His first email grabbed me from the start and each successive letter was filled with the spirit and sass of a 20 year-old. His infectious sense of humor and a heart as good as gold told me that this was no ordinary man. I was correct. He jumped into the forum right away and quickly made many friends.
In September he becomes president of the Red Bull Association and will proudly represent all his buddies past and present at this year's reunion,
Sept. 8-10, 2006. Wish I could be there to meet you and all the other members of the 34th.
Rocky and I recently applied for membership into the Anzio Beachhead Association, and I will be honored to have my name next to his as a daughter of an Anzio veteran who fought side by side with those tremendous Red Bulls.
He highly recommends a book on his unit that I read two years ago called,
Dogfaces Who Smiled Through Tears In World War II - Homer R Ankrum - Graphic Publishing Company. When I asked him if I could mail my copy to him so he could sign it, he replied, Maid Marion, I'll do ya one better; and he exchanged his copy with me, complete with a personal note and signature from the author, and a notation from Rocky himself. I was very touched by his generosity and kindness, and it now holds a very special place on my shelf and in my heart.
Love ya Rocky!
ROCKY SERVED IN NORTH AFRICA AND ITALY WITH THE 135TH INFANTRY REGIMENT, 34TH DIVISION FROM MARCH 1943 TO OCTOBER 1945. HE WAS AWARDED THE COMBAT INFANTRYMAN BADGE, BRONZE STAR, PURPLE HEART AND EUROPEAN-AFRICAN-MIDDLE EASTERN THEATER MEDAL WITH 5 BATTLE STARS.
The following are some excerpts from letters and the forum, which give a good overview of what 34th in the Mediterranean Campaign...
My name is Roque J Riojas. I have been invited to join this site by j3rdinf.
I am an 83yr. old WWII veteran and liifetime member of the 34th Div. Association.
It became an Assoc. when it was deactivated in '46. I was with the HQ. Co. 1st
Bn. 135th Inf. Regt. The 34th Div. went into combat Nov. 7, 1942 at
Algiers, North Africa, and attached to the Div. was the 109th Combat Engineers. They stayed with the 34th thru N. Africa and part of Italy, and were also
used as combat infantry! Several battles: Algiers, Sened Station, KASSERINE PASS,
Fondouk, Hill 609, and after that the Germans were on the run.
It ended around April or May '43. Took amphibious training for the assault at Salerno, Italy Sept. 9,'43. Then it was hell all over again till May 1945! The 34th Div.
amassed more than 600 days of combat in the two campaigns. Thru all of
this I thank God Almighty for bringing me back home.
I have a chronicle put out by the Army Archives that tells about the 34th Div.
It's quite long to write it but I could send a copy to Joe (3rdinf) maybe he can
paste it all I have is a laptop and a printer. Anyway this is a short summary
and if you noticed I never said I did this or that, it was WE the RED BULL
DIVISION, which did this.
Roque Riojas a proud WW II combat infantryman.
Marion's Note: This was in response to Joe of the 3rd Inf Div (j3rdinf), who came in as a replacement in Southern France:
Joe: I think that the 34th was a forgotten Div. Kinda like No. Africa was
a forgotten front. I Guess we weren't recognized like other divisions like the
1st (Big Red One), 3rd, 36th, 45th, 1st Armored, or 10th Mt. Joe I am happy
you didn't see action in Italy. Those mountains are kinda high.
Marion's Note: In regards to what troops carry nowadays:
all we carried was a field pack, blanket, socks, and two cans c-rations and
the entrenching tool tied to pack web belt with M-1 clips canteen water
fatigues and helmet....
...THE 34th Inf. Div. (RED BULL), arrived in North Ireland on Jan. 26, 1942.
The 34th trained there for the invasion of North Africa on Nov. 7, 1942.
Volunteers from the 34th I.D. provided 80% of the men for a newly formed
1st. Ranger Battalion and many of them participated with the British
Commandos in the famous raid on Dieppe, France...
Marion's Note: This is a reply to Custerman on our forum.
... I joined the 34th at the last battle, Siddi Bel Abez; The 168th Regt.
along with its artillery went in at Algiers, N. A. Nov. 7.
You will have to read the book (Dogfaces...) mentioned on page 159 and on. The 1st Ranger
Bn. nicknamed "Darby's Rangers" was formed in North Ireland from 80%
of men from the 34th. Captain William Darby commanding. Pages 93, 235, 303, 445
Marion's Note: In response to Joe's trip across the Atlantic on the Queen Mary, and how they opened their rations with a P-38 (can opener).
Joe, you got that right, I forgot those things we used going to No. Africa. How long did it take you to get there? It took us 14 days, on a zigzag course with the navy dropping depth charges. What a sight watching the water come up like a geyser. And we did carry the P-38 on our dog tags. Hey Joe, what about t/paper in our helmet liner, and at night on the back of our helmets held by the strap so the guy behind you could see you. Bring back memories Joe? War was hell and still is.
August 23, 1943 - Communications Platoon HQ Company - 135th Infantry Regiment
The following names are listed on the back of the photo:
- E. Howell (?)
- R. Riojas
- M. Money
- B. Wisniewsky
- J. Ness
- H. Kiepert
- F. Lange
- H. Jewell
- W. Dougherty
- W. Owens
Anzio Beachhead 1944
April 15th - "Red" Lange, "Frenchie" Morneau and Edwin Ness preparing to eat
- Eddie Kiefert and his dugout
April 3 - Ol' swimming hole - Depth 6" in some places - ha-ha!
Some of the fellows eating those good rations
April 3 - Some of the section
Area in defensive position
Marion's Note: The following is an answer to Paul Hinkle - 36th Infantry Div:
PDHINKLE: You were in a good outfit. The roughest time the Texas Div. was when they reached the Rapido River. The Germans flooded that river to keep from getting crossed. I salute the COMBAT ENGINEEERS, for they got across under fire and strung cables so the inf. could cross. Anyway the Germans were way up on high ground looking down and let almost a Reg. cross then they opened fire. Guess what happened? We were in another sector but word got to us that that evening a lieutenant went across with a white flag so the Germans came
down and he asked for permission to pick up his men. The Germans called for their own medics to help and a truce of 6 hours was called to take care of the wounded and kia's. This is what WE heard about the 36th Texas Div.!!! I would love to go to Italy and visit some of the U.S. cemeteries there, or talk to someone that has seen them. We had better luck crossing the Volturno River three times. And yes we lost some.
Goat that was killed with an M-1. Better than C-Rations!
I and two others
went to Venice and we went to St. Marks Cathedral, and went on a
gondola ride but I don't remember where we were bivouacked. We only had
a day's time there. I remember having wine with our c-rations!
Not only could the German artillery fire in a straight trajectory
but In Italy they came up with an 88 shell with a timer and they set it so
it would explode before it hit the ground, like an aerial burst. Mostly trying
to knock out our mortars. At night they had flares they would fire and had
a parachute hooked to the flare so it just floated down. Talking about our
howitzers, when the Germans counterattacked at Salerno if it hadn't been
for the 151st Field Artillery, the Germans would have drove the 36th Div.
back to the beach. That's history, not say so. Talking about the mountains
when we first went up to the top we said, man this fog is thick! Fog my butt,
we were in the clouds. Cold and wet. I always tried to have two pair if socks.
I carried the extra pair under my fatigue shirt. Warm and dry. But above
all I am convinced that Almighty God watched over me. Just a shrapnel
bite on the leg...
...First the Italian troops we USED, were used as mule skinners with three GI's, one in front one in the middle and one bringing up the rear. Italy surrendered when we (34th), were headed for Salerno. As far as engaging the enemy, we fought from hill to hill, mountain to mountain, town to town. And yes there were some bad ones. Benevento, Mt. Pantano, Mt. Marrone, San Vittore, the town of Cassino then Monte Cassino, where the Monastery
was and now is the new one built with your dollars. Anzio, the breakthrough past Rome, Po valley, Bologna. Hell when we came down off the mountains some had to be carried down in stretchers (trench foot), their boots had to be cut off. Thank the LORD I came down. No Problema, Hot Mexican blood! I will tell you that we (34th,) were NOT the only ones there. The 10th MT. Div., the 3rd I.D., the 45th, the 36th, 1st Armored. I think you can call it a
Rocky and a confiscated jug of wine 1944
...WE were up in the hills south of Rome
looking at it and we thought we were the ones that were going in but our
commander wasn't looking for publicity so we just sat there and watched all
troops go into Rome. We the 135th took off down the hiway towards the Po
valley. I NEVER did see Rome so I don't know what it looks like. All I saw
was the Coliseum as we went by...
Lighter Side of War!
I gotta tell you a little story about one of the NICE times I had in Italy. We had just got back off the line and pitched our pup tent when my buddy Kenneth Ryan said, Hey-Riojas, remember where we saw that bunch of chickens back there? I said yeah. Well go get one and I'll go over to the Mess tent and I'll borrow a skillet and stuff and we can eat chicken. I said how the hell am I going to get one? All he said, "You got an M-1 doncha?" Needless to say I came back with one. And he was waiting for me. So I said how the hell you gonna clean this thing? He said just hold it by the legs. WITHIN 5 MINS. HE HAD THAT CHICKEN SKINNED, ALL I COULD SAY WAS 'DAMN' AND HE ANSWERED, WE DO THIS IN OKLAHOMA ALL THE TIME. We carried a little Coleman stove took one of my canteens marked gas, filled up the stove while he cut the chicken up and boy did we eat. Course he also got fixins fer it. Just me and him
had a feast. I think this was the summer of '44 still in the mountains. AND THE WAR WAS TEN THOUSAND MILES AWAY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! One of my rare nice moments.
Civilians in Caves
Italian Girl, Ken Ryan and Rocky
...I will say
the 34th was qualified for the job it was called to do. We landed at Salerno,
Italy Sept. '43 but the 36th went in before us and were backed up by the
151st Field Artillery Battery. The 151st was the battery attached to the 135th
Anyway the 36th went in and established a beachhead but the Germans
countered and drove them back but the 151st was in position so when the
Germans got close they (the 151st) lowered their howitzers and BORE SIGHTED, and
knocked out the German tanks and stopped them. That's history.
When we came ashore, 135th and 168th pushed thru the 45th and headed for
Benevento then came our first river crossing, (Calore River). Then came
the town of Montemarano. The Germans said Howdy in German and greeted
us with armored infantry, artillery and self propelled 88's. Then came---
Chiusano, Benevento, another river crossing, (Volturno River) then in
Oct. we reached another town, (Alvignano). This is where we found out that
we were up against the 3rd Panzer Grenadier Division, which included the
dreaded (Mark) IV tank which mounted a 88mm canon...
As far as battle stars, man too numerous to mention but the battles
were made into campaigns and as a result I got five of them. The town of
Cassino and Monte Cassino, Anzio, Bologna, and I haven't even
mentioned all the mountain fighting. The 10th Mountain was on our right
flank. And I salute Senator Bob Dole of the 10th. Mt. Div. They all wore
white parkas and helmets; I tried to get a parka but no luck. Another
thing, on Christmas Eve, of '43, we relieved the 36th Div. at St. Pietro.
So damn many mountains and cold, cold, cold. Two pair of woolens on and a
blanket. For water we melted snow. Mule trains were slow in getting to us.
The first summer '43 we only
had woolens no fatigues. I got a picture that someone
took of me by a haystack (see below) the morning we came off the line.
Don't ask what I did behind the haystack but I had a
trench shovel. Boots and halfway up my legs still covered
with mud. And I think shortly after that the Lt. came by
and handed me my C.I.B. That is my most prized possession.
And yes I have it in a shadow box along with some other
Just off Front Lines - Bronze Star Awarded Next Day
...TALKING ABOUT THE LONGEST WINTER, ANY COMBAT INFANTRYMAN
HAD THE LONGEST WINTER. MINE WAS WINTER OF '44 UP IN THE
MOUNTAINS OF ITALY. LOT OF PATROL DUTY. COLD AIN'T THE WORD.
RATIONS WHENEVER THE MULE TRAIN GOT THERE. EVERY MAN SUFFERED
HIS OWN WAY.
Marion's Note: This was in reply to a post regarding Italian memorials:
These pictures of memorials are very nice and it sure did bring back some memories. This is a little info from one that was there. The 34th I.D. hit Italy Sept. 22 1943, and didn't stop till April 29, 1945 when we arrived in Brescia, Italy. There we awaited the surrender of the German 5th Mountain Div. and the German 34th. I.D. There a German Field Marshall
showed up and surrendered his troops. That day we, (135th Inf. Reg.) called it the TWILIGHT OF HELL, FOR THE NEXT DAY WAS THE DAWNING OF PEACE. I don't think there is a memorial
there. A total of 20 months combat in Italy.
The 88th I.D. relieved the 34th AFTER the war ended and
took up the occupation. In Nov. 1945, the 34th RED BULL Div. was
sent home and NO ONE was there to greet it. I was greeted by one man
I ran into just 3 blocks from home. That was my welcoming committee.
Meeting with the C.I.C.
I went to D.C. for the WWII Memorial dedication, thanks to the org. I belong.
American G.I. Forum, Dedication was on Sat. and had tickets to sit in a reserved
section. Of course my wife went also. Sat. evening the commander of the org.
called me at the hotel and said that he was to send a WWII vet to represent
the A.G.I.F. and he wanted me to be the one. Told him I couldn't because
my return flight was for Sun. pm. He said I will hold your name, call the
airline and change your departure date for Mon. pm. I called and the clerk
said sure but it will cost you $175.00. I said why and she answered company policy. I told
her why I wanted it changed. She said, wait a minute. When she got back on
she said she talked to the general manager and told him why I wanted to change, and he said
waive the $100.00 and just charge 75.00. So I TOOK it. Anyway Monday morning
at 7am I was driven to the White House, and lo and behold there was Colin Powell
and a couple of 4 star generals met them and had a pic taken with Colin Powell.
Then we had a continental breakfast. It was time for the President so a short line was formed
and when my turn came a female Marine called out my name and I entered
the Blue Room and there they were. President Bush walked towards me and he greeted me then we walked to the center of the room and he introduced me
to Mrs. Bush and I got as close as I could to her (check where my left arm is).
So we talked a little more, then I excused myself with a smile on my face.
They sent me the official White House Photo! Proud moment for Roque Riojas.
Rocky Meets the First Lady and President Bush
Marion this is a pic taken by
the KC Star news Photographer
and I was interviewed by the
editor of the newspaper. Pic
came out on the front page of
the Sunday edition prior to
Memorial Day. The interview
was printed on another page.
Rocky and his dear wife Elizabeth
Roque Riojas, President: 34th (Red Bull)Division
The following was an article that ran in the Kansas City Kansan on Thursday, February 15, 2007. The article including two photos that are featured elsewhere on this page; Rocky at the age of 23 in uniform, and Rocky and President Bush and First Lady, Laura.
By RUDY PADILLA
Published: Wednesday, February 14, 2007 6:58 PM CST
Roque Riojas is a Kansas City native. His school days were spent in the Armourdale area. First, John J. Ingalls grade school, then Central Jr. High School, followed by one year at Argentine High School and then Wyandotte High School. He then was employed at the Armours packing house, before his years in the U.S. Army starting at the age of 20 in 1942.
Roque Riojas was one of many men and women who served in the U.S. Army during World War II.
He served in North Africa and Italy with the 135th Infantry Regiment, 34th Division from March 1943 to October 1945. He was awarded the Good Conduct Medal, Marksmanship Medal with the M-1 Rifle, Rifle Grenade, Bars, MO Service Medal, Combat Infantry Badge, Bronze Star, Purple Heart and European-African-Middle Eastern Theater Medal with five Battle Stars.
The 34th Division, became an Association, when it was deactivated in 1946. Currently, Riojas is a member of the Kansas City Metro Chapter of the American GI Forum. The chapter membership were very proud to learn of Roque Riojas becoming the first Hispanic to lead the Red Bull Division as it's President, starting in September 2006.
There is much to write about Riojas in WWII. When asking him about his war experiences in North Africa and Italy, he chooses for the most part to discuss the pleasant memories. As for the loss of life and destruction, he is hard-pressed to discuss those details. Riojas, explains that he emphasizes the “We,” instead of his individual feats. He goes on to explain that it is “because in combat you are not alone. Even when we went on patrol, we were with others from our Company.”
The 34th Infantry Division led all divisions in the total days of combat. Over 600 days of battle in difficult terrain. Making their way up the mountains of Italy, in most instances this required the use of mule trains, (20 to 25 mules) to aid in the movement of much-needed supplies.
When asked about the mood of the men in the Red Bull Division, when WWII ended, Riojas remembers that, “We were all tired and hungry.” He remembers one of the men who quoted “This is the twilight of hell, but tomorrow is the day of peace!” They were located North of Brescia, Italy and he recalls the only thing on the minds of the soldiers then was “When are we going home?”
Of his wartime experiences, Riojas finds it difficult to compare each battle. “Kasserine Pass, Said Pass, Hill 609 North Africa or Salerno, Benevento, Mt. Pantano, the town of Cassino, Monte Cassino, Anzio, Po Valley or Bologna.” They were all important battles to be won against the enemy. Riojas, the young man from Kansas City, Kansas was making his mark.
When asked for more information, he remembers his food as C and K rations and just enough water to drink in those 600 days of combat. On rare occasions they had showers and hot food available.
Upon his return to Kansas City, Roque married and had a family. As fate would have it, he divorced and moved to St. Louis, Missouri where he was employed by the Norfolk Western Rail Road. He also moved to Illinois until 1998, when he returned to Kansas City. It was here that he “met a beautiful lady. Her name was Elizabeth Castilleja.” They wed a year later.
One of the highlights of his life was traveling to Washington, DC in 2004 to be present at the dedication of the National World War II Memorial. He also was there to represent the Kansas American GI Forum. While there, he met old friends and former foes. During that trip, he was also a guest of President George W. Bush and the First Lady.
Today, Riojas lives in Kansas City, Kan. Fate again stepped in. His wife Elizabeth passed away in 2006. As he says “She went home to heaven to be with her Lord God.”
He has demonstrated his value to his many activities which he has undertaken starting from his days in the military, church activities and non-profit organizations. The present President of the Red Bull Association is truly a member of what is commonly known today as the “Greatest Generation.”
As he reflects on his history, he is proud to recall his service to this country. It is something of which all of us in Kansas City can be proud. Riojas explains that “The faith which he has in God, plus the power of prayer is what brought him back home.” He concludes by saying that “he is proud to be a DOGFACE COMBAT VETERAN” and his “most proud medal is the Combat Infantry Badge - God Bless America!”
May we always remember the sacrifices and contributions of our WWII Veterans'
Rudy Padilla can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org .
" I just recv'd this today and took me by surprise. That is General Charles Bolte of the 34th Divn. pinning the Bronze Star Medal on me, just after I came around the hay stack..." I just wanted to share this with you."
This was taken Sat. Nov. 1 at a gathering of veterans at the Public Library
in Gladstone, Mo. I did two interviews and one will be sent to the Library of
Congress, Wash. D.C.
Group which attended 2008 Reunion. Taken at Gold Star Museum. Rocky on far right.
Roque and Gary Swanson - WWII Memorial - Wreath placed
Ellen Ankrum, Rocky and Ellen's escort
Rocky (president 34th Inf Div 2006-07) and Don Singlestad (president 2007-08)
Rocky and Humvee
Rocky's trip to Washington D.C. - Honor Flight - by Gary Swanson
Rocky, thanks for sharing the final newsletter with me. Happy to place it here:
Battleground Newsletter - 135th Inf Regiment - 3rd Bn - Final Newsletter