by J.J. Lamb


24 Pvt. Bernardino Estrada, WWII. Courtesy the Mayer Family, Vail Preservation

Pvt. Bernardino Estrada, WWII

Courtesy the Mayer Family






Originally known as Decoration Day to honor Civil War dead, by the late 1800s, many communities observed an annual Memorial Day. After WWI, the day honored veterans who had died in all U.S.  wars. Congress officially declared Memorial Day a national holiday in 1971. The day honors fallen soldiers. Each one of those soldiers’ lives touched the lives of those they left behind. Cumulatively, they protected and preserved freedom, individually, they are mourned by the parents, siblings, relatives and loves they left too soon.  Bernardino Estrada, Ben, of Vail, is one of those honored heroes.


It has been 74 years, but not a day goes by that Ben is not remembered. His nephew, Fred Mayer remembers exactly where he was on December 7, 1941. “I was 11 years old, playing marbles when everyone started talking about the Japanese attacking Pearl Harbor.  I was confused; I didn’t understand what was going on. … Ben was gone by January of 1942, he never returned.”


“My mother (Ben’s sister Anita) wrote to him a lot, and Ben wrote back.” Ben loved to play baseball, ride in the Rodeo Parade and most of all,  dance. He wrote his sister Anita, that he, “… missed his family, to tell his mother not to worry, that he missed his mother’s cooking, and that, “I’ll do the best I can.” “… A little before Christmas in 1942 my mother [Anita] got a call from the Vail Post Office that my grandma had a telegram there.  My mother had a ’31 Chevy, so we loaded into the car and left for Vail (from our ranch in the Santa Rita’s).  My mother looked pretty nervous, but I still didn’t know what was happening.  Mary Jane Woolsey was the Post Mistress at the Post Office in Vail. When we got there, she came out before we could get out of the car, I could see that she was crying.  When she hugged my mother, we knew what had happened.  Ben was killed in action, a long way from home.  We were devastated.”


Ben had been killed in the “Battle of Burma” in New Guinea on December 16, 1942.  According to a 1943 newspaper article, “Pvt. Estrada advanced alone to within 20 yards of a pillbox which he attacked with grenades and rifle fire. He was killed later when clearing out enemy dugouts.”  Pvt. Estrada was honored at Fort Huachuca on July 14, 1943 by General Benjamin O. Davis in a ceremony attended by 5,000 people. Ben was a hero who received the Purple Heart and Distinguished Service Cross which is the military’s second highest service award.  Post 59, located in Tucson on Grande Ave, is co-named in memory of Bernardino Estrada.


The following account is from the book, “Victory in Papua”, pp. 253-254


“… The two forces moved out quickly to their respective points of departure. At 1510, with the troops in position and ready to go, Colonel McCreary’s mortars opened up on the [Coconut] grove. The mortar preparation, about 100 rounds in all, hit the target area but had little effect. As one who was there recalls, it merely “blew a little dirt from the Japanese emplacements.” At 1520, the mortars ceased firing, and the troops moved out on right and left with the help of fire from the platoon of Company H. The Japanese had the approaches to the grove covered and laid down heavy fire on the attackers. Progress was slow, but Colonel Smith’s forces were pressed up tight against their objective by nightfall. … In this fighting Major Zinser demonstrated conspicuous leadership, but it fell to two men of Company E on the right—Cpl. Daniel F. Rini and Pvt. Bernardino Y. Estrada—to clear out the main position. Rini and Estrada, members of the same squad, had been in the forefront of the company’s advance. The climax came when Rini, covered by Estrada’s Browning automatic rifle, got close enough to the main bunker to jump on top and knock it out.


… Corporal Rini and Private Estrada were both killed in the mop-up, which their valor had made possible. Rini was shot by a wounded Japanese to whom he was trying to administer first aid, and Estrada fell not long after while helping to clear the last enemy position in the grove. The fighting was over by noon. …The cost to the 2d Battalion, 128th Infantry, was four killed and thirteen wounded.”


The President of the United States takes pride in presenting the Distinguished Service Cross (Posthumously) to Bernardino Y. Estrada, Private, U.S. Army, for extraordinary heroism in connection with military operations against an armed enemy while serving with Company E, 128th Infantry Regiment, 32d Infantry Division, in action against enemy forces on 16 December 1942, during the Papuan Campaign at Buna, New Guinea. Private Estrada’s intrepid actions, personal bravery and zealous devotion to duty at the cost of his life, exemplify the highest traditions of the military forces of the United States and reflect great credit upon himself, the 32d Infantry Division, and the United States Army.

General Orders: Headquarters, South West Pacific Area, General Orders No. 9 (19 January 1943)
In May of 2016, we are proud to again honor Pvt. Bernardino Estrada and the other fallen service members from Vail who proudly served their nation.


Vail Preservation Society, J.J. Lamb

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J.J. Lamb