Mr. Miller entered the U.S. Border Patrol on September 8 1953 at McAllen Texas as a member of Class #50. Some of his classmates not mentioned in his interview include: Lee Calderhead James OKeefe Raymond Rebsaman and Richard Staley.
Interview was conducted by Ms. Terrie Cornell at the Border Patrol Museum on October 31 1986. This document has historical significance since it contains previously unrecorded information on the California Grape Strike which involved Cesar Chavez the AFL-CIO and employees of the Border Patrol and the former Immigration and Naturalization Service.
TC – You entered on duty in 1953?
HM – September 8 1953 at McAllen Texas. Im from Indiana. I was born in Windfall outside of Tipton about 50 miles north of Indianapolis. I moved to Danville Indiana about 20 miles west of Indianapolis and I came into the Border Patrol from there.
TC – How did you find out about the Border Patrol?
HM – I was working in a post office. I was going to college and working part-time in the Post Office when the announcements came out. It was one of those things where you take the written and you took the oral. There were a couple of guys from Minnesota came down to give me the oral. They said I couldnt hack it because I wasnt from Oklahoma or Texas or some place like that. But I went in anyway. TC – Did you finish college first?
HM – No. I still lack some time. We EODd down in Mcallen because thats where the school was at the time. I was in the 50th session. We had a six week school at that time. And then from McAllen I was transferred to El Centro California. At that time we had the choice of Calexico or El Centro or Brawly when we got out there. So I took El Centro which was alright.
TC – Was that around the time of Operation Wetback?
HM – It was before the Operation Wetback – that was in 1955.
TC – Can you tell me about that?
HM – Well around the fourth of July we had several what they call semi trucks they were military trucks in El Centro I think they got them from back east some place and we had a bunch of them out there and had been hauling aliens in these open-bed trailers from cotton fields up in Westmoreland and up in there. I could drive a semi anyway so I was driving them. That was in 1954 and when this Operation Wetback started there were four trucks. We had a detention facility there in El Centro and they loaded them with mattresses and said Youre going to McAllen. So we drove. There were four drivers in each semi. We drove straight through. There were two in the back sleeping. They were those big military open
5-ton International tractors. They were open and canvas tops with the windshields. Youve seen them around here.
TC – Oh yes. With the slatted sides.
HM – They had open sides. So we drove straight through from El Centro to McAllen. I was down there two months. They had these different units made up of investigators Border Patrol people from all over. I worked mostly down around Brownsvillle. But see we had only been there about three days working and had all the aliens we could handle couldnt hold any more in McAllen. We had them out on the levee 5 0r 6 thousand down below there in Brownsvillle. You would just run them across the river. The weather was bad raining. I was in that area the whole time that I was down there.
TC – Two months
HM – Yes. And then they would send us out here and they sent people from here or the valley out to Chula Vista El Centro and Yuma. At that time Yuma was a station under El Centro. And then we had a lot of people from New York who were investigators who had never been in the Border Patrol. They had been on a Treasury Department list there in the 1940s and they drew them off of that. So they had a great time. They were out in the wild West and all that. We kind of enjoyed them because the were different. Another guy named Warren Wright and me hes dead now we drove only one of the semis back from McAllen to El Centro. I think it took us eight days because McBee said just take your time. You guys came out in 50 hours. Just take your time going back. So we hit every Sector headquarters between McAllen and El Centro on the way back. It took us seven or eight days to go back out there. Then we got back out there when there were still people left over. We had a bus left and I drove buses from Tucson for about a year. That was a six days a week job.
TC – A bus from where to where?
HM – El Centro detention over to Tucson and then the Tucson people would deliver aliens down to Nogales Mexico. We had some new Greyhound-type buses. There were several of us that spent a year or more driving those buses down there. You would go to Tucson one day stay there leave about 4:00 in the morning like at midnight leaving El Centro and get down there in daylight in Tucson and Tucson people would take it to Nogales. Bring it back and service the bus and you would get up and go back to El Centro and they would load it with another crew would . .
Just kept going like that. I was about a year on that. And then for some reason I got on the airlift not as a pilot but as a stewardess we called it at the time. I dont know whether youve got anything on the airlift or not.
TC – We just got some things from Paul Green.
HM – I figured you would. I have several pictures.
TC – I have some pictures Ill show you when were finished. You were what the called a stewardess?
HM – I was like a guard. Because I had been Air Force in WW II in B29s and I was a flight engineer on B-29s. So we had these C-46s which I think Paul was on. He got a grade out of it for being on the DC-4 for being a flight engineer. He was on them a long time.
TC – How long were you on it?
HM – Probably a year until we had an engine failure on takeoff and thats the pictures Ive got. I think its the only accident they ever had on that airlift. Well we had a guy named Bill Graham.
TC – He was a pilot?
HM – Yes but he was a co-pilot on that one particular trip and Im trying to think of the pilots name. Im getting mixed up with Hendersen. But anyway we had a lot of trouble on two trips with those particular airplanes. We had a forced landing up in Las Cruces when the engine quit. We were lucky. The magneto gear sheared off and got out of whats called a bell housing that
if it had locked right it would have
Thrown the propeller off the airplane but it didnt. They got that fixed and we flew it back to El Centro. Then he next day we were supposed to fly between El Centro and Brownsville with these aliens. We wanted to get the aliens out there down there and then we were hauling aliens back this way too.
TC – You were strictly in the United States then?
HM – Yes there wasnt anything in Mexico. They were trying to confuse them. If the guys were from Michoacan Jalisco and over in here they would fly them clear down east and put them across down by Reynoso. And the ones from down there they would put them across from Mexicali or Nogales or places like that to get them all away from where they supposed to be. We took off and got up to about 300 and one engine quit. It was heavy and it was hot in the morning. Don Harrison was the pilot. If you could ever get Harrison cornered some place he could tell you more tales than anybody about the airlift. He was in it from the start.
TC – Where does he live now?
HM – He lives in Prescott. He was editor of that Retired Border Patrol paper for a while and he has heart trouble and he gave it up and Hugh Williams down in Del Rio is running it now. But hes quite a character and he can really tell the tales. So you had two choices. You could either go on out and try to get out with one engine and then make a turn and come back. It was an instantaneous decision and nobody felt good about taking off that morning anyway. So the wheels were still up and full flaps and just slid her down this . . . Its a Naval Air Station out there in El Centro and its a 10500 runway. They slid this thing almost to the end of the runway and there new river. All the garbage out of Mexicali runs north there. Slid it up to the end of that and I never got in and airplane for a long time after that. The guy that kept his head well it happened so quick that the aliens didnt know what happened. The batteries were down in the bottom of the airplane and they were shorting out the battery cables. The maintenance was all done at Brownsville by Pan American and there was a mechanic from there that was up there and theyd flown him into Las Cruces when we had the trouble and then he went to El Centro and then we were going to take him back to Brownsville. He got down there and unhooked the battery cables right away because they were sparking and smoking and all that good stuff. It all came out all right. I have some pictures of the airplane. That was May 2955. Then I took the seniors exam at the time made that and got transferred to Calexico in 1955. I was there for about a year and I transferred up to Indio in 1958.
TC – at that time what sector was that in?
HM – El Centro. I was in Indio until 1965. We had details going up to the Bakersfield area for years and I always seemed to go up there and so I opened a station up there in 1965. We were doing alright. We were a long ways from any place up there and nobody bothered us and then we got involved right in middle of the grape strike. That was our biggest claim to fame.
TC – What happened then? I havent heard about that.
HM – You never heard about the grape strike? Cesar Chavez. I know Mr. Chavez real good..
TC – What was the Border Patrols part in that?
HM – The Border Patrols part there were a lot of people out there that didnt really understand all this. Well I didnt either and I was there. But we had Chavez up there he was in Delano. He tried to set up just a little union a local union without help from AFL-CIO or UAW or anything like that. The packing shed workers have their own union but he was after the ones in the field the pickers. In this particular area at the time they were all table grapes Thompson seedless and things like that. And so he would tell us where the illegal aliens worked all the time because he was trying to get his own people in there which werent illegal aliens most of them. They were a lot a Filipinos a lot of immigrant aliens.
So all at once in 1968 he got the United Farm Workers organization which he was head of and got $5000000 from the AFL-CIO and they sent organizers in there and all of this good stuff. Ramsey Clark was the Attorney General. It ended up that Ramsey Clark said that we were going to unionize the whole central valley of California which he didnt know what was talking about to start with. We got people from the Labor Department out there. We had Mario Noto from our Central Office who was an infamous type of individual. They detailed investigators Border Patrolmen. Wed have several hundred of them at a time in there all working out of Bakersfield. We would go out in every one of these fields where there were pickers. Wed have a little 3×5 card and copy down the mans name his immigration status if he was an I-151 put his A number on residence all that good stuff. And then for about ten days we would bring all that in and we would turn that over to the Union. Now those were our instructions from the Attorney General. So the organizers the people from the union would go down in front of these peoples homes at night and raise hell. Threaten them with bodily harm and all that. So there was A District Director in Los Angeles Ill remember his name in a minute one of the most knowledgeable men I ever ran into in the Immigration Service.
TC – Is he still living?
HM – Yes he is still living. He never did have a lot to do with the Border Patrol. He was a District Director and he could have been anything he wanted in the Immigration Service. He said were not going to do that. This was intimidation at its worst. We were under the Justice Department and Central office kept insisting that we do this. The Region and District finally put a stop to that.
TC – Giving cards to the union?
HM – Yes giving that information to the union. It could have been real bad because you were going on property out there and in many cases you didnt have any reason or right to go on. The growers kinda got together and we had a Mr. Giamara in Bakersfield who was probably the biggest grower and there were nationalities s = a lot of Yugoslavians and some Italians not too popular with Giamara I guess there were a lot of Yugoslavians but they did not try to cause any trouble over that. We talked to them. If they hadnt have wanted us to go on the property I dont know what wed have done. But anyway I was right in the middle of this because it was our area all the time. I figured that in three years it took ten year off my live. Just a burnout thing. I worked for over two years and didnt have a day off.
TC – It lasted two years?
HM – It lasted about 2 and half years. It was from 1968 until about the first part of 1971. And they had these records files on all these people by the tens of thousands. I have no idea how much money that operation cost but you had a lot of individuals that wouldnt come out. They said Im not going to do that and you cant blame them if they were told to do it. So a lot of them we sent home.
TC – Border Patrol?
HM – Yes. We just turned around and sent them home. But we had enough problems without having problems with them doing it or not doing it.
TC – How many Border Patrolmen did you have there most of the time?
HM – Id say at the big time in 1969 which was the heaviest time it started in 1968 we started with 4 officers in the station and we got it up to 22 and then we get people in there by the 50s. Thirty or forty investigators and 50 or 60 Border Patrol for 30 days and theyd change that. Sometimes wed have over two hundred people detailed out there. It was kind of a slapstick-type deal but you didnt really have control. They knew what they had to do and most of them didnt like what they were doing so we can understand that. They were sent out there to do something and I got a little hostile. A lot of us got hostile and I probably was lucky I didnt get transferred out of there before it was all over with. We had all this information left over which was just sitting there . . . and so we asked the Region to ask Central Office what to do with it and they said to destroy it. About that time I kinda got turned off on lot things after that. So I stayed up there until 1971 then I transferred to Calexico for three years 1971 to 1975 and then I transferred here to EPIC in 1975.
TC – Was it new then?
HM – Yes it opened up in 1975. It had been here I think M. O
Connor and two or three of the DEA guys had been there for about six months when hey were trying to get it set up. The Immigration people were Brandemuehl me and John Sorg. I think John was there a week before Buck and I got there.
TC – You were the three from the Border Patrol?
HM – Yes plus Jerry OConnor. Hed been there from the start of things. He and a man from the DEA. They had a little hole in the wall some cars and a desk.
TC – When did you retire?
HM – At the end of 1978.
TC – You retired from EPIC?
HM – Yes. I was with EPIC when I retired. It didnt look like I was going to get out of there so I retired.
TC – And went back to California?
HM – Yes we were around here for about six months and since we still have three children in California we went up to Dixon which is about 20 miles west of Sacramento. We moved out there to stay a couple of years to see what we were going to do and were still there. Our oldest son is there.
TC – How many children do you have?
HM – Five
TC – They were all born in California?
HM – No. Three of them were born in Indiana before I came in the Border Patrol. I went to college after WW II. I was in Indiana and I was going to school working part-time at the post office and I was a projectionist at the Loma Theater at the night and all that good stuff trying to keep it all together. I didnt do it so I joined Border Patrol and left town. Just to be truthful I guess the first 15 years were really enjoyable. I really liked it. Then after that we had so many things working against us sometimes. Youre out there in the desert running around in a jeep theres not really much bothering you out there so that was OK. I met a lot of nice people. Then some not so nice. But thats all backwards. Itll be eight years I left a little early. Ive always been one that wanted to know what I was supposed to be doing and what the plan was and I got to the place where there wasnt any plan and I didnt know what I was supposed to be doing. I cant handle that.
TC – How many people were at Bakersfield when you left?
HM – They say there were a certain number that were assigned there permanently twenty-two when I left. All these others were detailed in there for 30-day details from all over the United States.
TC – Do you know how big it is today?
HM – What the station? Its only 10 or 12 people out there.
TC – And they do mostly farm and ranch checks?
HM – Yes. During the operation on the grape strike we tried checking traffic on the highways. Its impossible but they did a good job and we didnt have any accidents. Some of the guys got a lot of tongue lashings and a few things like that from these union people the organizers. But they brought organizers in from all over. They had a lot of people who had been in the Peace Corps there.
TC – Training?
HM – No. Theyd been in the Peace Corps and come back and we had a lot of the attorneys. In California every country had the volunteer attorneys there. They jumped on the farm bandwagon for the union and you always had them on your neck. A couple of them I got to be good friends with. In fact my son-in-laws father was a part owner of a 24-hour Mexican radio station in Bakersfield. The union got to put ads on the radio station. I would listen and I would tell him That is not right what theyre saying. So they sent the ads down to us to check and make sure they were right. So then they sued the radio station. They went to the FCC and tried to get their license revoked. And the guy that was part owner of the radio station said Whos causing all this trouble? I told him Jerry and the attorney. He said they went to college together at Amherst and this Jerry had gone on to Columbia Law School and his dad was a big junk dealer in New York City. He did all this on purpose and after he got through the grape strike he goes back to New York and now hes a big labor lawyer. He was getting background. He was living like the rest of those guys with money. Of course he always had money. But it was just an everyday deal.
For instance they would call me at home I had an unlisted phone number – to tell me what they were going to do me. You cant do this and we got a promise from the Attorney General and they are going to move us out of here and all that stuff. It was a bad time it really was. So I kind of lost a lot of respect for a lot of people in our organization too about that time. There were some great people that retired and resigned because of all this. So there are probably still Border Patrolmen that remember being out there and thought I was on the unions side and I wasnt really trying to be on anybodys side. I was just trying to stay alive. As I said we sent a lot home who said Im not going to do that. The guys that were out there thought I was with Mr. Noto and the Labor Department and all that.
In fact right before I left I was talking to Cesar Chavez and he apologized to me for all the problems. He said It did not come out like we wanted anyway. The whole thing got out of hand because we were promised this by the union and we were promised this by the Attorney Generals office and we did not know it was going to cause all this trouble like it did. Because they brought in everybody and he lost control of it there for a while. They were using his name and he had noting to do with anything. And it really failed because we had a big thing with Schemleys which was owned by the Kennedys. They went for five years out there on this vineyard and they watered it but never pruned it like it should have been and they never picked any grapes because the couldnt get union people in there. See you would call down the day before you needed 400 pickers from the union hall and they could not promise you 400 pickers. If they sent you 100 and you got your other 300 you could only work them for three days or they had to join the union. This is what they set up. If they didnt join the union after three days that guy had to fire them and go out and find 300 more people because they could never guarantee that you were going to have the people when you needed them.
TC – How is it now? Is it all unionized?
HM – No Some of them joined and signed five-year contracts and just went along and paid lip service and paid their nickel a box for grapes to the union fund and thats all that ever come out of it. But they got it extended to ten days before the people had to join the union. They all signed. There were 33 of them and what the Labor Department did started out and said that there was a labor dispute in progress on this land. Some of those people sold out during this three or four ear period and the labor dispute was still left on that land by the Labor Department. They certified that there was a labor dispute. That meant that there were supposed to be union people working on that property but they all just kinda gave up. There were 33 of them gave up at the same time signed her off. None of them wanted to but they did.
Yes to get all of those people out of their hair. Because they knew that the union wasnt going to be able to deliver what they promised so that did not make any difference. They had that from1968 to the first part of 1971. It was a continual hassle. You know like they say a table grape is not needed. The country can get along without table gapes. The union had the boycotts in Boston New York and Chicago which worked because the people back there did not really understand what was going on out here. And some of them were in good financial shape and some of them were not. Some of them had oil wells on their property and some didnt. It was interesting. I ran into a lot of good people at that time
The growers were just kinda letting us do our thing or there would have been a lot of trouble. And we had very few problems out in the field or on the properties. When a new bunch would come in we would get them all out there like I said before explain what we were trying to do why we were going to do it how they were going to do it. We just didnt drive down the field wide open in your trucks or cars or whatever. We did not apologize to the people we were taking the information on but we did it without the least bother. So really I got burned out up there and maybe I didnt do things I should have afterwards but thats alright.
END OF INTERVEW
Oral history contains nine (9) pages and 4599 words