Texas Veteran & Celebrated Muralist: Ernesto Pedregon Martinez

Mr. Martinez holds a print of his mural “The Price of Freedom”

Ernesto Pedregon Martinez is a World War II Veteran residing at the Ambrosio-Guillen Texas State Veterans Home in El Paso. He was born in El Paso in 1926, his father was a tailor and his mother a homemaker. Martinez grew up in a neighborhood near the border of Mexico and he attended Cathedral Catholic High School, an all boys school. Most of those boys, including Martinez, would go on to fight in World War II.

When Martinez was in high school he developed a passion for drawing and painting. “I started by painting Mickey Mouse and little cartoons, and people liked it,” said Martinez. Martinez never had any formal artistic instruction, he was completely self-taught. Martinez had attended many bullfights in Juarez, Mexico as a child, and when he was 17 began designing promotional posters for the bullfights.

Almost immediately after graduating from high school in September 1944, Martinez enlisted in the U.S. Army. He went to basic training in Maxey, Texas and from there to the Signal Corps at Camp Crowder in Neosho, Missouri. Soon after, Martinez was moved up to advanced infantry and went to New Jersey for shipment overseas to Europe. In January 1945, Martinez and his fellow recruits traveled across the north Atlantic on a troop ship, which landed in Scotland. A few days later, they were shipped to the southeast coast of England where Allied troops were being concentrated. This was seven months after the D-Day Invasion in France. Martinez and the recruits then traveled for almost a week in the rain and mud, through France and into Belgium. Cold and tired, they arrived at a receiving hospital at midnight where they joined the 104th Infantry Division, also known as the Timberwolves, commanded by General Terry Allen from El Paso.

Ernesto Pedregon Martinez

“At first we thought there was a real bad thunderstorm, a lot of lightening and thunder, but actually, it was the front,” remembered Martinez. “Then my division crossed the Rur River, and all we saw were casualties, troops, both German and American, that had just been killed.”

Martinez continued on with the 104th to the German city of Cologne, where they found the last partially intact bridge and crossed the massive Rhein River. Over the next couple of months they helped push the German divisions into the famous Ruhr Pocket and then continued north to Berlin.

The 104th Infantry Division returned to the United States on July 3, 1945 and after a brief visit to El Paso, Martinez was transferred to Camp San Luis Obispo in California to prepare for an invasion of Japan. The invasion was canceled after the atomic bomb was dropped and the Japanese surrendered. After serving as a bank clerk and escorting German troops by train to the east coast for a year, Martinez was sent to Fort Sam Houston and discharged from the military.

Martinez was awarded a Combat Infantry Badge, Bronze Star, World War II victory medal, European Ribbon with two Battle Stars, and several good conduct medals. After serving his country, Martinez continued to serve his community as a Commander of VFW Post #9173, Vice-Commander of American Legion #36, 1st Vice-President of the Paisano Lions Club, and Scoutmaster for Boy Scout Troops 17 and 39.

Martinez wasn’t able to draw or paint while serving in World War II, but upon leaving the military, he started sketching and painting again. Even while he raised a family, worked for IBM, and later the federal government on Fort Bliss, he kept making art. Soon he was being commissioned to paint murals and became one of the nation’s leading Mexican-American artists. Many of his paintings were adopted by the Chicano movement during the 1960's. Martinez was also selected as a resident artist in Chicano Studies at The University of Texas El Paso and as the Texas State Artist in two-dimensional works of art for 1997–1998 by the Senate of the State of Texas.

Across the decades, Martinez always cherished the United States Military and painted several murals honoring the brave men and women who’ve fought for this nation. “The military started hiring me to do military murals, and that was my love, because I love the military and I fought with the military,” said Martinez. Listen to Martinez talk about his experience during and after the war in his interview for the Voices of Veterans oral history program.

Watch the slidshow below to view photos of Desert Storm, a military mural commissioned in 1992 by the Junior League of El Paso and located at the Stout Physical Fitness Center on Fort Bliss. The mural is dedicated to the valiant men and women of the armed forces who distinguished themselves during the Persian Gulf conflict. It measures 50 ft. x 8 ft.

Other murals by Ernesto Pedregon Martinez:

Pre-Columbian Mexico | Bowie High School | El Paso, TX
Congressional Medal of Honor | Veterans Clinic | El Paso, TX
The Resurrection | St. Joseph’s Catholic Church | Houston, TX
Love of Country and Disabled American Veterans | Veterans Hospital | Truth or Consequences, NM
Labyrinth of the Americas | The University of Texas at El Paso | El Paso, TX

To hear other Texas Veterans tell their stories, please visit the Voices of Veterans oral history program online. If you are a Texas Veteran and would like to share your experience, please contact the Voices of Veterans Program Coordinator, Monica Brown at monica.brown@glo.texas.gov or call the Texas Veterans Land Board at 1–800–252–8387.