Ramón Ruiz's DNA
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June 22, 2009 – Ramón Ruiz graduated from San Diego State College (now University), received his master’s degree from Claremont Graduate School, and his Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley. He served in the Pacific as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army Air Force during World War II. Ruiz began his teaching career in 1955 at the University of Oregon at Eugene and has also taught at Southern Methodist University and Smith College. In 1970, he joined the University of California, San Diego and in 1991 became professor emeritus. There, he has worked to build a strong Hispanic studies program. Ruiz has held visiting professorships at numerous colleges and universities in the United States and Mexico and is a National Humanities Medalist.
ENGSTRAND (Editor, The Journal of San Diego History and professor, University of San Diego): Hello Ramón, I'm happy to welcome you here to the program and I'm hoping that you'll tell us a little bit about your military experience. RAMÓN RUIZ (Veteran): There was a war going on, as I recall it was Second World War and there was something called the draft and I knew a couple of things, one was I didn't want to be an enlisted man, and secondly I didn't want to be drafted. So to avoid being an enlisted man and being drafted, I volunteered for the United States Army Air Corps and that's how I became a pilot and a second Lieutenant. ENGSTRAND: Did you experience any discrimination in the service, being Mexican? RUIZ: You know, I'm a Phi Beta Kappa, I was a very good student, and the Navy required two years to be a Naval officer. They had a V-6 program and a V-12; they wouldn't take me. And then I thought, well, maybe the Merchant Marines will take me, and so I went to Long Beach and took an exam, and I never heard from them. And then I heard that maybe the Marines would take me, and so 14 of us from San Diego State went down to the Marine Corps people. Thirteen were taken, and I was the only one rejected. And then I finally thought well maybe I'll fly for the Navy. The requirements were two years of college and a physical. So I went up to Long Beach and I went through the physical. At the very end my last stop was the physical of my eyes. And the corpsman there said, "Your eyes are not that good." So I went home and told my father, and my father said, "Well let's go see a specialist in San Diego." And we did. And the specialist looked at my eyes and he said, "They're perfect. But if your father will pay for the exercises that I can give him, I'm sure that he can go back and pass." Well I took the exercises, my father paid for them, and I went back. I got through the whole thing until I got to the eye exam. And another corpsman said to me, "The commander wants to see you." And this commander came and he said, "Sit down, son." And he said, "There's no place in the Naval Officer Corps for someone of your background. The only place for you to be an officer is in the Army Air Corps." And that's why I became an officer and a pilot in the United States Army Air Corps. ENGSTRAND: I am hoping that today in the military, in fact I know it's changed. RUIZ: I know it has. I know it has, but you know Iris, those were difficult days. My brother went through the same kind of thing. My brother was also a lieutenant, and he flew B-24's over in England, and he was also rejected by the Naval Air Corps. And he won the Distinguished Flying Cross. He flew over Germany 32 times as a pilot of a B-24. ENGSTRAND: I know Mexicans in general contributed so greatly to the war, WWII, and all the wars since then of course. RUIZ: Yes, but that's the way things were you know.