This is my story today, in history: December 16, 1944: 78 years ago today: The Battle of the Bulge–World War II….and this is my tribute to Joe Sotelo, of Miami, Arizona.. (Feb. 25, 1919, Metcalf, Az; May 20, 2011, Phx.)–….
I was watching CNN a bit earlier and a very short news brief mentioned that today in history, Dec. 16, 1944, the Battle of the Bulge began as German forces launched a surprise attack against Allied forces through the Ardennes Forest in Belgium….And I remembered Joe Sotelo, of Miami, Arizona: my dad’s childhood friend and later, his compadre, working together at the Leaching Plant, at the Tank House, at the Inspiration Consolidated Copper Company mine in Miami, Ariz…Joe was badly injured in combat in the Battle of the Bulge, awarded the Purple Heart.
He came to my Dad’s funeral in Miami in 2006. He was 87. My dad, Lupe, 85. I knew who he was. He and my Dad went to the same segregated “Mexican school” in Miami. They fought together for their copper mining Union, in 1946-47. He saw me. Greeted me. “Christine,” he said…”I’m here to pay my respects to Lupe. ..I’m wearing my Purple Heart in his honor.”…it looked magnificent over the left breast of his beautiful gray suit.. My love for his sentimiento overwhelmed me at that moment. And he smiled at me….The Battle of the Bulge, or known as the Ardennes Offensive, was the last major German offensive campaign on the Western Front, Dec. 16, 1944 to Jan. 28, 1945, fought in the freezing rain, frigid temperatures, in the snow…
It was called the Battle of the Bulge the because the Germans created a “bulge” around the area of the Ardennes Forest in pushing through the American defensive line…Joe Sotelo entered the US Army in 1943 & served with the 413th Infantry Regiment, 104th Timberwolf Division, the first Army in the European Theatre. Over 500,000 troops fought the final battles with Germany, and where over 76,000 men died. Joe was wounded in the advance in Cologne.
Joe Sotelo was born in the copper mining town of Metcalf, Arizona, Feb. 25, 1919. His parents are Victor and Amalia Sotelo. His father died in 1920, from what the mineros called “el tisico”, known as silicosis, caused by the inhalation of particle dust from underground mining. His father began working at the mine in Metcalf at the age of 15. He was only 24 yrs of age when he died. Joe, a baby. After the war, Joe returned to Miami and by 1946, became a member of the VFW in Miami and in 1951, he became the local VFW Commander. By 1953, Joe was the VFW Commander in the State of Ariz.
Joe said some poignant things to me about my Dad: their love of sports as young boys on the softball team, and the basketball team in grade school athletics; their struggles as young boys helping the women in the families as newsboys, carrying their shine boxes and shine rags together, getting bullied by the older boys….and later , as adult Mexicanos who worked together as family-men-earning-a-living at the Leaching Plant , and called themselves “burreros”–not ‘burros, not dummies, not asses, not stupid–but “burreros”…named after the kind of hard work they did at the copper mine’s leaching plant.
The leaching plant/tankhouse was a electrolytic copper plant that consisted of anodes and cathodes submerged in copper solution double tanks, which measured 5-feet wide by 25-feet long. The tanks were separated by a walkway called “Burro Alley”, or as the Mexicano miners called it, “la burra”….thus, “la burra”, the name the men were known as, “burreros”…My dad’s work, and Joe’s too, consisted of submerging copper sheets and pulling them out from the copper solution, which was heated to 105 degrees. The work was strenuous and laborious, and a change of work clothes was needed every third day because the acid content of the copper solution ate away the clothing or fabric, and work shoes….In the early 1940s, my dad and Joe were paid $3.03 per day, with no Union then to arbitrate their pay…..Joe Sotelo, World War II Purple Heart Recipient: a Hero to many. A man of courage and valor. A combat-infantry man. ….Joe Sotelo. My dad, Lupe’s, good friend, Miami, Arizona…..
Copyright 2022 by Christine Marin. Photos of Battle of the Bulge and Purple Heart in the public domain. Photo of leaching tanks courtesy of the author.