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Youth put life on the line, twice!

Madera County Historical Society Pfc. Tony Tavares, Madera’s first loss in the Korean War.


The story of Jack Cremean, the Marine, who was killed in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, and whose remains were brought to Madera and buried here 77 years later, brought to mind Private First Class Tony Tavares.

Tavares was another hero who gave his life for his country in war and whose remains were finally recovered and returned to Madera for burial.

Tony attended school in Madera until World War II broke out. He enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Force and went off to fight. Somehow he survived and came home. Five years later he went off again to fight for his country; the Korean peninsula was ablaze.

He didn’t survive that war.

When he arrived in Korea, he was sent into the thick of the fighting. In August 1950, his platoon was defending a position near Hill 303, a bleak bump in the terrain east of the Naktong River, a few miles northeast of the battered town of Waegwan.

When the enemy began to infiltrate the U.S. lines, Tavares’ platoon leader asked battalion headquarters for reinforcements, and was told that 60 South Korean soldiers would move up shortly.

Soon afterwards, North Korean soldiers appeared from a nearby apple orchard; Tavares and his comrades assumed that they were the reinforcements. Not until the newcomers were almost on top of them did the G.I.s realize their mistake; the men were heavily armed Red troops. Seeing his men outnumbered 10 to 1, the Lieutenant in charge of the platoon ordered the G.I.s to climb out of their foxholes with their hands up.

The North Koreans approached and stuck their burp guns in the stomachs of the Americans with one hand and with the other grabbed the GIs’ rifles. They then stripped the men and took their helmets, watches, and wallets. After that, they marched Tavares’ platoon to a nearby cemetery.

The first night they gave them some water and fruit —one apple for every four soldiers. The next morning the Reds got scared when U.S. mortar fire started dropping near their position. They made Tony and his comrades take off their boots and then tied their wrists with the shoestrings. That night the North Koreans tried to march their prisoners across the Naktong River, but fire from the American troops stopped them.

About 3 or 4 o:clock in the afternoon of Aug. 17, 1950, the enemy moved Tony’s platoon again — this time down near a ditch. Then came the end. The enemy soldiers shot Tony and his comrades execution style and left them for dead.

We don’t know what happened to Tony’s body after he was killed, but we do know that his remains were found and sent back home almost a year after he was gunned down. On Friday, June 1, 1951, with a “gusty wind blowing every flag in town to attention, the body of Madera’s first Korean War victim came back to the town where he had grown to manhood.”

An honor guard from the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars received the flag-draped casket at the Madera depot. Six men—three from each organization — carried it along East Yosemite Avenue, preceded by a police escort to the Madera Funeral Home. Graveside services were conducted on Wednesday at Calvary Cemetery and PFC. Tony Tavares, veteran of two wars, was laid to rest.

James Beattie and Frank Alviso of the VFW and Don Hendrickson and Walter McRae of the Legion were the color bearers; Joe Gomez, VFW, and Nello Biancalana, AL, were color guards.

Legion pallbearers were Robert Dearing. Martin Cereghino and Frank Moran; VFW bearers were James Haney, Joe Cazassa, and Max Cowger. A 10-man firing squad fired a three volley salute across Pfc. Tavares’ grave.

Born in San Diego, Tony Tavares came to Madera as a young child and attended Madera schools. His home was at 339 South C street.

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