McALLEN — Eugene (Gene) Gutierrez was born on September 14, 1921 and grew up in South Texas. He attended Harlingen High School and, after graduation, enlisted in the United States Army to pursue a career in engineering.
Gutierrez joined the Army in 1941 after his family was devastated during the Great Depression. “I had seven siblings and my dad lost his grocery business,” Gutierrez said. “My family needed me to help financially and the Army paid $40 a month.”
Mr. Gutierrez joined an airborne unit as a paratrooper. After that, he then began rigorous training with the First Special Service Force, an elite group of 1,800 troops from both American and Canadian armies. The men were trained in commando tactics that included mountain climbing, skiing, demolition, amphibious training, and hand-to-hand combat, using the historic V42 knife for close-quarters fighting. Gene served with the First Special Service Force fighting the Japanese on the Aleutian Islands, storming the beaches in Anzio, Italy, liberating southern France, and re-claiming Rome from the Nazis.
They were dubbed ‘’the Devil’s Brigade’’ by the Germans. Their exploits were so renowned Hollywood make a move about them called The Devil’s Brigade starring William Holden During his time fighting in World War II, Mr. Gutierrez was honored with numerous awards, including: two Bronze Stars, one for valor and the other for infantry combat, a Liberation of France medal, a Good Conduct medal, a World War Two Victory Medal, a First Special Service Force medal, and the Congressional Gold Medal.
Gene was willing to sacrifice himself to help his bothers in arms. In one instance he volunteered to cross into the German lines to rescue an injured soldier, when they were held at bay and repeatedly shot at by a German tank. This lasted for hours until US planes arrived allowing them to return to base.
Upon returning home from the war, Mr. Gutierrez went on to pursue a degree from Oklahoma State University, graduating in 1950.
In 1951, Gene married Emma Pena known as Penny. They settled in McAllen where Penny worked as a nurse and Gene served as an educator, becoming the first Hispanic principal in McAllen. He worked at the McAllen Independent School District for 30 years until he retired in 1980.
In 1962, Gene and Penny opened a uniform store in downtown McAllen called the Uniform Center. They kept it open for 60 years.
Mr. Gutierrez served as an active member of the Mc-Allen community through his work in the Sierra Club and as a parishioner at Our Lady of Sorrows Church.
He continued to bond with his fellow Special Forces brothers and routinely attended reunions all over the world, here in the US, in Europe and Canada.
In 2008, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, presented Gene an overdue Bronze Star Medal his honorable service as an infantryman in World War II.
In 2015, the entire Devils Brigade unit were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in a special ceremony in Wash DC.
In September 2021 upon his 100th Birthday, Hidalgo County Commissioners Court issued a Resolution honoring Eugene “Gene” Gutierrez.
In November 2021, he was featured on “Salute to Service” special that aired on History Channel in which he was treated to a brief flight in a vintage WWII plane.
On November 19, 2021, The South Texas Museum of History interviewed Gene for two hours for their program called Museum Platicas.
Gene was instrumental in helping to get the McAllen War Memorial built.
Gene was in great mental and physical shape up until the last few months of his life.
He attributed his well being, to exercising every morning, including 100 pushups, his faith in God, and eating natural food, many of which he grew in his backyard. He spent much time in his yard growing all types of fruit trees and eventually harvesting the fruit for meals. On the day he died, one of the large trees in his yard fell down.
At age 100, he still drove and attended to business affairs.
Gene died just a few shorts weeks of his 101st Birthday. He leaves behind his wife, Penny, three children, Tommy, Margaret and Elizabeth and four grandchildren, Ivan, Eden, Jules and Tory.
Let us acknowledge the countless achievements of Eugene Gutierrez. He dedicated his life to the protection of Democracy, and to the betterment of his community and family. We wish him, and may God grant him, many happy reunions with his brethren, friends and family that have already passed.
Visitation will be held Wed., Sept. 7, 2022 from 6 to 8 p.m., with a rosary at 7 p.m. Funeral mass will be held Thursday Sept. 8 at Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Church with burial following at 1 p.m. at the RGV State Veteran’s Cemetery.