A Veteran’s Story: Army Medic Jesse Cuello

(Caloosa Belle/Danika J. Hopper) Jesse Cuello doing what he loves to do.

Jesse Cuello is one of the kindest and most fascinating people I have had the pleasure of meeting in LaBelle. Always greeting you with a smile and will likely never run out of stories to tell, if you know him you know he is a very busy man here in our little town. You can find him working to design and build sets for the Firehouse Community Theater, serving as a board member at the Barron Park House Gallery and the LaBelle Downtown Revitalization Corporation, and even volunteering at the Cold Weather Shelter in Clewiston. What you may not know about Jesse Cuello is, he is a talented artist and proud Army veteran. While you may not think those two things would go hand in hand, when it comes to Jesse, they certainly do.

Through May of 1955 he attended Texas University in Austin. He had previously been deferred from the universal draft, but one month after his fall semester started, he was drafted into the Army. As a 22 year old in basic training, surrounded by solid concrete buildings, he spent the first weeks training on the rifle range. “I was an expert rifleman with the ole M-1,” says Jesse. But things changed quickly when at role call one morning, an instructor called out, “Which one of you knows how to paint?” Jesse, having always loved drawing and painting from as far back as he could remember, stepped forward and gave his name. The next morning after breakfast, his name was called. He, along with a few others, was assigned to design and paint murals on those solid concrete walls that surrounded him. He describes this moment with a gleam in his eye and a giddy tickle in his voice, “Low and behold, from that day forward we never marched again!”

Despite begin qualified as an expert rifleman, he ended up being assigned to Fort Sam Houston to become an Army Medic for his next eight weeks of training. His first assignment as a medic landed him just north of Chicago at Fort Sheraton. He recalls being paid $90 a month back then and, after sending his mother $30, he was usually broke after the first. One month, he found he had a few extra dollars, and made his way to a pizza place nearby. He describes the young lady he met eyes with at the counter as strikingly beautiful, and the artist in him knew he needed to sketch her. He grabbed a napkin and drew her, his first time ever doing a portrait. She was so impressed by his talent, she asked him to return the next day. She was too pretty to resist, so he gladly complied with her request. Upon returning, she gave him a sketch pad and some charcoal pencils and told him that if he would sketch the customers, he could have free pizza and beer and keep any tips he was given. To this day, he can’t resist sketching a interesting profile when he comes across one.

Jesse soon found himself transferred to Pearl Harbor, assigned to the 27th Regiment, 25th Infantry Division. He worked in the SE3 section again putting his artistic skills to use by drawing directional/instructional signs. While there, he quickly found out that the locals shunned G.I.’s, so Jesse was motivated to try to meet ladies from the mainland. He and his buddies would roam the beaches searching for friendly faces. He tried to charm a few of them by tossing his beach towel down next to them and sketching their faces. “It worked…. sometimes.” He went on to paint another mural, of the San Francisco airport on the mess hall wall, reminiscent of his first days in basic training.

In September 1957, he seperated from active duty and in October 1961, Jesse Cuello received his official Army discharge. He has since met and married his beautiful wife, Gail Pelegrino. They attend Our Lady Queen of Heaven Catholic Church, where Jesse is a Cantor. There is so much more to be told about the life story of such an altruistic human being, but I really could go on forever. If you see him around, stop and chat, he always has an interesting story to share. We thank you for your service and all the work you do for our community, Jesse Cuello.

Danika can be reached at dhopper@newszap.com

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