault, and quarter mile. I played basketball. I was the 31:00leading scorer. I played football. I scored half of the touchdowns of the whole team. But then came the war and I was drafted. I still had one more year in high school. I would have swept everybody!
But as it was, that year was spent in the army. I took basic training inAmarillo. I made the football team in Amarillo. They all--we were there for basic training. And I remember when I faked out and went in and caught a pass and the coach said, "Okay. Hey, you stay." So they gave me a uniform and everything. But then I took pilot training. I took the test for pilot. I was--always loved airplanes--or model airplanes. I passed it. And they sent me to Central State Teachers College, Stevens Point, Wisconsin. January 1, 1945, I 32:00marched into Central State Teachers College.
The minute I got in--I was inside a building and they told us what the ruleswere. You cannot accept any phone calls. You cannot go outside. I had a call: "John Valls." I said, "Yes?" "John, I want to meet you." A girl said, "Hey, I want to meet you. Come on outside." I said, "No, I'm sorry I can't do it. I'm--" "Please, come outside. I got to meet you." I said, "Who in the world would--" And not--I had to tell her, "Hey, ma'am, I'm sorry." She said, "You better come out, because I'm going to grade your English papers." (both laugh) I didn't; I got a demerit anyway. But I got it taken off because I wrote letters. I don't know the girl. I--how she got my name, I'll never know. 33:00
But it was beautiful. CTD, College Training Detachment. I set the record for thethree hundred meters the first month. I broke it the second month, and I broke it again the third month for--you know. And I made the basketball team and the coach there said, "Hey, when you get through with this, come back and see me because we want you here."
SLOAN: Well, that was after the war, right?
VALLS: No, that was right at the beginning of the war.
SLOAN: So when--what year was that? That was in--
VALLS: That was--I marched in in 1944. I stayed there until March. Theyeliminated us without prejudice. We didn't do anything wrong. The whole school was gone because they had too many pilots. I went before a colonel and he says, 34:00"What do you feel like?" I said, "Well, sir--" He says--and then he told me, "I'm going to send you to a gunnery school. You're going to be a gunner in an airplane." And I said, "Sir--" I thought I'd impress him. I said, "Sir, if I can't fly the airplane, nobody's going to fly it for me." He didn't say anything, wrote something down, and then he said, "Next." The next day I was in the infantry. They transferred me to the infantry. They sent me to Reno, Nevada. I did nothing but went out in a truck in the sand and stayed in a tent. They were training us to go to North Africa. Fortunately, I got my orders changed, I don't know why. They sent me to Greensboro, North Carolina. There, I was in a track meet. I won everything. Then they sent me to Boston. I shipped out of 35:00Boston, fourteen days to Southampton, England. Out of the fourteen days I was seasick thirteen. I've never--
SLOAN: Had you ever been on the ocean before?
VALLS: No. No. And you had a bunk and the--if you were lucky you got the topbunk, because the guy at the top would vomit and it would come all the way down. And it would--it happened. It happened. Oh God, I suffered. Oh!
SLOAN: Did you have the top bunk?
VALLS: Yes. I was one of the last. Oh, I don't know how I survived. But we gotto England and, sure enough, that episode where--I found a field that--we didn't train on Sundays. I found a field, beautiful track field, with hurdles and all. 36:00I went and ran there. A man, a very well-dressed man, saw me. I know it was him because when I got back to the base, Base Air Depot Number Two, we were taking infantry training. They said, Hey, the colonel wants to see you. I went in, salute him. What the heck did I do? And he said, "They want you to go run in London." I said, "Yes, sir, that's fine." They flew me in a C-47 all by myself (imitates a plane engine) into London, and that's when the--they told us, Hey, the queen is going to be here. We want you British subjects to stand before--when she comes out, you will bow like this. And you, Yank, you don't have to bow but you can stand at attention. But everything was--I mean, the 37:00queen was like a god to them. It was--and I got the fever, too, when everybody came and when she came out. And I bowed, too, just like the rest of them.
But I won. I won the four-hundred-meter hurdles. I'd never run thefour-hundred-meter hurdles before. They even had a kid in front of me, and I said, "Hey! Hey, how am I going to pass him?" They said, No, you can pass him. He's younger than you. These are handicaps. But they say it "andicaps," not handicaps. And I passed him and I won. So the next week the colonel called me in: "They want you to go to someplace else." I forget where. And I went and again I won. And the third week it's, again, C-47 to another meet, and again I won and they gave me a prize and everything. I sent the prizes to Laredo and 38:00they got here. My sisters all had cutlery sets and this and that.
And like I said before, in one of them I had a certificate, was signed by abunch of lords. I got it somewhere. I think it's in one of those books that my daughter made of me. And it said, "This medal will be given to you when obtainable." This was during the war, so I understood that. And this was in, I think, March? No. Well--August. August of 1944? Yeah, '44. I found the certificate in August '94, and I sent it to the ambassador for the United States here, in Washington. Oh, he sent me a very nice letter. Says, "Please refer your 39:00request to--" some town in England. So I did the same things: "When do I get my medal?" And they wrote back, says, "We have received your inquiry with great interest. We will be in touch." In about two weeks they sent me the medal. (laughter) It was really something.
But in England, in training--you know, I had real good training. We were inEngland, and we were sitting on a side of a hill, about two hundred of us. And this master sergeant, well, I mean--and he had battle scars and everything--with hand grenades, and he was shaking and says, "Today we're going to teach you about hand grenades. You don't--when you pull this trigger and you let it drop, 40:00it'll go off in five seconds. So don't ever pull the trigger." And he pulled it and he dropped it. Zoom! Everybody left. I mean, I was hitting on people, and I told them to get the hell out of the way. We all counting--one, two, three, four, five--nothing. We looked up and there was a sign that said, "Come on back. There's nothing wrong with me. I just wanted to see if there was any heroes here, who was going to pick up the grenade and throw it away." (laughs) Not any of us. And that was good training.
But then, like I told you before, the first day we finally shipped out to LeHavre. We came in Le Havre. It was already taken. We didn't have to fight for it. We went up, Le Havre, and immediately I was assigned to the Fifty-Second 41:00Armored Infantry Battalion, to the Ninth Armored Division, to the Third Army, with General Patton. And we had a lesson that we had to say the words "Kill or be killed." "Kill or be killed." Thirty times a day we had to say it. Anytime we met a buddy and just, "Kill or be killed." And Patton--I never--I didn't see him. The sergeant gave us--or the captain or somebody gave us the--said, "You will not surrender. You will die, but you will not surrender. You will not retreat. You might die, but you will not retreat. Understand that." And with Patton, it was--I mean, it impressed all of us kids. 42:00
And sure enough, finally I get to see my first German soldier in combat, face toface. I had him with my M-1 off of safety. I was a good shot and--I'll tell you later about qualifying. Ask me, because I might forget. But I was a good shot. And I couldn't shoot him. I couldn't kill him because I turned cold. I turned cold and I couldn't shoot him. He threw his gun down and surrendered. Ooh, I took him in. I said, "I caught a Nazzy! I caught a Nazzy!" I didn't even know how to pronounce Nazi. And I told the sergeant, "Sarge, I couldn't kill him. I turned cold." He says, "Don't worry, son. Next time you won't." And sure enough, it was--oh! From that day on, it was rough. It was bad. But in--I had the same 43:00experience that Sergeant York had in firing.
Man, I knew about guns. Tommy Linedecker here in Laredo, when we were nine yearsold, we used to go to his ranch, the Bruni estate--they had about ten--a hundred thousand acres--in his Lincoln Zephyr car--on the fender was a twenty-two--shooting rabbits, all of us kids in the neighborhood. We were good. We were good. If you missed, oh, Tommy Linedecker: "Pues se fallo!" I mean, he was (makes agitated sound). So when I went to the firing range, you know, with a old rifle, a Winchester or something: pow! Miss. Oh no, can't be(??). Pow. Miss. 44:00Three times: pow, miss. I said, "Unh-uh. Sarge, something's wrong. I didn't miss." "Oh, here's another one. All right, bring the damn thing down." It's all bull's-eyes. They didn't even look to see. You were--with those guys--there're some guys from New York that had never seen a gun, and they--oh man, I qualified immediately. Wow! But that was also very impressive.
I was only a PFC [private first class], but I was the leader. Everybody followedme, even in my half-track. Everybody followed me, what I did. I told them what to do and they did. And the master sergeant was in charge of us and he gave us the instructions every day, but the first guy that--when I finally got to 45:00France, a captain--I forget his name, but he told me, "I'm your CO [commanding officer] here and I don't wear my bars because it's nothing but an aiming stick." Sure enough, in four days he was killed. Out of a company of twenty-two that I joined with, two of us from the original came back. It was--it was hell. It was really hell.
And you try to tell kids, you've got to dig a hole every night, whether it'sraining, snowing, or whatever. You got to dig a hole, because if you were above the ground, mortars come and hand grenades come, and they go this way and that way. So, I mean, every night. Many times we took houses; we took towns that 46:00didn't fight. We had an American officer that spoke German. Every time we got to a town, he'd say, "If you fire one shot at us, we will destroy your town. If you don't fire at us, we're not going to disturb you. We're not going to fire either. So please surrender and avoid bloodshed," and whatever. Sometimes we went in, no problems. Sometimes we went in and kids with Panzerfaust, rifles with hand grenades--boom! boom!--beat the hell out of us. And it was--we lost a lot of people. You didn't make friends. You did not make friends because your friend was gone the next day.
And I got wounded. I don't have the Purple Heart, but I got wounded in my leg47:00and in my arm. If I hadn't been wearing my helmet, I would have been killed. The thing exploded on top of us. I feel pling, pling, pling, pling, pling! And the guy next to me, the Polack: "I'm hit! I'm hit!" He was covered with blood, all the--all in front. And so, "Hey, medic! Medic!" So they went and got him, took him off. And the next day they brought him back with a Band-Aid. He had been hit right here, (laughs) nothing but a little thing but enough for blood to--he was mad as hell. I remember it. And that night, all of us tried to take our jackets off and mine wouldn't. The blood--the jacket had stopped the blood. And in my leg, too. But we didn't say any--I don't have the Purple Heart, but I was wounded. 48:00
But this is--that's another beautiful thing two. Number one, I'd lie in my holeat night and see thousands of bombers coming over; thousands, thousands, thousands coming over. I said, "God, we cannot lose this war," because there was doubt when we went in. The United States was number seven in power. Germany was first, England was second, France was third, Italy was fourth, Japan was fifth, and somebody else--I forget--Italy or whatever. We were number seven. We didn't know that we could win the war, but we did. And I tell you (sighs). Now they're saying in books [that] the Germans said, How in the world did you get that much 49:00equipment in? Because we had it. We got three little boxes of food a day, and sometimes we didn't.
I was going to tell you another thing. One night, we were already dug in andthey say, "Hey, Company C, come on out! Come on out!" What the hell? They're going to give us a bath? Let me tell you about the baths later on. And they're going--it's not--it's nighttime. They can't give us a bath now. So we went into a railroad station. There's Jack Leonard, who used to sing for Tommy Dorsey, singing, (sings) "Marie, the dawn is breaking, Marie." I loved music before. And I knew about him because he had quit Tommy Dorsey and then Frank Sinatra came in. He was in the front lines for thirty--for about an hour. He sang there, and 50:00then back to the damn holes. But oh boy--
And then every month they gave us a bath. You went and there was a block squarewith tarpaulins all over. Must have been ten thousand of us at a time. We had wooden ramps, hot water from the thing. You went in there, took all your clothes off, threw them away. They fumigated you--shwoo!--and grab your privates and shwoo. And then you got a bar of soap. Oh man, white soap. And oh God, you--with soap you washed and everything--oh! And then a clean towel to dry with.
And then you had your rifle inspected. And the day before an airplane wasstrafing us, and I forgot I had a brush on top of my M-1. I took my gun off, and 51:00before thinking I fired at him. Pow! (sound effect) I mean, the bullet went--destroyed the damn barrel because the brush had been in there. Yeesh! And the sergeant there, he says, "What in the hell did you do with this gun?" I said, "I don't know, Sarge. You get me another one." And one time I emptied my gun at a giant German airplane--four engines with an ME 210 on top of it. Twin engine, with both the big airplane and the little airplane going full blast, taking off, forty, fifty yards from me. We were patrolling that area. Pow! I got my M-1. Pow! Pow! Pow! I got all eight shots in there. I was shooting at the big 52:00airplane. The little airplane had the controls in it. Those were Germans--officers and all that--going to Brazil, in the giant airplane. The small airplane got up to a certain, you know, distance and then went off. But that happened and I tell this story now to everybody because--oh boy, it's amazing, amazing. It was--
But towards the end we were so tired--mentally, not physically. We werestrong--but so tired mentally that I prayed, and so did everybody else, to get killed or get this goddamn war over with. And that's also the exact word. 53:00Please, please, I've had it. I don't see the end. I don't see the end. I'm here and I can't do anything about it. I'm hungry, I'm scared, I'm tired, I'm cold. It was bad, bad, bad, bad. You cannot imagine. And that's when--I was at the lead of a patrol, and here comes an army coming on the autobahn towards us. We were going this way, and they were coming that way. I said, "That can't be an American army." They got closer, a big old swastika flying. I said, "Oh shit!" I turned around, and I was going to go and report to Colonel Westmoreland. Later he became a general. He was the Ninth Armored Division commander.
And here comes a German jeep over a rise, flying a surrender flag, a white flag.So I stopped and I had my gun on him. And he got out and saluted. He spoke 54:00better English than I did, me with my Spanish accent. And he said, "General Model wishes to surrender his army." Wow! So I take him in. At first I said, "Oh okay, I'll drive." And he said, "No, I'll drive." I said, "No! I'll drive." I got in and the German jeep was not like an American car. I was (makes sound of trying to start engine) and the colonel was cringing. I said, "Okay, you drive!" (laughs) And I made the biggest mistake I've ever made in my life. I should have gone in and said, "Sir, I've captured an army." Instead I told the colonel, "Go ahead and surrender." He came out with photographers and, oh, everybody--generals and everybody, and they left me by the wayside. But the book says we took in three hundred thousand soldiers that day. It was me! And they 55:00give me credit for--in one of the write-ups there, it says, Germans--Hitler's top general surrenders to PFC John Valls. That was the article--one of the articles that they did on me. But that happened in--but finally--
SLOAN: You knew the war was turning, yeah.
VALLS: April the thirtieth we were going to take Berlin. Eisenhower comes andsays, "No, no, no, no. Go south. The Russians are going to take it." Thank God. I wouldn't have lasted another invasion like that. Hitler shot himself that day, April the thirtieth. I was about twenty--maybe about twenty kilometers, what 56:00they use there, from him; about fourteen miles, I think. I figured out where the bunker was and where I was. I was there. And we went south. Then we're going to liberate Prague, but ah ha! We are almost at Prague. We're in the--within the--seeing the city. Again, Eisenhower said, "Hey, get the hell out of there. The Russians are going to take it." There was a very pretty girl there in Prague that begged me; says, "Please, please, please!" She spoke English. "Please, take me back! Please, they're going to come in here and--please!" I said, "Okay."
I brought her into--with me in the half-track all the way to Rehau. We were atnight looking for a little concrete thing that separated Czechoslovakia with Germany--Rehau. So we are in Rehau, fine. That's where we met the Russians. And 57:00the Russians had a rope across the street. We couldn't go over it, but they could come over. I was on a flatbed with the girl. Understand, platonic, okay? It wasn't--I--we weren't sexual or anything. Sex is--you know. They said that we were--we would rape them and all that. We didn't do that. We were--all our soldiers were good. And this girl was there with me, and a Russian officer was making points with her, you know. And he came on top of the truck and I told him, "Hey, Ruskie, nein, nein, nein. Fraulein, mine, understand? Verstehen sie? 58:00Fraulein mine, not yours. Okay?" And he still--and I told him--Pow! Man, I hit him and knocked him off the thing. And took his pistol and beat the hell out of him. And nothing ever happened. But that happened. I had a fight with a Russian. There was--they were dirty. They were bad. They were bad. And--oh!
But that--the war ended for me at Rehau. I was only there fourteen days. I met agirl--another girl that was very nice. They had no food. At that time, after the war or right after the war, we had provisions that were called 10-in-1. That means ten meals in one. We didn't have the little C rations, or whatever they 59:00called them anymore. We were getting even powdered milk, powdered eggs. Very good. I gave them to this man. I went to her house; I met her father. Her father was a professor. And in return he was teaching me German. Oh man, if I'd have stayed in Germany six months, I'd have learned the language. I still know quite a bit, enough to hold up infantrymen. Haben sie das geld? That means, "Do you have any money?" Ja, ich habe, "I've got it right there." But it was--German people were great. I wonder--we were fighting the wrong people.
And we took the town of Dresden. Dresden china. I was assigned to guard one ofthe factories. I went in there and I looked around. There was no German soldiers 60:00or anything. And I told the guy--the guy spoke English very well, and I said, "All I want is a room. I want a cot, a bed, a blanket, and water. That's all. And leave me alone." He did that. He brought me everything. And I was already in bed, sleeping, and he knocked on the door, says, "What's your address in Laredo?" I said, "What do you want to know for?" He says, "Oh, I'm going to send you these boxes." He had two boxes. I mean--I said, "Hey, you can't do that." He says, "I can. Just give me your address in Laredo." "Okay. 1004 San Bernardo, Laredo, Texas, USA." That's it. They got here. My sister--Dresden china, the best china that they made, they got here. Because later on I wrote a letter to 61:00my sister. It says, "Hey, did you ever get a package?" She says, "Yes, we got it. It's beautiful." My daughter still has some of the Dresden china that that man sent to me.
And I remember Helga, Hilda(??), a survivor from one of the prison camps, cameto talk here, in Laredo. And I met with her because they told me, Hey, we want you to go and see this lady. She was in a prison camp. I said, "Well--" She married the guy that freed her, an American lieutenant. I did the same thing with Belsen. And Helga(??) knew about that, so when she spoke at the civic center--about four thousand people there--she told me sit at the front because 62:00in her speech she says, "I want to mention John Valls is sitting right there, that he was there with me. We didn't know each other, but he was--." She knew where I was because they had put them on a bridge. They thought we were going to bomb the bridge. We didn't; we bombed the train station. But she knew that. And she said, "Stand up," and I took a bow and everything.
God, all the Jewish people that were there, some very high, prominent Laredoanshere. When I was coming out they wanted to shake my hand because they knew that I was there. I showed her the picture that--about the atrocities that happened. I didn't realize that. I didn't know. But I had no--Jewish people, to me, are 63:00people; that's all. And they're successful because they get together. They're a family. We Catholics are not, and the Baptists aren't, too. But, you know, I'd learned a lot about that. But she pointed me out in her talk because she said, "I don't know what his rank was, but to me he's the general." Because she was so nice, and we communicate now.
SLOAN: Well, before we get to Belsen--I want you to tell your Belsen story. Buthad you heard of the camps or had--did you know about the camps?
VALLS: No. No. We didn't know anything. I learned about Goering and Goebbels andall those after the war. I didn't know. I was just a kid from high school that really was very naïve. I didn't know anything. No. But when I saw that, I 64:00thought, How can any people do that to other people? How--it's impossible. It's impossible!
SLOAN: Well, take me back through finding the camp--that story, yeah.
VALLS: I was--okay, one day--I don't even remember what the orders were for thatday. I know that we were under Montgomery. We were not--the Ninth Armored Division had been loaned to Montgomery, but we were still taking orders from my sergeant. My sergeant told me, "Hey, patrol this area and go into this area." And I was alone, mind you, and I walked and I saw a giant wall right by--right 65:00on the street. And I said, "This is strange." I didn't know it was a prison camp. I opened the gate. It wasn't even locked. I opened the gate, and as soon as I walked in I heard (imitates muffled cheering). Somebody scored a touchdown in a football game. But it was very muffled. And I walked in and everybody was looking at me. Everybody was standing, and there were some people in racks that I could see. They were laying down just--and all they did was got their heads up and looked and came right back down. They were dying. They were--and it stunk. It was very--
And all of a sudden this man comes up to me and tells me (unintelligibleululating). He was trying to give me his prize possession, which was a 66:00sleeveless rabbit skin coat. I said, "No, no, no, I can't. I'm an American soldier. I can't take anything. Go, you're free! You're free. Go!" (ululates) I said, "I can't take anything, please. Please, I can't take anything. Go! Go, you're free!" (ululates) I took it, and then he left.
But then very soon thereafter the English came in, and I understand that--Lifemagazine was also there because I've got the magazine that shows the pictures that they took. And Eisenhower got the people in the town to come and parade down and see what--the atrocities. There was about five thousand bodies on the street, all just dead. I never saw anything like that. It was gruesome. It 67:00was--as a matter of fact, I wanted to get the hell out of there because I couldn't--number one, I couldn't stand the smell; and number two, there was already some British soldiers coming in after me. And they were in charge. Let them be in charge. I don't want to have anything to do--and I went on and--but now I know where I was, and I know that Life magazine was there the next day. But it was gruesome.
The--I didn't--I was so naïve. I didn't know the difference between--blacks, Ididn't even--I had never seen [but] maybe one or two black people in Laredo. And 68:00at Camp Kilmer I was on the starting lineup with four blacks, four blacks and myself. And one of them was named Jackie Robinson. Not the Jackie Robinson of baseball fame but Jackie Robinson, about my age. He was also very good. And we did the first alley-oop. We were playing against Seton Hall, and I went up center and jumped real high, got the ball, and zoop! Whoa! The gym exploded. And after we got down the other guys said, Hey, you guys do that again. (laughs) The first alley-oop and I--you know.
I was--I know one thing. I know I have a guardian angel. I know it. I know it.I've been in so many bad things that somebody did speak for me, even now. Even 69:00now. My guardian angel has gotten me out of some serious trouble that I could have gotten into if--I've had offers of a lot of illegal things, and somehow--somehow somebody talks for me. Somebody says words that--was that me? I know it. I know it. And it's--I've got a guardian angel, I hope. Oh, it's--
And one time, I was assigned after a battle--we had won a battle and we were incharge of--I was in charge of identifying our dead. We had German civilians with 70:00mule carts, wagons picking up our dead and placing them on the cart--on the wagon. I was in charge of getting their dog tags and making sure they were Americans because, you know, in combat, I mean, you get dirty and everything. Oh, I got so tired of seeing those grey faces, pulling out the tags from several wagons. I got so tired of seeing them that I said to hell with it. If they've got green socks, they go. And from then on I just looked at the socks. They were grey; take them off. If they were green, leave them there. But that happened, and it made an impression on me, even though I didn't think of anything at the time. But when you die, when you're killed, you turn grey. Everybody. And I 71:00remember that; that was one of my jobs.
After a battle we had--you did everything. You did--in the army, it's not likethe movies. Audie Murphy was a real hero. And we were--they say we're heroes. They call me a hero. And one time we were going to take a U-shaped building--green, green--two stories with bunkers on each end firing at us, machine guns. I got under one of the bunkers and with a hand grenade, (imitates sound of throwing grenade) Boom! Then they quit firing. The sergeant comes up and he said, "You stupid bastard! What the hell do you think you were doing? 72:00What if that hand grenade hadn't gone in there? It would have killed all of us!" He was right. I should have--I shouldn't have done it. But I did it. And it turned out, the rumor had it, it was a house for prostitutes for the SS.
Another time, an SS captain--I was in charge of receiving some prisoners. Theywere surrendering. It must have been close to the end of the war. And they were--here comes a Mercedes-Benz, nineteen-thirty-something edition, with a chauffeur and the captain, SS captain, and his mistress, to surrender. And I looked in there, and I said, "Das amerikaner uhr." That means, "That's an 73:00American watch." He was wearing one.(??) They didn't have watches [wristwatches]; they had pocket watches. He said, "Nein, nein." I said, "Yes, it is." I got in there, and I took the watch off: US Air Force. My brother had just been killed. I got that guy--I got him, and I have never been in a rage. That was a rage. I got him, and I was taking him out the little window in the Mercedes-Benz. I was going to kill him with my bare hands. I got him, and he had been wounded, and the patch stuck in the windshield or something (sound effect), blood all over. (laughs) And a sergeant came and got me and they took me off. I was fighting the sergeant because I wanted that guy. I wanted to kill him. I was going to kill him with my bare hands, because my brother had just been killed, and he had an air force watch. I know my brother had one. But-- 74:00
SLOAN: Is that Louis?
VALLS: Louis, Louis Valls. I've got his book. You ought to see his book. (movesto retrieve book) Wow, look at this. All his missions and everything.
SLOAN: Hm, I see, yeah.
VALLS: All--and incidentally, when he was given the--a DFC [Distinguished FlyingCross], some of his buddies that were in the flight, that were officers also, came down to see if--there was three. Cornelius, who was in the flight, and he showed us where--he saw my brother get hit, once. And my brother immediately--the landing gear came out because they hit the left--the cell. Boom, the landing gear came out, and immediately he punched the bailout button. 75:00Two guys got out. Boom, he got hit again because he was the deputy leader. The leader had been hit and he had to veer off, and he passed the command over to my brother. He was maneuvering for the leader spot, and they had him pegged. And they--he got hit too. Incidentally, the leader also survived, but he became a prisoner of war because he could--he veered off, all his people parachuted and were taken prisoners, but the airplane crashed. But that happened. That was Louis. He was--another very interesting thing that you got to--that beautiful little girl there, that you saw--
SLOAN: Um-hm, um-hm.
VALLS: My brother Louis, when he was on the way to Africa and to Europe for--to76:00go to the war, met her.
SLOAN: Oh really.
VALLS: And they fell in love. They were going to get married. He proposed toher. She accepted. They were there about ten days. And his navigator--because my wife asked Louis, "Do you have any [friends]? I've got a sister." They're twins--Isabel. "Do you have one for her?" He says, "Yeah, my navigator. He's up in the room, building model airplanes." So he came down, Bill Stevens. He met her sister, her twin sister. They also became engaged. During the war, the 77:00navigator--no, he was a bombardier, I'm sorry, bombardier--missed a target and Louis fired him, fired Bill Stevens. So Bill went to B-17s. Luckily, he survived. He came back and he married Gladys's twin sister.
So I come back from the war [in 1947]. This is '44--yeah, '44 [when I went in].I come back from the war, three years later, mind you. And my brother Alphonso had been flying--the war was over. He was flying B-17s. He went and stopped in Savannah and he met my wife, too. He went just to pay a courtesy call. I guess they talked and [he] said, "Hey, yeah, come to Laredo to see us." So she came to Laredo, to see Alphonso, really. Alphonso and I and a friend, Fernando, were 78:00sitting in our porch. And they were talking, [Alphonso] says [to Fernando], "Hey, this girl is coming to visit us. You take her out and I'll take her out." And he [Fernando] said, "No, you take her out." I says, "Hey, I'm going to take her out." "But you're already going with a girl." I had a girlfriend. I said, "I'll tell her about it and tell her that I'm just doing--being nice to a friend."
Wow! When I saw that pretty little thing--shew!--that was it. We went togetherfor twenty days, I think. She stayed here. And went back and we got married. We were going to get married Thanksgiving Day, November the twenty-eighth, when I had some time off from Baylor. Alphonso and I came to--I got married, I took her 79:00back to Baylor, and we--ever since, I mean, it was great. Oh--
SLOAN: You've been married how many years?
SLOAN: Sixty-five years.
VALLS: Sixty-five. But it was great. Baylor was super. I never, never, neverwas--tried to be changed to a Baptist. Even though I was a Catholic because my mother and my father were Catholics--I see religion as nothing. You believe in God or you don't. God is everybody's God, everybody. I don't care what your color is, I don't care where you're from. God is God. Some people call him 80:00the--what do they call him in--Jehovah, or--different names, but he is Supreme Being. And that's the way I look at religion. Church, to me--I pray three times a day: when I get up, when I take a nap, and then when I go to sleep. And I pray. And I pray religiously because prayer does do good. And I've had my prayers answered so many times. I mean, as ugly as I am, how can I get somebody that pretty? (laughter)
SLOAN: Well, I'd like to talk about going to Baylor, how that happened. Yeah.
VALLS: I had a bunch of scholarships. I was very good in high school and the81:00coaches knew it. Bully Gilstrap from [University of] Texas had already told me, "Hey, come to Texas." Colonel [Frank G.] Anderson from Texas A&M had already told me, "Hey, we want you here." My brother went, took CTD at Howard Payne, and they tried to get him. He was already at East Texas. Said, "Do you have a brother?" He says, "Yeah." "We want him." And somehow Purdue sent a letter--Purdue, mind you--sent a letter to my father that they wanted me after I got through with the army. Where I was, at Central State Teachers College, the coach told me, says, "Hey, come and run for us when you get through."
I went to the graduation of my brother at Marquette University. Kenny Wiesner82:00was a high jumper for Marquette. He was a world-class athlete. And I stayed there with my brother. I went and worked out with Kenny and with the hurdlers and all that there at Marquette. Western Michigan came to a dual meet with Marquette, and Pope(??), who had run for TCU--while I was in high school, he was already at TCU--was running for Western Michigan in Michigan, somewhere. And he said, "Hey!" He told the coach and the coach said, "Yeah, come on. Come and run for us." I said, "Coach, your place is too cold. It's not for me. And besides," 83:00I told him, "You already have a hurdler." He says, "Yeah, but he's no good." (laughs)
But Pope(??) called TCU. He's the one that sent somebody to--I still wasn'thome--sent somebody to Laredo--left me fifteen dollars to go to TCU. And I was going to go to TCU. And on the way I did stop at Texas. And they told me, You're going to live in this building, about the fifth floor up there, and you're going--this is your classroom. It was like a theater, was about two hundred, three hundred people in there. (laughs) I said, Oh. I said no. A&M was the same way.
I got to Baylor and the coach had--they hadn't even offered me a scholarship.And the coach here at Laredo wrote me a letter. He says, "Give this to J. D. 84:00Stovall. He won the high hurdles in the Southwest Conference when you were born, 1924." So I stopped at Baylor. God, they were so nice, and they showed me the classroom. It was a big high school, that's all. And Stony Cotton was my guide. He was a sprinter. And he said, "Hey, they gave me twenty dollars to entertain you." (laughs) And so I said, "Yeah. Hey." I never got to TCU. (Sloan laughs) I signed with Baylor.
SLOAN: So do you remember what you did with your twenty dollars to entertainyourself in Waco?
VALLS: No, no. We went and Stony kept the--I didn't keep the money, because Iwas very knowledgeable about being a pro. If you accepted money, you were 85:00ineligible, so no, no, no, no. But Stony went--we got a malt somewhere, and I came back and I said, "I'm going back home. I'll see you." They offered me a--then Coach Stovall told me, "Hey, this next month we're having a meet in San Antonio. I want you to come and run there." I said, "Okay, yeah, I'll go." So I went and, man, I wasn't in shape. I wasn't. I was in--and Pete Owens was one of the guys that was there. Pete Owens was the class high--world-class hurdler, and I was in the lane with him to--man, I didn't even make it to the--I think the prelims. I ran one race. I might have beat somebody but not many. I was out of shape. 86:00
But another thing happened then. During the war, I stole Schindler--you've heardof Oskar Schindler? I was in his apartment. I stole his handkerchiefs. He spelled it O-s-k-a-r. I'm always suffering from allergies, and I used the handkerchiefs. And I got his warm-up, a beautiful black warm-up with the swastikas and everything: beautiful. And I took it. I brought it home. When I went to that meet, that's all I had to--and I was wearing the German things. I was warming up, you know. I was doing my drills and everything. And Coach Stovall came and says, "Are you going to wear that thing?" I said, "Yeah. We 87:00beat them." He gave me a uniform real quick. And he gave me the most beautiful shorts. They were silk. I mean--that had a lot to do with me going to Baylor, a pair of shorts. Can you imagine? They were beautiful, green and gold. Oh God, they were beautiful.
But I ran and I didn't do very well. I was out of shape. And he had invited meto another meet the next week but I didn't go. And then, when I reported to Baylor, he said, "Why didn't you come the second time?" And I told him, "Coach, I'm not in shape. I need a lot of work to get in shape." And sure enough, he ran me. Six hurdles. Do it again. Six hurdles. Do it again. Six hurdles. Do it again. Oh boy, I ran. I ran my freshman year. He got me in shape. My second 88:00year, he brought a kid from somewhere, high school kid that they were trying to get to Baylor. He ran the hurdles. He ran the high school hurdles, I ran the college hurdles. And at that time I ran a fourteen-five, and the kid ran a fourteen-seven. So he was about three yards, four yards behind me. But I was already in shape, because fourteen-five is--was real good time.
But I did so many things that--if I'd just concentrated on the hurdles. When Iwas coaching, I came back to coach in Laredo. Incidentally, I was making $239 a 89:00month at Baylor, with scholarships and all, and the army gave me so much. And when I came to coach here at Laredo, my take-home pay was $187 a month, for coaching three sports. That's all we had. I took my team to Monterrey to run against their Olympic team. And I ran the hurdles, too. I beat their Olympic champion, and I beat their high-jump champion. So they invited me, says, Hey, we want you to come to the Olympics with Mexico. I said, "Hey, that's--I'll go." They said, But just one thing: you have to give up your citizenship. I said, "No way. No way. I'm not going to give up my citizenship."
But I had a team. I had Texaco Chiefs. We played basketball. In ten games, we90:00scored over a hundred points in every game. We played everybody. We beat everybody. We beat a navy team at Cabaniss. Oh man, we were beating everybody by twenty, thirty points. We were good. I had all-collegiates: Ken Shockley from Missouri, my brother from East Texas, John Mastin from Massachusetts, Bob Mastin, and John Early from Connecticut somewhere, and a guy from Mexico, Corona from Mexico. Just about five of us, that's all. We played for Texaco, and we beat everybody around.
SLOAN: Oh wow. So when is that? Is that--that's after Baylor?
VALLS: After Baylor--no, after Baylor, yeah.
SLOAN: Well, are there some other stories you remember from Baylor? You talked alittle bit about living there and bringing Gladys up. 91:00
VALLS: Yeah. I remember that we lived on Ninth and Baylor. At first we livedright behind Rena Marrs McLean Gym. There was a compound of trailers, and the first--Gladys and I moved into a trailer. We shared the bathroom with Jasper Flanakin, an end on the football team, and his wife Myra. We became good friends. And we lived there the first year. If you made it the first year, then you went to a bigger--then we moved into a double trailer, those double trailers. It was very comfortable. And they made it very easy.
Bird Kultgen sold us--sold me--I went to buy a car and he says, "Yeah, you canhave this one." I don't think I ever paid for it, but he gave me a 1931 Model A. 92:00And I had that--oh, it was a beautiful car. Model A, I mean, wa-broom, it was beautiful. Then the second year you got a little bit better car. I had a DeSoto the second year, and the third year I had a Ford convertible, 1937 Ford convertible. Bill Martineson, Bullet Bill Martineson, was also on the track team. They were going to give him a used car, too. And he said, "No, I want a brand new car. I want a--." No, we can't do that. It's got to be a used car. You can't do that. He left, made a big mistake. I've talked to him since then, says, 93:00"That was stupid." Because he was our sprinter. Still, Stony, Odell [Preston], and I made All-Southwest Conference. The first year we went to Wyandotte stadium in Kansas and ran. I made the finals. And I don't know what Stony did, but Odell--I understand Odell died recently. I've got a book that has all the names of all the students in Baylor.
But, no, this was living very nice. Baylor--for what we had, we livedcomfortably. We didn't starve. We didn't--we--but we could afford a lot of things that, you know--like, who would have a car in college without any means 94:00of support? Nobody helped me. My father believed that he should have ten kids so that they'd help him on the farm. And as a matter of fact, when I told him that I was going to Baylor, he says, "What do you want to go to Baylor for? Get a job here. Start to work." He didn't know that we were going to run, not to learn. Because we were--all I wanted to do was make a university track team. And my brother, Alphonso, who was already at East Texas, and had--the war interrupted him. He went and flew, came back, and he pulled a muscle. He couldn't sprint anymore. They made him into a strider. He ran the 440. And he ran a forty-seven-something. He was good. 95:00
But this was--oh, this was my Baylor. The Baylor years were beautiful, eventhough--I didn't realize it then, but track is the stepchild of any university's sport team. Football is first, basketball is second, and then baseball, and then track. But I played baseball during the baseball season with the Waco Trojans. Frank Broyles was the assistant coach. He and I played for the Waco Trojans. We were in Goldthwaite, Texas. He was pitching, I was playing left field. And he was getting bombed. But they put me in and he didn't want to give me the ball. I 96:00remember that incident. Yeah, I got bombed too. (laughs) But at that game, I hit a home run over the centerfield fans, and they gave me ten dollars plus five dollars for playing. So I made fifteen dollars that day. But it was great. Frank Broyles and I were the pitchers. He had been an all-American at Georgia Tech. And I haven't talked to him since then because he went to Arkansas.
But Tom Landry was at Texas and when we had a triangular at Texas one time, thefootball players set the hurdles wrong. The fifth hurdle was off place, and we all had to stop and all that. And I understand that they got lambasted. They were given a lecture about that. And later on, when I was coaching and I went to 97:00coaching school, I talked to Tom because he was there, too. And I said, "Do you remember?" Said, "Yeah, I sure do. We got hell for placing those hurdles wrong." He was one of the football guys that were placing the hurdles. But, oh, those were beautiful. Those were the best years of my life. It was--I had--for being ugly, I had the most beautiful wife. She had the most beautiful blue eyes, the prettiest turned-up nose, and the cutest butt I'd ever seen. Wow.
SLOAN: That's high praise. (laughter) Well--
VALLS: She weighed 110 pounds.
SLOAN: Well, you mentioned earlier, before we started recording, telling someGuy B. Harrison stories. Are there some run-ins with the teachers that you 98:00remember, some of the teachers that you remember from Baylor?
VALLS: Yeah. Dr. Lorena Stretch. She taught me how to memorize. It was myfreshman year. We got in the classroom, she put in ten things on the board and she explained each one of them very well. So you could remember that. The next day you came to class, you better know those ten things. You better know every one of them because she tried you. She was super. I loved her because I learned how to memorize. After that I pick up things just for the hell of it to memorize them. I could remember them the next day. I learned how to memorize. Dr. Lorena Stretch.
[Clinton W.] Breeding and business law. At the midterm he said, "This is the99:00midterm and I'm going to tell you my standing joke." He says, "There were two salesmen coming into Albuquerque, New Mexico. They're coming in the train and they see an Indian right there on the--where the train stops, and the Indian was sitting there. One of them tells the other one, says, 'That guy, that Indian got the best memory I have ever seen. I mean, he remembers everything. He's great.' He says, 'Come on, I'll show you.' They got off the train and said, 'Chief, how.' 'How.' 'What did you have for breakfast April 2, 1914?' 'Eggs.' See, the Indian--'See, what did I tell you?' And the other, the doubting Thomas, said, 'Oh, that's a bunch of bull. I don't believe it.' He went on. Twenty years later, the doubting Thomas salesman was coming into the same--Albuquerque. There 100:00was the same Indian sitting there, twenty years older. He says, 'I've got it! I'm going to go ask him the same question and see if he gives me the same answer.' So he goes up to the Indian and says, 'Chief, how.' Chief looked at him, says, 'Scrambled.'" (laughter) That was Mr. Breeding's joke. I remember that.
I remember another professor, and I hate to--(laughs) I'm not going to tell youwhat we did. But--
SLOAN: Oh, please do.
VALLS: Don't quote me because--Jack Slining, the other hurdler, and I were in aclass. This guy was an Aggie and he hated athletes. He hated us. I know he hated 101:00us. And Johnny Curtis was there in the class and his girlfriend was in there, too. Johnny Curtis was a halfback. And we were having a test, and it was imperative that we pass that test because--and so Johnny's girlfriend had the key. She worked at the--for the teacher there. She gave us a key, says, "Go and get this." Believe it or not, we went up to the building. Jack was with me. He was--and I went in--opened the door, went in, got the test. She told us where it was. Came out. It was the wrong test. We went back in, put the old test back in, got the new one, and came out. And nobody saw us. That night I gave it to Johnny 102:00and to his girlfriend. His girlfriend gave it to everybody in the class. The lowest grade was ninety-seven. (laughs) The guy says, "Something is wrong in this thing." (laughs) He didn't know. No one ever knew. And I told Jack Slining, says, "What would you have done if they'd have caught us?" And he said, "I'd have told them I don't know you from Adam." (laughs) But we did it. We did it and nobody knows. You're the first--(laughs) if you turn me in, they're probably going to take my certificate away.
But no, it was beautiful. We had a--second--I was a junior. My wife got103:00pregnant, and we were going to go--she was going to go to Savannah to have the baby. So I told Coach Stovall, says, "Coach, if I leave now and stay out for three months, can I still come back and be eligible?" He said, "Yeah, you can do it. Go ahead." So I hitchhiked to Savannah. When I got there, Mr. Jones, my father-in-law, told me, says, "Man, you are not going to find a job in this city. Jobs are hard to find." I told him, "Mr. Jones, I'm going out right now and when I come back this--tonight sometime, I'm going to have a job."
I went from place to place to place to place--so many places. Finally, Southern104:00Auto was opening up a store. They hired me: thirty-five dollars a week. Man, it was great. I worked every single day. I got thirty-five dollars a week. We put in thirty in the bank, my wife kept five. My in-laws--wonderful lady. My father-in-law never did like me, (laughs) but my mother-in-law was, oh, just like my wife: blue eyes, beautiful. Sullivan, Maureen Sullivan. My daughter is named after her: Maureen Sullivan Valls. She was--oh, she was super. And I worked every single day. My wife would meet me, bring me a sandwich for lunch, in Savannah--beautiful town. And by the time my son was born--Edward, the first 105:00one--December the twenty-sixth, I had enough money to pay for the hospital and the doctor, and money to get back to Baylor.
I came back to Baylor, and I had the best year of my life because I placed thirdin the Southwest Conference. And third was really up there because all those guys were world-class athletes. I had the world's best hurdler, Clyde Scott from Arkansas, and the world's best high jumper, Buddy--Buddy--what's his last name [Buddy Davis]--from Texas A&M. He was the first man to clear seven feet.
And, of course, my second year--oh! I would relive that race ten thousand times.106:00We were on finals, 120-yard high hurdles. Charlie Parker from Texas came and told me, "Hey, beat the Aggie. That's all we want you to do. Beat Leming [Paul J. Leming Jr.] from the Aggies." So we were ready. I mean, I was ready. I was ready. And, "On your marks! Set--" "Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait!" Leming got up. He says, "There's a paper on my lane." He was psyching me out. He knew I was ready. And--oh, oh, oh. Second time, I didn't get a good start. He beat me by four or five inches, but he beat me. Oh! I've run that race seventy-two thousand 107:00times, and I haven't won yet. But the next meet we went against the Oklahoma and Kansas and Nebraska and all those--like, the Big Twelve now--a meet in Dallas. I beat him by about two yards, but it was too late. Oh! I was second in the damn high--in the high hurdles. Oh, that hurt. That hurt. I could have--I beat him every time. I lost once to an Aggie and never lost to a Texas hurdler, never! And all year for--they'd beat me from Rice.(??) He was the champion. Oh!
SLOAN: Yeah, hate losing to an Aggie.
VALLS: Oh man, in those days, I hated them with a passion. Texas A&M and Texas,I hated them. It was hate. I mean, it was--I could have fought them. I could 108:00have--but now I realize that they've got a great tradition. My grandson just graduated from Texas A&M. He's six-six and--oh! Oh gosh. But it's beautiful. My granddaughter graduated from Texas in San Antonio. All of them are in--all of them are great, and my children are successful. My daughter keeps my books. This computer, all I use it for is to get in and out of my bank account. (laughs) I'm computer illiterate. But I use it for that. And we're living real good. We have no problems. You saw that Cadillac out-- 109:00
SLOAN: Yes, I did.
VALLS: Nineteen-ninety-nine, brand new. I got it--I didn't buy it. I got it forfree. My sister bought that car in 1999 for forty-eight thousand dollars cash. My brother-in-law also bought one, same year, same model, same color. And my sister died and left it to me. That's how I got it. But the car has been in garage for eight or nine years. I got it with nine thousand miles on it. I now have twenty-three thousand miles on it. It is a dream to--it's brand new. I took it to a--when I got it, it cost me four hundred and fifty dollars to go and have it looked at from top to bottom, everything. Whatever it needs, get it. And they 110:00did. Two hoses that were rotten, that's all.
SLOAN: That's it, huh?
VALLS: But that's a beautiful car. I've got a brand new Honda Civic that I'mgoing to sell because--I just bought it. It's got ten thousand miles on it. Now I'm using this. And they say use this. No. (laughter)
SLOAN: And you were showing us your airplanes.
VALLS: Oh yeah.
SLOAN: That's been a lifelong--
VALLS: Yeah, it's--
SLOAN: --hobby for you.
VALLS: I started building model airplanes when I was eight years old. And I'mgood at it. I'm so good that I design models for magazines and they sell the plans. I showed you the Rubber Guppy. We fly--I concentrate on free flight. But, 111:00of course, now that radio came in, I go to radio. Now electrics are coming in and I'm doing an electric. See that fuselage over there?
VALLS: It's one of my designs. I'm doing this one with a new type wing, allsheet balsa. But the electrics are now--look at this. Look at this. This is a--I did this. This is the second one. But the first one couldn't fly because it was underpowered. So I designed a new one. Look at--this is a radio. (electronic 112:00beep) I'm going to show you the power of these new motors. (electronic beeps followed by sound of a small motor)
SLOAN: Oh yeah. Wow. Powerful.
VALLS: Powerful. You ought to see the--that's the motor. Half a cigarette,that's a motor. This one is going to be a little bit more powerful. This is the 113:00motor. Now, believe it or not, that's a motor.
VALLS: And this will run this propeller very, very fast. They're calledbrushless now. And it's fun for me. They like my work, and I also write for magazines, stories. And I either make you laugh or make you cry with my stories.
SLOAN: (laughs) Well, you've done that for us today. You made us laugh and youmade us cry.
VALLS: Yeah, well, it's--I wrote a story, "The Wish," that I sold to a magazinefor a hundred dollars. And I showed it to the Times, the Laredo Times; my God, 114:00Christmas day they put it in the headlines: "'The Wish': A Christmas Story by John Valls" in the headlines. And, of course, they asked me, Can we do it? I said, "Let me ask the magazine." The magazine editor told me, "Yeah, as long as they give us credit for it," because they published it first.
"The Wish," it's a beautiful story. It's a true story. It happened in Englandwhen I was stationed there, believe it or not, making model airplanes in the barracks, running track, doing infantry training. And I went to a shop, and I used to buy things from the shop there, in Liverpool. No, no, in Bolton, in Bolton. And I saw a kid outside the shop looking at a kit, you know. They had a 115:00beautiful Comet Clipper kit. And I asked the owner, I says, "Who's that kid?" He says, "His father and mother are separated, and the father was a good model builder but he's gone. And the kid--poor kid, they're having a hard time." So I found out where he lived. I went and bought the kit that he was looking at and gave it to him for Christmas. And that's what the story is. It's "The Wish." I want to give you a copy to take with--and I showed that story to one of my teacher friends that teaches English in high school, and she cried. I said, "Good. That's what I want you to do. You cry." And when you're a writer, no tears with the writer, no tears with the reader. That's true. And I try to do that. 116:00
I wrote one story about an extraterrestrial before E.T. It was called "A PlannedAffair." The guy was an extraterrestrial, he had come from another planet, and seduced a very--I'm sorry. The girl came from another planet--beautiful, beautiful--seduced a person from Earth and found out that--the guy found out that--well, it was just a planned affair. He was--there was nothing wrong with it. She wasn't married; he wasn't married. She came back and said, "No, wait, 117:00I'm not pregnant. We've got to do it again." So they did and this time she was pregnant. So she told him, says, "Finally," said, "I've got to tell you this. I'm not from this planet. I'm from another planet, and my purpose here is to find out if we can conceive a child with a earthling. So I want you to come and see my spaceship. And I'm going to have the baby but I'm coming back. I promise you that." She went off.
I sold it. I have an agent in Hollywood. He sold it to Lorimar Productions. Itwas called--the movie was called The Stranger Within. And the only change they made is that the baby had two hearts. But it was a movie. My agent went 118:00bankrupt. I got nothing out of it. But it was a movie. It was about--this happened about twenty years ago. But I wrote a story that made it to the movies. It's a beautiful thing. I've got it there, too: "A Planned Affair."
And I've sold several, some very cute. I go up to--I'm a model builder and,somehow--(clock chimes in background) I have an operation and I didn't make it. So I go up to heaven. And I get up to heaven, and I see three of the great model builders in--Chester Lanzo, and another, Dick Korda, and another that already 119:00had died, and they're up in heaven. They're great model builders. And they greet me there and says, You're in model airplane heaven, level one. "Oh great. What do I have to do to get to level two?" Says, You've got to have three maxes on a model airplane. Says, Here's--we're going to put you in a place where-- Whoa, man, beautiful place to--not cluttered like this; beautiful.
And I build a model, and I go and get the first max--maximum flight, fiveminutes. I get the second max. And I'm up there in the third max and I'm going to make it, but they come and say, Hey, I'm sorry, but you're not supposed to be here. You're supposed to be back on Earth because you didn't die after all. "But 120:00wait! I'm on a max! I'm--I want to be in level two!" And I'm talking, and all of a sudden I'm in the hospital and my wife says, "What is this level two? You're not in level two, you're in level one. They operated on you and you made it." Oh, it was all a dream. And what I tell her, I says, "By the way, here's the three doctors that operated on you. They want [to] talk to you now." And one of them comes and tells me, he says, "Yes, you're perfectly good. Your ingrown toenail isn't going to bother you anymore." (laughter) And that I've sold to a magazine, too. They're published, all of those.
SLOAN: That's funny. Well, Mr. Valls, we've taken a lot of your time today.
VALLS: No, hey, I do nothing in the morning, and in the afternoon I do even121:00less. (Sloan laughs) No, we're doing nothing now. My wife and I are hoping--and my big three things in life now are breakfast, lunch, and supper. (both laugh)
SLOAN: Well, thank you for your time. Robert [DeBoard] and I want to thank youfor your service--
VALLS: Oh, you're welcome.
SLOAN: --to our country. And we think you're a hero, so--
DeBOARD: The ring.
DeBOARD: The story about his Baylor ring.
SLOAN: Oh, Baylor ring. You were going to tell a story about your Baylor ring and--
VALLS: Oh yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah, I was--I graduated from Baylor, and I didn'teven go to the exercises. I was so happy to come home and start coaching and all that, that I came home--this was in 1950. [In] 1994, we went to the fiftieth 122:00reunion of the Baylor lettermen, 1948 lettermen. And I got up and told a story because I'd gotten a ring and I told them that--what happened at Baylor was that I got up and--oh, had to go to the restroom, and in those days, you had to have a permit. So you went and you turned the permit in. I forgot to turn the permit in. I found it in 1994, so I sent them a letter and told them, I'm really sorry that I hadn't returned this restroom permit, but I really had to go. (laughter) So in about a week I receive a box from Baylor. And I open it, it says, "Reason for withholding your personal property: Restroom permit not turned in." It was 123:00my Baylor ring. They had--and it had two diamonds in it because I made Southwest Conference. And they gave me the ring. And if you believe that, I've got a bridge that I want to sell you. (laughs)
SLOAN: That's a good--
VALLS: But I told that to the--oh, and then later on at the motel that we werestaying, one of the guys that had been in the thing with me--I didn't even know--he says, "Hey, I'm glad you got your ring." (laughter)
SLOAN: All right. Well, thank you, Mr. Valls.
VALLS: Hey, you're welcome, doctor. Hey, listen, I want [to] take you to lunch.
end of interview