RAPID CITY, S.D. (KEVN-TV) The number of living World War 2 veterans, is quickly shrinking
And every veteran's life story is different.
World War Two veteran Salvador "Chuck" Valades who survived being shot on a battlefield in Germany.
One veteran we spoke with in Sturgis has memories vivid enough, that we can imagine, what it must have been like the day he earned, his Purple Heart in this edition of "Along the Way".
93 year old World War Two veteran Salvador "Chuck" Valades of Sturgis...awarded a purple heart after being shot on a German battlefield.
"It's a miracle. That's why I consider myself a walking miracle," says Salvador Valades who goes by the first name of Chuck.
But before we get to that, let's start at the start. Born March 7th of 1926 in Edgemont, South Dakota, he's a first generation Mexican American. His parents immigrated from Mexico. His dad worked for the railroad in Edgemont, and they lived in a box car off the tracks. His parents and his siblings all lived in that box car. He grew there with a Catholic faith. After graduating from high school in 1944, he was drafted into the Army at the age of 17.
"My mother didn't want me to go. She said our religion doesn't condone this killing. And then, I felt it was my duty," Chuck remembers.
After some training, like so many, he boarded a troop ship for a two week trip to Europe, eventually traveling across France by box car to Germany. He says they walked all night to get to the front lines, after they had first picked up their gun, bandolier of ammunition, and 1 hand grenade each. He was chosen by the Lieutenant to be the radio man, and 6 days after his 18th birthday, he and the Lieutenant went up a little ahead of the rest of the platoon.
"This when we got kind of towards the top, that crack like that I went down," Valades says, snapping his fingers as he describes it. "I must have passed out because when I came to, my radios gone, and the Lieutenant was gone and I laid there," he says.
He points to where the bullet entered his chest, on his first day of active combat.
"It hit the bandolier and it severed the cross of my rosary. This deflected enough so that this slug rather than going through me, it lodged in my liver," Valades says.
If the bullet had not been deflected he says it would have probably hit his heart.
Shortly after he we was shot, he says the rest of the platoon was coming closer.
"The Germans opened up fire on them. I don't know how many survived. All I could see, people dropping and getting hit, and they fell down, but it wasn't much cover, ya know," Chuck remembers.
He says a medic showed up, dressed his wound, and he was taken to a temporary hospital where they took the bullet out. He believes God intervened to save his life, and he's quick to explain why.
He remembers before he left for Europe.
"My mother would kneel me down in front of her and pray for me," Valades says.
And, remember the hand grenade each man was issued? He says they hung it on the lapel of their combat shirts, but his fell off during that night long hike.
"If I had that hand grenade on my shot when I got hit. What would have happened?" That's another reason he believes God saved his life.
He would see no more combat. He got out of the Army in July 1946. He went to business college, got married and with his wife raised 3 kids: 2 engineers and a dentist.
Though he has a purple heart, and a bronze star, he says he's absolutely not a hero: that the heroes are the one's that gave their lives.
"We were there. We did what we had to do. But they're the heroes," he says.
Regardless, it's easy to see, why more than 7 decades later, 93 year old Salvador "Chuck" Valades says he's a walking miracle.
Valades worked at Fort Meade for 36 years before retiring in 1988.
His life illustrates the amazing power of one generation. His parents came to America looking for opportunity. They started picking onions and beets before settling down in that box car in Edgemont.
In just one generation, Chuck and his wife raised those 2 engineers, and a dentist. We don't know where they live, but it's a pretty good guess, that it's not in a box car.
That's a lot of change, in the course of one generation's time.
If you've met someone cool "Along the Way" please call or e-mail us to let us know.