Oscar Villarreal, 33, postal clerk, saved Gloria R. Castro, 3, from drowning, Laredo, Texas, July 21, 1959. When the rain softened ground alongside a cesspool 25 feet deep gave way beneath her, Gloria fell five feet into contaminated water 14 feet deep. Villarreal, who was suffering from arthritis and bursitis in his shoulder, was attracted by the screams of Gloria’s mother and ran 100 feet to the hole. Peering into the cesspool, which was nine feet in diameter and except for the hole was covered, he saw Gloria floating inert face upward. Villarreal obtained a plastic garden hose, fastened one end around a nearby tree, and dropped the other end into the hole. As he lowered himself down the hose, a two-foot-square lump of dirt broke from the side of the hole, and loose dirt fell from the unlined sides of the cesspool. In the water, which covered six feet of organic refuse, Villarreal drew Gloria to a position below the hole, held her aloft, and submerged himself. He then surfaced forcibly, thrusting Gloria three feet out of the water to within reach of her mother, who lifted her from the cesspool. With the aid of the hose Villarreal then climbed out as more dirt fell. He revived Gloria, who was hospitalized and recovered. Villarreal’s shoulder condition was temporarily aggravated by his exertion. 44807-4331
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Oscar Villarreal, 83, died on Aug. 20, 2010, in Austin, Texas. He was born on March 1, 1927, a date he later revised to appear older, according to his family. When he was 14, he altered his birth certificate to look one year older to be able to join the National Youth Administration, he told an interviewer for a 2002 profile for the Voces Oral History Project at the University of Texas at Austin.
In the profile, Villarreal also said that he took steps to ensure that he’d be able to join the Navy to serve during World War II.
“When I got back from the NYA, I went to the Army recruiting (office) and took the physical, but I didn’t pass it because I weighed 106 pounds,” Villarreal said in the Voces story. “Then they asked me if I wanted to join the Navy, and I told him yes. He said, ‘Before you go to the examination, try to eat at least eight or 10 bananas so you can make the weight.’
“When I got to Houston to go take the physical examination, that’s exactly what I did,” Villarreal said. “And I didn’t fail the exam.”
Before leaving the Navy on Feb. 6, 1946, Villarreal was involved in nine campaigns and spent 29 months overseas, according to the Voces profile. He earned many honors for his service, including the American Campaign Medal; World War II Victory Medal; Navy Occupation Service Medal; Philippine Liberation Medal with one star; Republic of China Medal; and Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with eight campaign stars, symbolizing the eight campaigns in which he was involved.
After the war, Villarreal worked at the post office in Laredo, Texas, from 1951 until he retired in 1976. He also joined the Army Reserve for a few years after he was discharged from the Navy.
On April 23, 1950, he married Amparo Segura.
(Edited from the Voces profile at voces.lib.utexas.edu and an obituary published in the Laredo Morning Times.)