Selected Interview Segments: Judge James Deanda
Judge James Deanda,
Former Legal Council for American G.I. Forum
Copyright 2007 South Texas Public Broadcasting System, INC.
Q: What do you remember about the early days of organizing the G.I. Forum chapters across the Unites States?
A: Dr. Garcia had been invited to a place in Wyoming - - I think it was called Green River but I'm sure - - which turned out to be a railroad town. Back then when the railroads were, still our main source of transportation. In this little railroad town in which probably the railroad owned everything and all of the people that worked there. He had been contacted to go up there and organize a group and, so we decided to swing through there. And when we arrived at this place, everything was boarded up. It was a community of several hundred people I'm sure in its prime. But every house was boarded up. There wasn't a soul to be seen. And, Dr. Hector drove up and down the street. It was late in the evening and I told him - - I said, "Doc, we've got a long way to go. Let's, you know, . . . " get out of here. (laughs) and, about that time a dog barked and he said, "let's go see what that's about." And I said, "why?" (laughs) he went and sure enough, it was the last family leaving town. And, they had their goods all on this cargo truck and the wife and a child was with this man. And we pulled up there and the Doctor introduced himself. And, the man had heard of Dr. Garcia. And, the Doctor said he was there to form a G.I. Forum group and the man looked at us like we were out of out minds. And said, "but, I'm leaving and everyone is gone." The Doctor asked him where he was going. He said he was going to Utah where the railroad had given the people the option of having jobs, and so most of them had - - were departing for Utah.
So, on the spot, Dr. Hector appointed him chairman of the G.I. Forum of this place in Utah, whose name I don't recall. The wife was made the president of the auxiliary and the youngster was the chairman of the youngster's group. And surprisingly enough, several months later, these people did organize a group, and from that came the G.I. Forum in Utah. But it's a long story, but it deserves telling, because I think it is very illustrative that this man would just not take "no" for an answer. And, I think that was part of the secret to his success - - plus the fact that people just trusted him wholeheartedly - - amazingly. I guess that because of his profession as a man that cured disease and he enjoyed that confidence with his patients.
I traveled with Hector not only on trips, but I recall when I first came to Corpus Christi and set up my shop there in 1955, he asked me one evening to make his - - make his house calls with him, his rounds. And I remember so vividly going out to - - one particular place was an abandoned boxcar, railroad boxcar. I don't know how it had been moved to this lot, but it had been. And it was used by this family and the elderly grandfather was dying, obviously. And these people were just packed in there like sardines. We visited the family and he took care of the man, and we would go in other homes that were just about as humble, and, the people obviously had no means of paying or even getting to his office, and, so he would see all these people and just visit them and administer to them and so the people just had absolute faith in the man.
Some years later, he had - - I don't recall who the accountant was but it dawned on him that the Doctor had a tremendous number of bad debts - - accounts in his office that no one ever tried to collect. And it amounted to many thousands of dollars, even though, I think, he was charging $3 for an office visit. So, you can imagine how long it would take to accumulate that, but the accountant called me and explained the situation and sent me a list of people that owed him money and asked me to write letters on my letterhead and demand payment. I had assumed that the doctor had approved this, so I sent out a few letters, you know, to the people telling them they ought to pay their Doctor. And the Doctor gives me a call, and said Jimmy - - he said, "come into my office as soon as you can." He said, "this is terrible." I went down there and he had one of my letters that a patient had brought in. And, I said, " well, you know these people owe you money and I thought I was going to try and collect it for you." He looked at me and he told me - - he said - - he said, Jimmy, if these people could pay me, they would pay me and you writing them a letter is not going to give them any money. So, don't write any more letters." (laughs) and that was the end of our collection effort.
Q: It's been mentioned by some of those who knew him best that Dr. Hector Garcia had some personality issues regarding the way he dealt with people that hurt him? Did you observe that?
A: There's no question that Dr. Garcia was impatient, and was, really, contemptuous of your normal processes of making motions and getting approval and going forward. (chuckle) he didn't have time for that. As a consequence that was a flaw, in my opinion, in his character. He did things. Because clearly, while he preached democracy, there often times we didn't have time for it. And, no one has ever said democracy is fast. In fact, democracy can be very tedious and very slow. It was put another way by one of the labor leaders who had a union to deal with, whose union believed in protocol, and that any misstep might be a disaster. This labor leader said, "the trouble with Hector is that he's teaching everybody the democratic system and how to participate in it, but after he teaches you, he will not let you participate." (chuckle) so - - they had just had a wrangle about several things. (chuckle)
We all understood that to be the case. You know we had elections and the organization was very democratic and the winners won and the losers lost, whether, Dr. Hector liked it or not. But in his dealings from day- to- day, he was sort of like, Lincoln, you know, "the 'ayes' have it." (chuckle) and, he would go forward for the most part - - like I would frequently tell people when we had these discussions of this type - - I would say, "well look at it this way, Hector's right about 95% of the time. Now, are any of us right 95% of the time?" And, everybody would shut up. (chuckle).
He would say that we were privileged to be, a Mexican-American. That, being a member of a minority was - - was not a curse but an honor because it gave you an opportunity that other people did not have to do something useful - - to do something worthwhile, to make a better life for your fellow man. And, this was his creed. And, he tried to instill that in - - in others and did to a great degree. So, that in a nutshell is Dr. Hector.