‘Oldest man in Las Colonias’
WWII vet’s birthday gathers together four generations of la familia
His family gathered eagerly behind the front door as they hushed each other to not give away their surprise. With everyone huddled and hidden, his silhouette crossed in front of the windows and the door opened to break the silence.
“Surprise!” they shouted. “Happy birthday, Grandpa!”
“This is really nice,” he said with a smile and a tear. “We got the whole family.”
Jose “Gus” Garcia has been celebrating his birthday in Las Colonias for a long time and over the years, his celebration has evolved into a family gathering that spans four generations. As the self-proclaimed “oldest man in Las Colonias,” Garcia celebrated his 95th birthday Dec. 14 among family, both near and far, as part of an annual family tradition that lasted all weekend.
His five children and many grandchildren try their hardest every year to make his celebration special.
The Garcia family’s reach even goes as far as Alaska. Granddaughter Ana-Christine Tafoya studies marine biology in Juneau, Alaska and for the past three years has made the hourslong flight to be home in time for Garcia’s birthday and Christmas.
Tafoya said she would do whatever it takes to be with her grandfather for his birthday. “Any little moment that I have with Grandpa is just heartwarming for me, just to be home,” said Tafoya.
She is just one of Garcia’s loving family who makes the journey home for his birthday celebrations.
Garcia, like many who remember the old days, grew up in a different era of Taos. As a boy, he would often find himself walking the few miles into town or hitching a ride on a horse-drawn wagon to get around. His birthdays as a child were full of wading through feet of snow trying to get to the old Las Colonias schoolhouse for a Christmas celebration just after his birthday.
Christmas was different in Taos then. Garcia doesn’t remember trees being inside the home until the last Christmas before he was drafted into the Army to serve in World War II. After that, holidays and birthdays were interrupted for a brief time.
“The summer of ‘42 I spent in Colorado,” Garcia said. “That’s when the draft started and everybody had to register. I got the call from here, from Taos, so I came home to get ready for Uncle Sam.”
Garcia was working in farms in Colorado when the draft called his number, and he had to return to Taos to prepare to ship out. Garcia had several teachers from the area who tried to encourage him to stay, but as fate would have it, he traveled to California to ready for war and with that journey, he found love.
“I only saw her once and from when we met, it hit. It hit her and it hit me,” Garcia said.
Garcia met his wife Christine who promised to wait for him while he was at war. Christine worked in the California factories laying rivets in metal airplanes while Garcia fought in the Pacific.
The war took Garcia to the Philippines where he served as an artillery gunner with the 389th Battalion. On Christmas Day, Garcia’s battery was attacked but they fended off the Japanese and the enemy was diverted to another part of the island, away from Garcia’s battery.
Shortly after that, Garcia was part of Operation Downfall, a proposed Allied invasion of Japan. The orders were canceled when the Japanese surrendered after the atomic bombs fell on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945.
If the Allied forces had been sent in to Japan, Garcia said, “We wouldn’t have come back.”
Christine was waiting for him when he returned. Shortly after the war’s end, Garcia took a well-deserved rest. He and Christine began their life together back in
After considering school in Chicago with his GI bill from the military, Garcia decided to stick to his roots and pursue a career with a barbershop in Taos.
School came natural to him as Garcia was adept at cutting hair and had an early interest in the art. After passing school and apprenticing in Socorro, he joined with a friend and opened up La Fonda Barber Shop on the Plaza. For 25 years, Garcia enjoyed a living cutting hair in Los Alamos and in Taos before switching to plumbing as a profession in his later years.
Several phone calls rang through the house as friends and family members checked in and wished Garcia a happy birthday in between the stories he told. Telling stories to friends and family is something that this “country boy” is good at. Garcia remembers nearly every detail from his past to present and smiles as he tells each tale.
Garcia said the most important aspect in life is family and to provide the best life he could for them. With five children who all have children of their own, Garcia said his life in Las Colonias has been wonderful.
“We didn’t have any problems at all,” he said. “It has been wonderful, thanks to God.”
Christine passed away in 2015, and since then the Garcia family has stayed tightknit. The importance of family has been passed down from Gus and Christine to their children and now to their great grandchildren.
“Dad was at work, and Mom was the hen that kept us close, kept us protected and kept us in line,” said daughter Vivian Martinez. “You get up in the morning, you do your errands, you do your part, you contribute. We learned that from them. You contribute in the community.”
Garcia’s contributions within the community still affect many in the area. Both he and his wife were active members in the Catholic church, League of United Latin American Citizens, or LULAC, a national advocacy group for Latin American citizens, and other organizations around town.
The past weekend was full of family and friends getting together and celebrating with Garcia, who admitted that he was a bit tired by Sunday afternoon at the end of the festivities.
Garcia said he really enjoys spending his time with family as often as he can. His goal for the new year is to visit everyone in the family as best as he can.
Jose Garcia, center, greets his great-grandson Anthony Tafoya and granddaughter Ana-Christine Tafoya, left, during his birthday celebration. After 95 years, Garcia still has enough energy to have some fun with the family.
Jose Garcia, center, is greeted by his grandson Eric Tafoya, left, and granddaughter Ana Christine Tafoya, right, during his surprise birthday party.