His heroic efforts during the disaster
earned Orozco the Navy Cross, one of the Navy's highest honors.
But it wasn't the last time the young sailor saved the lives of
War in the Yellow Sea
Orozco graduated from Santa Monica High
School in June 1952, and at just 17, immediately enlisted in the
Navy. "My older brothers were already in the Navy, and I
figured I would just do the same," he said. The youngest
Orozco brother was sent to the Navy base in San Diego for basic
training and then to nearby Camp Elliott, a Marine base, for
"Even though we were in the Navy, they
wanted to get us ready for ground combat just in case,"
Orozco said. "I guess they wanted us to be prepared for every
kind of battle."
After several weeks of training, Orozco
received orders to report to the Naval air station and board a
plane bound for Pearl Harbor. Once he arrived in Hawaii, he was
assigned duties aboard the USS Missouri, known to all who served
aboard the battleship as "Mighty Mo."
By November 1952, Orozco and his shipmates
were headed to active duty in the Yellow Sea outside of South
Korea. The Missouri's crew provided shore combat to assist the
American ground troops.
But shortly after their arrival, the
Missouri came under attack. Orozco manned a 40 mm machine gun but
was hit by an enemy bullet that ricocheted off the mount of his
gun and landed in his back. "I just remember feeling the
stinging and the burning," Orozco said. "I couldn't even
really move right after I got hit." Orozco was transferred to
a Navy hospital ship, where he remained for more than a month
recovering from his wound.
When his wound healed, Orozco reported back
to active duty, this time as a baker aboard the USS Ute, a supply
ship and seagoing tug that provided support for other ships as
well as ground troops stationed in Korea. But after only three
months aboard the Ute, the ship sailed over the sea mine, and
Orozco was wounded once again. (Note: there
is no record of the UTE hitting a mine during the Korean War.) This
time, the injuries were much worse, and there wasn't a hospital
ship close enough to help.
Prison camp in South Korea
A North Korean ship was the first to arrive
after the explosion, and enemy troops aboard took Orozco and the
three shipmates he saved as prisoners. "We were all still
bleeding pretty bad," Orozco said. "They gave us some
medical care, but only enough to get by. They didn't really treat
us enough to heal."
The four men were taken to a prison camp in
Inchon, South Korea. (Note: Following
MacArthur's brilliant amphibious landing at Inchon in the fall of
1950, Inchon was and remained in ALLIED hands.)
"I had no idea how many Americans had
already been captured," Orozco said. "I got to the camp
and saw so many other guys there, and it was a bad
situation." The North Koreans provided little food for the
prisoners and beat the wounded for their inability to work. Those
who were able to work became slave laborers for the enemy troops.
"I wasn't able to work because of how bad off I was after the
explosion," Orozco said. "They ended up just feeding me
leftover garbage they had."
In July 1953, two months after he was
captured, Orozco and the other Inchon prisoners were greeted by
U.S. Marines, who told them the war had ended.
"I had no idea that it had ended,"
Orozco said. "We were completely cut off from any
communication, so it was a complete surprise. But a good
Orozco entered the Navy weighing 185 pounds
and left the Inchon prison camp weighing only 85 pounds. He was
sent to an American hospital in Japan, where he stayed for one
"I couldn't even walk by the time I got
to the hospital," he said. "They gave me baby food to
help me gain weight, and I crawled everywhere until I could walk
From Japan he was transferred to a Navy
hospital in Bremerton, Wash., where he remained for one more year.
It was an experience that changed his life, but one he wasn't
ready to leave behind.
The war in Vietnam
Orozco re-enlisted in the Navy shortly after
he finished recovering from his Korean War wounds. "I was
proud of my service in Korea, and I wanted to make a career out of
it," he said.
He was stationed aboard the USS Indiana in
tours throughout the Pacific in the late 1950s and then served as
a baker aboard the USS Hooper Island in routine tours in Japan and
When the war in Vietnam began to escalate,
the Hooper Island provided supplies and first aid assistance for
the ground troops fighting in the region. (The
Hooper was Decommissioned, 15 July 1959, at San Diego, CA, and
stricken from the Navy Register on 1 July 1960.)
While at sea just outside Khe Sanh, Vietnam,
(NOTE: as virtually ALL RVN veterans know,
Khe Sanh was nowhere NEAR the coast) in 1968, Orozco
received orders to take food and supplies to shore, and bring
wounded soldiers back to the ship for care.
But while helping the wounded on to the
transport boat, Orozco was hit by shrapnel and was once again
transferred to a Navy hospital ship, and then to the American
hospital in Japan where he stayed one year.
After he healed, Orozco was sent back to the
naval shipyard in Bremerton, and spent the next two years
stationed aboard different ships throughout the Pacific. He
retired in July 1972 after 20 years of service.
"I don't have any regrets about it, and
I'm glad I served as long as I did," he said. "If I
wasn't too old now, I'd go back in."
Ten years after he retired from the Navy,
Orozco was notified he had been nominated to receive the Medal of
Honor. He traveled to Washington, D.C., but was told his records
had been misplaced. He has yet to receive the award.
But Orozco has chosen not to focus his time
on the Medal of Honor. Instead, he has committed to paying tribute
each year to his fallen comrades at Ventura's Memorial Day
He also visits local schools to educate
students about the blind after losing his own eyesight seven years
ago from complications of diabetes.
"A lot of people don't know much about
the blind or the white cane we use to get around," he said.
"So I try to educate them as early as possible. It's a way
for me to stay active while also helping others out."
— Of War and Life is a twice-monthly
column by Jannette Jauregui that tells the stories of Ventura
County's veterans. Veterans who want to share their stories can
contact her by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by mail at
Jannette Jauregui, c/o Ventura County Star editorial department,
P.O. Box 6006, Camarillo, CA 93011.