|Patti Sells | News-Telegram Feature Editor|
(Editor's Note: A childhood memory of a military funeral spurred Sulphur Springs resident Bobby Erwin to seek out his biological father. After more than 20 years of research, he may have found that a hero of the Korean War was his long-lost father. The following story is about Bobby Erwin's quest to find his family.)
May 31, 2004 -- Bobby Wayne Erwin cannot definitively prove that his father was a Korean War veteran who was given the medal of honor after sacrificing his life in battle.
But Erwin, now 52, believes in his heart that Sgt. Ambrosio Guillen was his biological father, and so does Guillen's family.
"It's been like this impossible quest to find out who I really am," said Erwin, who was raised from the age of 6 by a Sulphur Springs couple, Leo and Doris Erwin. "Since I have found the answer, it has fulfilled that need. This is my life. I finally know who I am, and I'm proud of where I came from. It's complete. Now, I can just live."
And he is not alone.
"We've accepted him as family," said Ramon Guillen Jr., nephew of the late Ambrosio Guillen, a posthumous Medal of Honor recipient for whom a junior high school and state veterans home in El Paso are named.
When Bobby Wayne Erwin set out on a quest to find his birth mother and the identity of his biological father, he did not know he was the likely son of the Korean War veteran.
"He came into my office with these memories," recalled Captain Joe Reid Scott, veterans service officer for Hopkins County. "Memories of El Paso, a military funeral and something about the Medal of Honor."
Scott admitted that he was very skeptical at first because of the young age Erwin's recollections came from, but Erwin, now 52, was so persistent and earnest about his search that Scott said he agreed to do some military research to see what he could come up with.
"I didn't really believe him at first," said Scott. "But these memories seemed to have made such an impression on him that he never forgot them. His story was so engaging."
After researching the subject, Scott found that indeed there had been a Medal of Honor recipient from El Paso, a Sgt. Ambrosio Guillen who had lost his life at the young age of 23 on July 25, 1953, just two days before the cease fire of the Korean War. He was buried at Fort Bliss National Cemetery in El Paso on Oct. 20. Erwin would have been little more than 21�2 years old.
"I came up with some names," said Scott. "I told him about Ambrosio Guillen, but told Bobby, 'He was a Mexican and you're white.' But after seeing a picture, Bobby insisted THAT was the one."
For almost all of his life, Bobby Wayne Erwin was haunted by memories of a military funeral and a traumatic early childhood
Erwin knew he was born Robert Bruce Moore on March 6, 1951, to 21-year-old Georgie Lanora Moore at the Salvation Army Hospital and Home for unwed mothers in El Paso. However, beyond that, only flashbacks of memories provided glimpses of various people, places and disturbing events that took place in his young life.
"I remembered two men in uniform coming to the door delivering a telegram," said Erwin. "My mother screamed at the top of her lungs and hit the floor."
Erwin said he also remembers he and his mother being taken by those same two men to a funeral.
Erwin now believes one of those men was Ambrosio Guillen's brother, Army PFC Ramon Guillen Sr., who escorted the body of his brother back home to be buried at Fort Bliss National Cemetery.
"There was a 21-gun salute," Erwin remembered. "My dad's brother picked me up and pointed at the sky where some planes were flying overhead with a vacant spot. He said, 'That spot's for your dad.'"
Scott said the shots fired would have been three volleys, not a 21-gun salute which is often confused with the firing of the volleys at a military funeral, but Erwin's memories of the planes flying in the "missing man" formation would be accurate.
Erwin's memories of the funeral continue.
"He pointed to the Franklin Mountain Range (identified later) in the background and showed me some little top notches, then had me point to them and show him I knew what he was talking about. He told me to remember them because that might be the only reference I have to come back here some day and find where my dad was buried. I remembered that. I remembered all those funny looking antennas in the background of El Paso."
According to Erwin, his uncle gave his mother a few things, including an American flag. He wished them luck and said goodbye. He believes his mother was also given papers to go get an ID card showing he was Guillen's dependent.
"They might as well of given her the plans to the space shuttle," Erwin said of his mother who had only a sixth grade education. "She didn't know what to do with them papers, or me for that matter."
She was also given a box with pictures of people, some of them with feathers in their hair, according to Erwin, who believed his father's family wanted him to know something of his heritage. The box also held a little blue book with an eagle on it and the Medal of Honor that he believes was suppose to be given to him when he was older.
He said that he definitely recalled the feeling that his mother was a very unwelcome presence among his father's family.
"You have to remember the times," said Erwin. "Prejudices ran high on both sides, and we were disowned. Nevertheless, they wanted me at my father's funeral."
Guillen's father was a full-blood, green-eyed Spaniard, according to research Erwin later uncovered. And Guillen's mother was full-blood, Mescalero Apache Indian.
"She was mean, and everybody was scared of her," Erwin found out. "She was some kind of medicine woman and did black magic. She cursed my mom and and put a hex on her that day saying she would live a miserable life. And she did. She lived a miserable life."
As did Bobby, right alongside of her for the first 6 years of his life.
Erwin recalled a trip made to San Antonio sometime shortly after the funeral.
"We went to her parent's house," he remembered. According to Erwin, a verbal altercation with foul language ensued, and they were turned away by her father. Some of those careless words remained lost somewhere in the back of his mind - "that little half-breed."
Erwin's next memories took place in Abilene.
"The next thing I remember, we were living in an old house with a dirt floor, living with some old guy with one eye," said Erwin. "I hated him. We left hitchhiking in the middle of the night while it was pouring down rain, and we ended up in Dallas."
There Erwin's mother married a man named Burkley.
"He drank like a fish," Erwin said. "The things you see on TV today where kids get locked in closets half starved and beat half to death, I went through that. Mom got beat, too. He called us every name in the book and then some."
Including a "half-breed (expletive)," but Erwin said he was too young to understand what that meant.
According to Erwin, Burkley got rid of all his dad's "stuff," talked negatively about his dad being a so-called war hero and told Bobby he would never know who his real father was.
"Somehow, my mom was able to hide one thing - the Medal of Honor," recalled Erwin.
When he was about 5 years old, Erwin said, Burkley kicked his mom and him out. Desperate, his mother tried to sell the medal to a pawn shop or antique store to get money in order to survive.
Erwin recalled a man at the store saying something along the lines of "This belongs to that little boy's daddy, doesn't it? Lady, I can't take this."
"Momma said, 'If you don't, I'll find someone who will,'" Erwin recalled.
The man bought the medal.
Ramon Guillen Jr., who never knew his Uncle Ambrosio the war hero, said his father, Ramon Sr., now deceased, never spoke of what happened to the Medal of Honor, nor of any family secretes that would confirm Erwin's story.
"Our family was very private," admitted Ramon Jr, who lives in El Paso. "My dad, since he was in the Army and everything, was given authority over my uncle's medals and other possessions. He never said anything about the Medal of Honor or what happened to it or where it was."
However, Ramon Jr. did recall a story told by his father later that confirms the medal did mysteriously end up in the hands of a shop owner who realized the value of its worth was far greater than money.
"I never understood or knew if it had been lost, sold or what," said Ramon Jr., "But I remember something about a good citizen traced the numbers of the medal and my dad got it back. Somebody had sold it or something to this man, and he knew it was an important part of somebody's life, so he traced the numbers and got it back to the family."
According to Ramon Jr., his father built a display case around the medal and it was donated to Guillen Junior High, in El Paso, named in honor of his uncle, where it remains today.
"People were more honest back then," said a thankful Erwin. "I don't know when the man got it to them, but he got it back and I'm glad."
Bob Erwin's plight as a child escalated.
"We ended up in Klondike with a man named Westbrook," recalled Erwin. "He told my mama he had done walked off from a wife and kids, and when was she going to get rid of me?"
According to Erwin, Westbrook took it upon himself to do the deed and tied Bobby's hands and feet, put him in a bucket and dropped him down a well.
Erwin said he was finally rescued after spending half a day in the well.
"I screamed 'til I lost my voice," Erwin said. "I don't have much memory after that because of the trauma. The next thing I knew I was at Leo and Doris Erwin's house."
The Erwins were dairy farmers from Sulphur Springs who were planning a move to Klondike in order to "work on the halves" for another dairyman. Doris recalled going to what would be her future home and visiting with the family that currently occupied the residence. She said while making idle conversation with the woman of the house, she spoke to a little girl who was also there.
"I made the comment, 'What a pretty little girl, would you like to go home with me?'" recalled Doris.
At that, the lady inquired about her and Leo's family, and Doris explained that in the five years she and Leo had been married they had not been able to have any children.
"That was all that was said," Doris explained.
Shortly after the move was made, Doris said she was cleaning and settling in the home when the lady pulled up into the driveway and asked if she "still wanted a kid."
According to Doris, this woman was the sister-in-law of Westbrook, the man who Georgie and Bobby were living with. She was concerned about the child's welfare with the man, whom she claimed was not a good man and had "done away with three of his own children."
After discussing it with Leo, the Erwins agreed to meet with Georgie and Bobby and asked the lady to bring them by the house.
"We got Bobby settled in front of the television and we went in the bedroom to talk to his mother privately," said Doris. "But Bobby followed us. His mother didn't make him go on back or anything."
Doris said she did not want the little boy to hear what they were about to discuss.
"Leo was so plain spoken," Doris said. "He just came right out and asked her why she wanted to get rid of her little boy. She said, 'Cause he won't mind.'"
Doris said her heart went out to the little boy for the words spoken right in front of him and what they meant for him.
"He said, 'Momma, I was gonna be good,'" Doris choked back tears recalling the memory. "My heart broke for him. She left him that night."
Bobby had not only been severely neglected in his young life, according to Doris, but also obviously abused.
"He was filthy and had bruises and whip marks all over his little body," said Doris. "We had no idea the depth of damage done to him. In the 1950s we didn't know about therapy and all that. You take a child, love him, bring him up right, you think that's all he needs."
The days and weeks that followed left Bobby anticipating the return of his mother.
"He'd say 'My Momma might be back today.' We'd have to tell him that we just didn't know, and we didn't," recalled Doris. "Finally, Leo sat him down and told him, 'Bobby, we have been wanting a child. We can't have any and we're lonesome. We've been praying to Jesus for a little boy or girl.' Leo told him, 'From now on, you're gonna be our little boy, this is your home now, and we love you.
"He didn't even know who Jesus was," Doris added.
"Leo was good to me," said Erwin, of the man who raised him and has since passed away. "I had a lot of respect for that man."
"We never had any regrets," Doris said. "That little boy probably wouldn't have lived."
Bobby seemed to adjust well enough, according to Doris.
"He was a happy child most the time," she said. "He was quite a storyteller, always telling us what we thought were farfetched stories. Now, I believe some of those stories were probably true. But we just didn't know what to believe. "
Stories of hitchhiking, getting run off from various places, getting locked in closets, left at Fair Park with a suitcase, and things, the terrible things he saw happen to his mother that no child should be subjected to, were all commonplace, according to Doris.
She recalled a story Bobby had related to them about a funeral and men coming and getting him and his mother.
"Why, he told us right down to the details what type of hats the men wore," Doris recalled. "Leo had been in the Army, so he knew just what he was talking about. Bobby went to telling us that they gave him a medal, but his mama took it to keep for him. But he stressed that it was HIS medal."
Doris said her husband had a set of old World Book Encyclopedias.
"He went and got a book down," recalled Doris. "Leo asked him if he could pick out the medal he was given- and do you know, he picked out the Medal of Honor."
According to Doris, they just couldn't believe it to be true.
"They didn't believe my dad could have been a Medal of Honor winner because of my mother's reputation," said Erwin. "A soldier maybe, but not a Medal of Honor winner. That made me mad."
Doris said they got back in touch with Georgie briefly and gave her money to get Bobby's birth certificate. But according to Doris, she never got it for them, nor told them anything about Bobby's father, except that he was a GI.
Later, they were able to get her to sign a notarized document from Grover Sellers, the attorney general for the state of Texas at the time, and for whom Leo had worked in the past as head herdsman. They were also warned by friend and Klondike school superintendent not to give Georgie any more money for fear that it might go against them later if Georgie tried to get Bobby back.
The superintendent, understanding Bobby's plight, also got him into school without a birth certificate.
As Bobby grew, so did his frustration that no one believed his stories about his childhood or his father.
"Bobby got to giving us trouble when he hit puberty," recalled Doris. "As soon as he could drive he ran a set of tires off his car trying to find that woman (Georgie).
"I look back now and realize he had that on his mind all the time," said Doris. "I feel like now I know why he was the way he was, so tormented and frustrated, because nobody really believed him. I support him now and pray every day for that boy. He needs to know. He needs peace of mind. There have been a lot of hurts, but there still is that love there."
Bobby quit school and later joined the Marines in 1969 when he was 18 years old.
"Somehow I knew my dad had been a Marine," said Bobby, who had been told by Leo and Doris that his father could have been a soldier for any of the branches of service. "I don't think that it was a subconscious act that I joined the Marines."
He said he walked down to the post office without a birth certificate and got a social security card under the name of Bobby Wayne Erwin in order to enlist.
"To this day I don't have a birth certificate under Bobby Wayne Erwin," he said. "The only thing I have that makes me Bobby Wayne Erwin are my military discharge papers and that social security card I got just by signing that as my name. And until recently, all that made me Bobby Bruce Moore were my memories of the first six years of my life."
Bobby commended Doris and Leo for the life they gave him, but said they just wanted him to forget his past and pretend it never happened.
"I couldn't forget the past and what I remembered," said Erwin. "They would tell me it just didn't happen, it wasn't true, but my uncle went to great pains to make sure I remembered that funeral. And I knew it was real."
Erwin said he gained confidence and found some sense of himself during his eight years of military service and has since pieced together some astounding events and coincidences during his military career and life that he calls "Twilight Zone" experiences.
Erwin said the first one was when he heard the name Ambrosio Guillen while in boot camp, and while he didn't have a clue who the man was at the time, the name somehow seemed familiar to him. He said he believes he heard it from his mother when he was younger.
"A drill instructor was telling us a war story about this guy," recalled Erwin. "After we graduated from boot camp, my staff seargent dismissed everyone but me. He took me in his office and tears came in his eyes as he told me about this certain battle he was involved in during the Korean War. I didn't know why he was telling me this. I think he thought I knew who my father was."
Erwin finished boot camp Sept. 11, 1969, went through infantry training and then prepared to go to Vietnam as a .30-caliber machine gunner with the 1st Infantry Marine Corps Division, under the same specialty code as Ambrosio Guillen, until he was called into the office of a Marine Corps captain.
"He said, 'Son, are you ready to go to Vietnam?, I said, 'Yes sir, I'm ready,'" Erwin remembered. "Then he asked me, 'Son, do you WANT to go to Vietnam?'"
Erwin recalled thinking that this had to be some kind of a trick question.
"I said, 'Sir, do you want me to lie to you or tell you the truth?'' said Erwin. "He said, 'I want you to tell me the truth.' I told him, 'Sir, I don't have no choice.' He said, "I think you do have a choice. Why didn't you tell us you were a sole surviving son?'"
According to Erwin, papers were signed relinquishing his current orders, the captain's demeanor changed and he told Bobby that he had made a wise decision.
Erwin believes that in their routine military personnel investigation they discovered the transaction of Robert Bruce Moore, his birth name, into the hands of the Erwins and followed his trail back to El Paso and records that indicated he was the son of Guillen.
However, Erwin would have also been the only son of Leo Erwin, a decorated soldier himself who had fought in the Battle of the Bulge and other tours and had been awarded a Bronze Star with an Oak Leaf Cluster and also a Purple Heart, among other ribbons and medals.
"They did do a thorough investigation," said Doris, "asking us lots of questions and if we had any communist affiliations, stuff like that."
"I listed Leo and Doris as my parents, even though they never legally adopted me," said Erwin. "When I enlisted, they sat down with Leo and he showed them the notarized affidavit showing my mother gave me up on May 5, 1957, because we didn't have no birth certificate."
"We would have worked ourselves to death to give him a college education or whatever he wanted," said Doris. "But he wanted to join the Marines. He could have gone far in the military if he had wanted to, too. They wanted Bobby to be a guard at the White House or U.S. Embassy, somewhere like that."
Erwin said he was discharged from the Marines in 1971, then re-enlisted in 1972. With no refresher courses he was given his security clearances again and spent a 2-year term in Virginia.
When he got out of the Marine Corps, he then decided to join the Navy. According to Erwin he underwent testing at an induction center set up at the Adolphus Hotel in Dallas, but failed a portion of the testing due to being colorblind, which excluded him from qualifying for the Navy.
"That's when another "Twilight Zone" hit," Erwin said.
While at the bar of the Adolphus Hotel, Erwin said he was approached by a man wearing a vest and cowboy boots.
"He bought me a beer, I thanked him, he followed me to a table and said, 'Your name is Bobby Erwin isn't it?'" recalled Erwin. "I asked him how he knew that, and he told me, 'I know everything about you and some you don't know about yourself.' He kind of made me mad. I said, 'If you know so much about me why don't you tell me my mother's name.' He said, 'Your mother who raised you or your birth mother?' He said, 'Doris Ilene Majors Erwin raised you and your birth mother was Georgie Lenora Moore.' He knew both of their full names and Leo's too."
According to Erwin, the man said he knew about the Navy situation that had just happened and said he wanted him to go see a "spec-6 Nolan" about going into an Army security agency.
"He told me I had another room for the night there in the hotel, wished me luck and said, 'good-bye.' He didn't tell me his name or nothing, but the next morning I did what he said, filled out a ton of paperwork, and six months later I was in the Army."
Erwin said he was first stationed at Fort Gordon, Ga., then later at Fort Sill, Okla. After his discharge from the Army in 1977, he came home to Sulphur Springs where he worked and pondered on the mysteries of his life.
"I have been haunted by this my entire life," he said. "And I had had just about enough of it."
In 1984, he said, he began earnestly searching for his birth parents. He started with the national cemetery in El Paso, researching Medal of Honor recipients. Guillen was the only Medal of Honor recipient from the Korean War buried at Fort Bliss.
"I thought I had run up against a brick wall," Erwin said. "I didn't think it was him because the people at the cemetery said he was a Mexican and I thought I was looking for an Indian."
Erwin then resumed searching for his mother instead.
In 1989 he contacted a Mr. Bingham with the Salvation Army in Long Beach, Calif., in hopes of tracking down information about his birth mother.
"The hospital and home for unwed mothers in El Paso had long since closed down," explained Erwin. "I found out all the records had been moved to California. This Mr. Bingham told me all those records were under federal seal. I told him not to forget my name 'cause he'd be hearing it again."
Through the years that passed other avenues were taken, and information and memories accumulated and were documented. In 1991, he said, he wrote down his life story and sent it to Austin in order to get his birth certificate.
"I told them my name was Robert Bruce Moore, my mother's name, where I was born and sent a money order with a self-addressed stamped envelope addressed 'c/o Bobby Wayne Erwin,'" Erwin explained. "You see, Bobby Wayne Erwin couldn't get Bobby Bruce Moore's birth certificate any other way."
In 1999, he said, he then called Mr. Bingham up one more time.
"I said, 'Remember me,'" recalled Erwin. "I told him my life story, and asked him if he knew his relatives. I said, 'Well I don't. I need those papers. I need to know where my mother is at.' I told him I didn't want to harm her. I just needed to see her and talk to her."
Mr. Bingham took down his name and number, according to Erwin, and told him he couldn't make any promises, but he would see what he could do.
"A few weeks later he called me back and told me he had found my mother and she had agreed to meet with me," said Erwin.
In 1999 Erwin met his mother, along with her husband of 41 years, Ralph Percival, near their home in Princeton, just 52 miles away from his home in Sulphur Springs.
"I told my mom right off the bat that I forgave her," Erwin said. "She cried her eyes out. We all are humans and we make mistakes in this life. I've not been so perfect in my own life. It's not hard to hate, but it will eat you up. What's hard is to learn how to forgive people the wrongs they've done to you."
Once forgiveness enters in, he said, then you have peace in your life.
But according to Erwin, he still had lots of questions.
"I asked, 'Did I go to a Medal of Honor funeral?'" recalled Erwin. "She said, 'My God, I can not believe you remember that.' She said, 'Bob, you did go to your father's funeral,' but she still would not give me his name."
According to Erwin he had narrowed down a list of names from a book entitled, "Above and Beyond" that he had checked out of the library in Commerce. Ambrosio Guillen was one of those names.
"The most she would admit to was that of those four names, one of them was my father," Erwin said. "I don't know why she wouldn't just tell me, but I didn't want to push her. She just wouldn't open up."
Georgie took the secret to her grave two years later.
"She knew who the father was," said Percival, who met Georgie in San Antonio, a single mother working to provide for her 15-month-old son. "She had had a rough life, but she had gotten back in good with her family. They had disowned her or something 'cause she had gotten with a Mexican boy or something like that. It was a different time back then. Things today are a lot different."
Percival admitted that he knew little of Georgie's life before they got together.
"Me and Georgie had an agreement between us," explained Percival. "Whatever happened before I met her was her business. And it was the same with me. I accepted her for what she was. We knew it was better to leave the past in the past."
He said that Georgie had been married twice that he knew of, but did not know any details about her ex-husbands nor anything about Bobby until he called to set up a meeting.
"I put two and two together," Percival said. "She wanted to see him and she was real happy to meet him again."
According to Percival, Georgie never confided in him after the visits about who Bobby's father was, and he never questioned her. He did, however, recall something about the Medal of Honor.
"I heard a little bit about it from her in earlier years," recalled Percival. "I don't think she realized what it was, the significance of it. For her, in her situation, she didn't have no money, no help, practically on the streets. In her mind if it wasn't money, it wasn't important to her. She was trying to survive."
He also said he understands Bobby's need to find answers.
According to Bobby, he ceased searching for outside information about his dad while he was in contact with his mother.
"As I grew older, I had sense enough to know that a girl back in those days having a baby with no husband didn't have it easy," said Bobby. "I didn't want to bring any more trouble to her. She bore her cross. I had hitchhiked down the interstate with my mother. I seen her get choked, beat and a lot worse. I've seen it all. I had compassion for her. In the long run she probably did me a favor in giving me away, but I was too young to accept that then."
After his mother's death, he said, he went out on his front porch and had a talk with Jesus.
"I said, 'Lord you helped me find my mother," Erwin recalled. "'I believe in faith, I believe in you-I'm packing it all up and turning it all over to you.'
Two weeks later, Bobby Erwin and Hopkins County Veterans Service Officer Joe Reid Scott, who first set Erwin on the path to the Korean War hero, were inspecting a picture of Ambrosio Guillen.
"We could look at the picture and tell he had Indian in him," said Erwin.
Further research revealed this to be true, and Erwin felt he had found a major piece in the puzzle of his life.
"Everything started fitting together," said Erwin. "I knew someday I was going to figure all this mess out. It had to be him. He was the only Marine buried in that cemetery who had gotten the Medal of Honor during the Korean War. It took awhile to put all this together. Bits and pieces of my memories came back to me as I went along. The whole reason I did all this was to find out about my dad."
Joe Reid Scott, who was skeptical at first, also believes the war hero is Erwin's father.
"What possible good would all this do him? What would he gain other than basking in the glory of his dead father?" Scott challenged. "No money is involved, he can't get Guillen's Medal of Honor. We didn't really get proof that Guillen had a child and Bobby, in fact, was that child. His parents never married, Guillen didn't list anyone as a dependent. Bob's been able to talk to all these people who knew his daddy and it's good listening, but still it doesn't prove anything. But in my heart, I believe him. You just have to go on trust sometimes."
Convinced that Guillen was his father, Erwin said he began writing letters to military personnel and also members of Congress, such as U.S. Rep. Max Sandlin, telling his story and identifying himself as Guillen's son, hoping to get his military records and also his ribbons and awards.
"The fact that the military accepted a piece of paper from me saying that I am his son, they must have papers somewhere confirming it," said Erwin.
Still, none of the records sent to Erwin confirmed that he was actually Guillen's son.
All he truly had were memories that became more and more clear to him. He decided to look up Guillen's family in El Paso.
"I finally contacted a cousin, Ramon Jr., that would have been the son of my father's brother that escorted home the body," explained Erwin. "I told him to sit down and that he was probably gonna think I fell off the turnip truck, but to just hear me out."
Erwin said that Ramon Jr. informed him that Ambrosio's brothers were no longer living and his only sister, Guadalupe, had recently died. Erwin then related his story to Ramon.
"It was a shock to me," said Ramon, "but it seemed true."
According to Erwin, he took his memories and set out for El Paso on May 5, 2003, to visit the Guillen family and share his memories - and to visit the cemetery that remained so vivid in his mind.
"I visited the grave of my father," Erwin said. "Then I went and recounted the story with the whole family. I told them it was a very long story and to just let me talk and tell my story and what I knew.
"I didn't want them to volunteer any information," he added.
According to Ramon, Erwin told them all the details he knew about the funeral and the people there.
"He told us there were pictures taken at this funeral," said Ramon. "None of us had ever seen these pictures."
Maria, the daughter of Guadalupe, went through her mother's belongings and, amazingly, discovered the pictures, according to Ramon.
"My cousin found those pictures," Ramon said.
When Erwin saw those pictures for the first time in real life, what he had seen in his mind all those years, Ramon said he cried and became very emotional.
"He said, 'I told you, I told you,'" recalled Ramon. "His reaction convinced us."
"Maria said, 'He had to have been there,'" recalled Ramon. "The pictures were just like he said."
"I remembered something on my grandmother's leg that turned out to be a bandage, I remembered the funny design in the carpet, I remembered cowboy boots and a white-haired man, I remembered a flag on the casket," said Erwin. "It was all there in black and white. It confirmed everything.
"I'm 52 years old and I've had a hole in my life this big around," Erwin said indicating the size of his chest. "I've been pretty much bent out of shape about this most of my life. Before you can move into the future, you have to know a little bit about who you are and where you came from. I was disengaged from all of that. I had a lot of obstacles, lots of inferiority complexes. Being a Marine helped me with some of that. But I still wanted or needed to find out where I came from."
His long search has also given him the gift of another family.
"With no real family to support you, life is hard," said Ramon. Our house is open to him."
Erwin has since received numerous responses to inquiries and also many letters from men who served with Guillen. A call to veterans was placed in a reunion book by one of Guillen's comrades asking for "anyone with information to help this kid," and stating, "Everything has been confirmed through records, etc. that Bobby W. Erwin is the son of Ambrosio Guillen."
All the letters and responses have allowed Erwin to get to know the character of his dad.
"I feel like I know him now," said Erwin.
Erwin said that he has learned many things about Guillen, including that he was born in La Junta, Colo. on Dec. 7, 1929, not Feb. 7, as his tombstone indicates.
"We're in the process of getting a new one made up for him right now," said Erwin. "They're also adding the Purple Heart to it."
In the meantime, the Texas Veterans Land Board announced the Texas State Veterans Home in El Paso, scheduled for completion in 2005, would be named after Guillen. Erwin also set up a memorial this past Veterans Day in a museum located in Guillen's hometown of La Junta.
"I wanted to do something for my dad," Erwin said. "He's done a whole lot for me since I found out who he was. He's given me something to be proud of. I finally know I'm not crazy, and it has given me great peace.
"He's saved another life and my sanity. He's my hero."