Magdalena man reminds us what Memorial Day means

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The group of Americans that served during World War II are often referred to as this country’s greatest generation. They embodied the ideals that represented the foundations of a nation of hard-working, resilient men and women, and without their bravery and sacrifice, the American landscape might look quite a bit different than it does today.

We celebrate Memorial Day each year in order to pay tribute to the memory of those great Americans, and this Memorial Day residents of Socorro County will fondly remember another one of their own, who died last week.

Rudolph “Rudy” Pina passed away on May 17 in Magdalena, and according to the friends and family members he left behind, the world will be a slightly darker place without him.

“He never stopped smiling. Never,” Katherine Turner said.

Turner is Rudy’s step granddaughter, but she never attached that specific label to it.

“He was just grandpa my whole life,” she said.

Rudy was born in Morenci, Ariz., in 1918, and his childhood might have suggested he would not only live an interesting life, but one not void of hard work.

“He told me a lot of stories about when he was a kid,” long-time friend Bob Enders said.

According to Enders, during his formative years Rudy held jobs that might make today’s younger generations cringe. Enders said Rudy worked in mines in Arizona and at one point he had a string of 15 mules.

“He’d go cut firewood, come back into town and sell the wood,” Enders said.

The friends served during the Great War, so the two had a lot in common and spent a substantial amount of time together. And even when the pair would have to head to the hospital for medical treatment, Rudy was in good spirits.

“He loved to have company, so I used to go over and visit with him,” Enders said. “He always seemed happy. He was a nice guy.”

After Rudy graduated from high school, he went on to serve in the United States Marine Corps, achieving the rank of Tech Sergeant. On Dec. 7, 1941, Rudy happened to be stationed in Honolulu when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. He was so close to the action that he quite literally became an eye-to-eye witness to the attack, as the story goes.

Another long time friend of Rudy’s, Ross Ligon, recalls just how up close and personal he got with Japanese pilots on that terrible day.

“Rudy said that the Japanese pilots would dip so low when they dropped their bombs that he could see them laughing in their planes,” he said. “It really irked him pretty good.”

And as the legend goes, it irked Rudy so much that he had the guile and audacity to pick up a rifle and start shooting back, perhaps even bringing down one or two of the Japanese invaders.

Ligon and his wife, Pat, met Rudy around 25 years ago at a church in Magdalena. The Ligons had purchased farm land in the area and said he was always willing to help them out. Rudy’s years in the Marine Corps had not only left him with a survivor’s tale, but with a valuable talent as well.

“There wasn’t much of anything he couldn’t put back together and make work,” Ross Ligon said. “He was quite a mechanic.”

After he survived Pearl Harbor and ultimately the war, Rudy eventually left the service. He spent time from the 1940s to the mid-1960s working as the head mechanic for the truck fleet at Conklin’s Bakery in San Diego. It was at Conklin’s that he met his wife, Alene Rierson, and they would remain married for nearly 40 years until she passed away in 1996.

During the mid-1960s Rudy served the Northern California area as a deputy sheriff, and later that decade he took a position as head expediter for the Davy McKee construction company. His job there took him all over the U.S. and South America, and that’s where Rudy would stay employed until he eventually retired in 1982.

Rudy remained very active in his community after retirement as he was a member of the Socorro Church of Christ, the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars non-profit organization.

The same type of dedication that Rudy committed to his community and to his career was epitomized ten-fold when it came to his family.

“He was always there for you when you needed him,” Turner said. “He was always interested in what you were doing. He was just a great family man.”

Turner also described her grandpa as a loving, laughing, generous man who loved to talk and take pictures, even in his final months.

“He was still the same happy man, telling funny old stories and trying to make you laugh,” Turner said.

Memorial Day is intended to remember those Americans who fell while serving in our Armed Forces and honor those that were fortunate enough to survive war. Rudolph H. Pina, known affectionately as “Grandpa Rudy” to those closest to him, was among those fortunate ones and his legacy will live on. Not just through his military service but through his family and through the way he treated others while on this earth.

Rudy was a Marine and a Pearl Harbor survivor, but he was also a devout Christian man, a brother, an uncle, a grandfather, a father, a husband and a friend. He is a shining example that when we remember the ones we lost, we should strive not to forget the ones we haven’t.