April 17, 2012

Uncle Joe

Uncle Joe is the name of a common relation that a lot of us know and love.  My particular Uncle Joe is actually my father’s Uncle Joe and his birth name was Jose.  I did not know my Uncle Joe well at all, but he nonetheless had an impact on me and many others during his life, and after.

What I know about his background is that he was born in 1908 in the middle of Mexico, in a state called Zacatecas, in the capital by the same name, in a sleepy village called Jerez.  The region was well settled by the Spaniards less than 100 years after Columbus opened up the new world to the west.  Uncle Joe was the fourth born child and though he was the third born son, he was named after his father.  When Uncle Joe was little, his family owned a ranch in a country that would soon be in the midst of yet another revolution.   The house where he was born was made from adobe and looked to be ancient when I saw it some eight decades after he was born (my grandfather, his brother, was born in the same house).

Uncle Joe spent his early years helping out with the ranch and going to school.  When the revolution, which started in 1910 and lasted until 1920, began to intensify the family decided to move to the United States.  By the time Uncle Joe was 12 he was living in Chandler, Arizona and later in Colorado with his father and older brothers working in fields, mines, and as labor to support themselves and the family.  Eventually, they relocated to southern California and made it their new home.

As far as I can tell, during the 1930’s, when he was in his 20’s, uncle Joe worked in sales.  He was single and had no children.  However, he did have many brothers and sisters, in-laws, and nieces and nephews, some of whom he was close to like my father and grandparents.  In 1936 he applied to become a naturalized US citizen, which was eventually granted.  To me, the really interesting part of his story begins when he joined the Merchant Marines sometime during the late 1930’s or early 1940’s, when Uncle Joe was in his 30’s.

Before I go on, the United States Merchant Marines, for those who are unfamiliar, consists of a fleet of privately owned ocean vessels that are operated by the government or private sector.  The fleet transports goods and services in and out of U.S. waters.  During times of peace, they transport passengers as well as cargo, but in wartime they function as an auxiliary to the Navy.  In the latter capacity, they transport service members, supplies, and cargo directly for the military.  I knew little about this until Uncle Joe passed away, at which time I checked to see if he was eligible for any Veteran’s benefits, since he worked in the Merchant Marines during World War II, the Korean Conflict, and the Vietnam War.

When Uncle Joe was in the Merchant Marines he traveled all over the world (literally).  Based upon his letters, he loved seeing new places.  There are pictures of him in Egypt next to the pyramids, strolling down Canal Street in New Orleans, enjoying dinner in Paris, and exploring the Alamo in Texas.  He traveled to Europe and researched the family’s genealogy in Spain and visited the beaches in South Africa.  He enjoyed dancing in Tokyo and went down under to hike the outback in Australia.  He visited the Azores and Tahiti and even enjoyed the night life in Rio.  In short, this man who was born in rural Mexico shortly after the turn of the century found a career a little later in life than his contemporaries that enabled him to explore the world!

I know this mainly from his stories which were retold to me by my father and grandparents.  I know this also from the circulated coins, bills, and stamps that he brought back and gave to my father from all of his many ports of call.  When I was a child, I would look at the foreign bills and change with their exotic writing and pictures and imagine what these places were really like.  Uncle Joe wrote post cards to my father and grandparents, many of which survived multiple moves and clearly showed how much he enjoyed his life.

When I was little, Uncle Joe was to me an intense man who always seemed to be far away, even when he was in the same room.  He was pleasant but did not say much to the little boy that I was then.  My father and grandparents always loved to see him and they would talk for hours about times long past.   He was different from my grandfather in that he never did marry nor have any children.  The rumor in the family was that early investments in property enabled him to have a comfortable retirement, though I never saw any evidence of that.  After I came back from a tour overseas in the Army, I asked my father to have Uncle Joe write down any information that he had about the family, so I could share it with mine someday.  Uncle Joe did that, though he confused me with my brother, and I have since shared that letter with extended members of the family who found the contents to be priceless in filling in gaps of family history that appeared after his generation had passed.

I have been fortunate to travel to many faraway places in my life, but I have not yet seen a fraction of what Uncle Joe has seen.  Whenever, I visit a new area, I invariably wonder to myself if Uncle Joe has been there before me.  When my father and I were in Macau, we ducked in to a little piano bar to take a break from sight-seeing one day.  Near our table was a small plaque that indicated that this was the place where the Pan Am Clipper planes landed.  I asked my father if he thought Uncle Joe might have stopped there, to which he replied that knowing him he probably did!

Twenty years ago, Uncle Joe, who was then 84 years old, had a stroke and was hospitalized.  I took my grandparents to see him one afternoon.  He was in bed and could barely speak and was pale and drawn, but the minute he noticed my grandparents, he became more alert and even managed to smile, just a little.  They visited for a while with my grandparents doing the talking but aside from the obvious, Uncle Joe was different this time.  That distant look that he had always had whenever I saw him before was gone.  It was replaced with a tired, weak, but warm and satisfied expression of a man who realized his time was nearly up and who was somehow grateful nonetheless to be where he was at that moment.

Uncle Joe (Jose C. Campos) is gone now and since he has departed, I have thought a lot about him and the legacy that he left.  He did not, to my knowledge, leave a large estate, or a forlorn widow or fatherless children behind.  He did not write books, compose music, cure a disease, or discover a new planet.  His legacy was much simpler in that he lived his life the way he wanted to, in an era when many would not or could not do it.  In the process he showed those around him that they could do the same!


  1. Wonderful story!

    Comment by June — April 17, 2012 @ 9:01 pm | Reply

  2. He seems like an inspiration to many to follow their own path in life! I have two uncle Joes, one deceased and one still living. Both are wonderful men in their own right, and both individuals who made their own path. So many wonderful people to read and learn from! Thanks for sharing his story!

    Comment by Newfoundland Traveller — April 17, 2012 @ 9:08 pm | Reply

  3. Hi legacy is you and all the others whose lives he affected.

    Comment by debooker — April 17, 2012 @ 9:18 pm | Reply

  4. Sorry. Somehow, His became Hi.

    Comment by debooker — April 17, 2012 @ 9:20 pm | Reply

  5. Most inspiring blog of the day. Thanks!

    Comment by treetrunkrick — April 17, 2012 @ 9:43 pm | Reply

  6. […] Uncle Joe was here. Like this:LikeBe the first to like this post. […]

    Pingback by Inspiring post of the day | treetrunkdings — April 17, 2012 @ 9:51 pm | Reply

  7. Very interesting story. Everyone called my grandfather Joe but his birth name was Josephus. We still talk about grandaddy and the fun stories he told to make us laugh and scarry things he did to make us jump and run. Grandaddy too saw a great many things that he often shared. Great post!

    Comment by diligent57 — April 17, 2012 @ 10:33 pm | Reply

  8. Great post, My granddad “Joe” was somewhat like that. He used to tell us stories to make us laugh and scare us out of our pants. The family still talk of him as if he were still alive.

    Comment by diligent57 — April 17, 2012 @ 10:35 pm | Reply

  9. Thank you for giving us a sneak peek into your uncle’s life… This was a very interesting story… and very encouraging in the fact that though your uncle got a late start in the fulfillment of his goals and dreams… He did it!!!… and what an exciting life he had… a life full of Gusto!!!

    Awesome Post!!!

    Blessings!!! 🙂

    Comment by GarrickandMary Brown — April 17, 2012 @ 10:37 pm | Reply

  10. Thanks for sharing this about your Uncle Joe. It was a very touching read.

    Comment by Gordon's Gardens — April 18, 2012 @ 12:34 am | Reply

  11. What a great story, determination, imagination, and courage, God Bless Joe, and yourself! Cheers

    Comment by Admin — April 18, 2012 @ 12:38 am | Reply

  12. Thank you for sharing this story about your Uncle Joe. It was a fascinating read. It is wonderful that he got to see the world. One thing that always makes me sad is the loss of memories and experiences when someone passes on. I think it’s important to try and preserve as much as we can about the ‘footprint’ that people leave in this life.

    Comment by Bassas Blog — April 18, 2012 @ 1:52 am | Reply

  13. Thanks for sharing this with us. Sometimes it needs long for us to find our roots. It seems to me you found yours in Uncle Joe. I’m sure you do keep his memory and legacy stored deep in your heart and know what valuable treasure you own.

    Comment by Raani York — April 18, 2012 @ 3:08 am | Reply

  14. Your Uncle Joe was a lovely man. Thank you for telling us about him

    Comment by annedearle — April 18, 2012 @ 6:33 am | Reply

  15. What a marvelous story, what a wonderful and well lived life.

    Comment by Valentine Logar — April 18, 2012 @ 7:31 am | Reply

  16. Beautifully told. My Uncle Joe also went his own way and had many sories to tell. it must be in the name….

    Comment by Cora Mae Lengeman — April 18, 2012 @ 7:53 am | Reply

  17. I enjoyed reading your your uncle Joe – he seems to have had a very fulfilled life. I think that writing anything that helps to extend one’s memory of someone is admirable. My congratulations.

    Comment by Thomas Milner — April 18, 2012 @ 8:56 am | Reply

  18. You’ve kindly provided one of the three missing elements from postmodern story-telling, which never depicts a happy marriage, a respectable priest or a good death. God bless Uncle Joes everywhere!

    Comment by herbork — April 18, 2012 @ 9:18 am | Reply

  19. What a great story and post! Uncle Joe sounds like he was a very interesting person.

    Comment by Mike Bonfanti — April 18, 2012 @ 10:05 am | Reply

  20. Beautiful tribute to your beloved uncle. Thank you for sharing about his life!

    Comment by Tina Christie — April 18, 2012 @ 10:26 am | Reply

  21. What an awesome story! Isn’t it nice to know these priceless people in our lives and as a result, learn more about who we are and why we are who we are? Nicely done!

    Comment by Nancy Arter — April 18, 2012 @ 3:04 pm | Reply

  22. Hi Dr. Anthony!

    I just received the Versatile Blogger Award and I would like to nominate YOU for the award as well! I love your blog and the inspiration behind your stories. And I hope to contribute a little more traffic to your site.

    Please visit http://loungelassie.wordpress.com for the rules, if you are so inclined. There aren’t very many…


    Madeleine and Gingersnap! (the dogs)
    and Linda (Mama L.)

    Comment by loungelassie — April 19, 2012 @ 1:57 am | Reply

  23. We should leave a legacy like your Uncle Joe and experience new things in life, whether it be travel, writing, or whatever. What a remarkable man. Thank you for the follow! Oh, I love the pictures of St. Augustine– especially the school house.

    Comment by alundeberg — April 20, 2012 @ 1:16 am | Reply

  24. Great Story. It is really good to record history and life in general from the point of view of ordinary people.

    Comment by Alan — April 20, 2012 @ 7:48 am | Reply

  25. Wonderful blog… so much enjoyed hearing about your Uncle Joe. Here in Australia some would praise him highly by saying … “He’s the salt of the earth!!!”. Indeed he was. Cheers, Catherine.

    Comment by Catherine — April 20, 2012 @ 12:34 pm | Reply

  26. Hi there in Florida! Have just read your post here – what an inspiring and evocative piece.

    Thank you so much for taking the time to read some of the posts on my blog, and for following it. Kind regards from the UK.


    Comment by Vicky Newham — April 21, 2012 @ 5:39 am | Reply

  27. Enjoyed this post so much! This post is right up my alley, so to speak. Thank you for sharing.

    Comment by J. G. Burdette — April 21, 2012 @ 1:47 pm | Reply

  28. Hi Anthony! Very much style of a statement was pleasant! It is written unusually and with love. Thanks!

    Comment by grey5533 — April 22, 2012 @ 1:16 am | Reply

  29. Enjoyed reading about your Uncle Joe, especially all the small details like your childish wonder at the exotic foreign bills. Makes me feel nostalgic. I have a large family and grew up with my aunts, uncles and cousins. Your uncle traveled the world and was blessed with family. He was twice blessed. Sounds like he had it all.

    Comment by azsoap — April 22, 2012 @ 1:49 pm | Reply

  30. Wonderful Reading you- I know I will be a regular here. Thank you so much for sharing 🙂

    Comment by cynthia — April 22, 2012 @ 5:44 pm | Reply

  31. Uncle Joe is a beacon from the past and for the future. Thanks for sharing his story!

    Comment by Kit Tennis — April 23, 2012 @ 8:45 pm | Reply

  32. I really enjoyed reading about “Uncle Joe,” and you’re right, we all had one! It brought back a lot of my own memories of loved ones past-My uncle Ron traveled the world and would write me letters using stick figures when I was too little to read. I only wish I still had them.

    Comment by Donna L. Sadd — April 24, 2012 @ 4:08 pm | Reply

  33. Lovely. My Uncle Joe was Uncle Frank.

    Comment by atreegrowsinbklyn — April 27, 2012 @ 1:59 pm | Reply

  34. Loved this post about your uncle. So familiar to someone I know.

    Comment by wendymc12 — April 28, 2012 @ 11:57 am | Reply

  35. Nicely written. Thank you for sharing.

    Comment by Jan Rörschåch — April 29, 2012 @ 11:56 am | Reply

  36. Hello from the UK. Thanks for dropping by my blog. You paint a fascinating description of your Uncle Joe and his life.
    I enjoyed reading about him.

    Comment by Grumpy — April 29, 2012 @ 6:25 pm | Reply

  37. Thank you for following. Your writing is beautiful and after reading your “about” section I’m startled by what an amaizing life you’ve had 🙂

    Comment by winloseordraw — April 30, 2012 @ 5:05 am | Reply

  38. I’ve nominated you for the versatile blogger award! Congratulations! http://versatilebloggeraward.wordpress.com/vba-rules/

    Comment by melissamwolff — May 1, 2012 @ 7:27 pm | Reply

  39. Wonderful story, it was a life bio but made so personal. We should all be so blessed to have an Uncle Joe in our lives. Thank you for sharing.

    Comment by followingtheboots — May 7, 2012 @ 1:14 pm | Reply

  40. After reading about you, Dr. Anthony, there is a lot of similarity with your Uncle Joe; seems like two of a kind to me. Blessings – Maxi

    Comment by Maxi — May 8, 2012 @ 7:40 am | Reply

  41. Most inspiring blog of the day. Thanks!

    Comment by papermachinery — May 12, 2012 @ 12:48 am | Reply

  42. What an awesome story…precious nostalgia…God bless Uncle Joe!

    Comment by Unsungpoet — May 12, 2012 @ 5:10 pm | Reply

  43. Thanks for sharing this wonderfully poignant story!

    Comment by Jim Gundersdorff EA (@jimgunnyea) — May 21, 2012 @ 8:57 am | Reply

  44. Thank you for sharing this beautiful story, sometimes I feel nostalgia for these wonderful people who have lived so intensely.

    Comment by newyorkwelcome — May 22, 2012 @ 2:35 pm | Reply

  45. Thanks for visiting my blog. As far as uncle Joe goes we all need someone like that in our lives. Keep writing i’ll be back

    Comment by Dawson C.Walton — May 27, 2012 @ 8:15 am | Reply

  46. What a man! Uncle Joe is a fine example of the impression one who follow’s their dreams, the path they were meant to walk, can leave on generations to come. May we all walk our own path and leave a legacy as rich! Thank you for sharing!

    Comment by solonever — May 28, 2012 @ 8:37 pm | Reply

  47. I think the trick is to follow your heart – if your heart is happy, you will be happy – inspite of the challenges you may face. I truly wish that more people would have the courage to do so! Thank you for a heart warming tribute!

    Comment by Kari Anne — June 1, 2012 @ 7:06 am | Reply

  48. I have nominated you for the Mrs. Sparkly’s Ten Commandments Award. Please follow this link and copy the logo and questions. Paste them to your site and fill them out along with 10 blogs. Have fun! Congratulations! http://raaniyork.wordpress.com/2012/06/16/mrs-sparklys-ten-commandments-award/

    Comment by Raani York — June 16, 2012 @ 7:02 pm | Reply

  49. Saludos mi amigo desde Venezuela. Muy bueno tu blog

    Comment by beisbol007 — June 17, 2012 @ 8:06 am | Reply

  50. Muy bueno tu blog amigo. Saludos desde venezuela

    Comment by beisbol007 — June 17, 2012 @ 8:07 am | Reply

  51. I really enjoyed reading this post. You described your family, especially your uncle, and the events of their lives vividly. I felt like I was taking the journey through time and space with you. Thank you for sharing this piece of history with us.

    Comment by admin — June 17, 2012 @ 10:33 pm | Reply

  52. Uncle Joe is a great story. As I read your post, it sparked a memory of a retired travel editor of a Canadian national daily I once knew. She regaled me with some magnificent travel stories based on voyages she made. She too, never married. Her trips included an around the world tour in the early 50s.

    Comment by Canadas Boomergirl — October 21, 2012 @ 9:51 am | Reply

  53. Such an interesting story! Thanks for following my blog.

    Comment by patinaandcompany — October 24, 2012 @ 9:36 am | Reply

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