By Fran Lyons
He said to himself, “No wars in the U.S.”
He wanted our country to be protected and safe. He wanted freedom and he was willing to go to war to defend his country.
Joaquin Comaduran was 12 years old at the time, and yet he knew he was going to serve his country.
His best friend and schoolmate, Rene Peters, shared the same fierce loyalty. They had a mission, and they were in it together. They agreed and planned to join the military as soon as they could. They were filled with zeal and a deep sense of pride for their country.
When he was 16 years old, Joaquin quit high school and asked his parents to sign a waiver giving him permission to join the military with his longtime friend. Comaduran and Peters both lived in Nogales, where Joaquin was born and spent his childhood. His parents agreed, but only if he promised to finish high school when he returned home from the service.
Comaduran and Peters headed to Tucson and enlisted in the Army. After induction, they were sent to their home base in Fort Campbell, Kentucky, for 16 weeks of basic training.
Following “boot camp,” they were sent to Fort Benning, Georgia, for Special Forces training that qualified them to become rangers in the infantry. This is where Comaduran practiced his paratrooper jumps and received his first set of wings, which were called Original Wings or “rookie wings,” as he says.
The two buddies were assigned to the 11th Airborne Paratroopers, attached to the 187th Airborne Division, and deployed to the Korean peninsula.
“I was told to pack my bags to send home to my family,” Comaduran said. “I sent my cowboy clothes and boots, along with a short note to my mother just before we left.”
Neither one of them knew what to expect next. It was clear, though, they had to leave the past behind. They were jumping into an uncertain future.
‘I LOOKED EVERYWHERE FOR RENE’
The Korean War, which started in 1950 between North Korea and South Korea, was well underway in 1953 when Comaduran and his buddy landed. Comaduran, who saw so many unpleasant things on the battlefield, is understandably reluctant to discuss his time in the theater of war.
Serving from 1953 to 1956, he participated in multiple paratrooper combat jumps. During his time overseas, he received his paratrooper Senior Wings and later, after multiple, perilous, night jumps, he received his Jump Master Wings.
He will tell you, while not delving into details, the memories are seared in his mind.
“The older I get, the worse it gets,” he says of the post-traumatic stress he suffers as a result of his experiences almost 70 years ago.
“The Korean Armistice agreement was signed in 1953, and yet we were still fighting,” he said. “I flew two more combat jumps, and we experienced a horrific firestorm. My best buddy, Rene, jumped right before me. There I was, behind Rene. It was very confusing and chaotic. Everything was a blur. I lost track of him. I did not know what happened to him. I looked everywhere for Rene.”
Staff Sgt. Comaduran left the military in 1956 and returned to Nogales and civilian life. He made good on his promise to his parents and finished high school. He received his diploma and presented it to them in a graduation ceremony at the Hollywood Bowl in California, where he was living at the time. He remained in California, married and raised two children with his wife, Guadalupe.
Utilizing the G.I. bill, he studied ergonomics and business administration at Pepperdine University, enabling him to excel in his career at General Motors, where he worked for 31 years.
He and Guadalupe were married 44 years before she died of cancer in 2000.
‘WE’RE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER’
Then Comaduran, who never gave up on finding his buddy Rene, finally located him. He had survived that deadly firestorm in Korea but stayed in the military. It had been over 50 years since they last saw each other.
He visited his friend, who had been ailing, at his home in Tucson. The years dissolved in their deep friendship as they reminisced. Shortly after their reunion, Rene died in a Veterans Affairs hospital from Agent Orange-related illness linked to his service in Vietnam.
In 2015, Comaduran married Paula, whom he calls “a godsend.” They moved to Maricopa to help raise his granddaughter and send her to school in a friendly community. They reside in Acacia Crossings.
“Maricopa is a great place to live and I have met some wonderful people here,” he said. “I love it here and it is my home.”
Comaduran, 85, is very active at the American Legion, Ira H. Hayes Post 84, in Sacaton. He is also a chaplain and a peer specialist focusing on suicide prevention and intervention. Dedicated and committed, he also volunteers to help people with PTSD-related traumas.
“I love to be involved in my community, and I use my own experiences to work with and help others,” he said. “We’re all in this together.”
This story appears in the November issue of InMaricopa magazine.