Salinas serves desert in the tradition of his father

Finding themselves stranded in the scorching desert summer heat, the Salinas family was both relieved and concerned as the tall stranger in a large cowboy hat approached, pulling up behind their broken down car. Amado Luis Salinas was traveling with his wife and four young children in 1962 when their tire burst near Windy Point on the 111 freeway. Perplexed and sweaty, Salinas wondered if he should start walking when Frank Bogert ran into stopped and asked what was going on.

Salinas, unsure of the question, explained that he did not speak English. To his relief, Bogert responded in fluent Spanish and saw the difficulty. Bogert hauled Salinas to town, bought him a spare tire and drinks for the kids. The men rushed to the waiting family, where they changed the tire and got the Salinas family back on the road. Years later, Amado Cano Salinas II, one of the kids stuck in the sun that day, remembered Bogert watching and waving for the family to ride.

The Salinas family had followed the crops from Visalia to Coachella when the elder Salinas decided to move his family to the desert. He found work in the city of Palm Springs, then joined the California Department of Transportation, Caltrans, working on highway maintenance crews. Fifteen years after being stranded on the side of the freeway, Salinas was present during a much more serious road incident.

The Desert Sun reported in January 1977: “A Caltrans employee saved the lives of a West Covina man and his pregnant wife by pulling them from the burning wreckage of their car after she was hit by a truck. The California Highway Patrol said Amado Salinas of Palm Springs pulled Angela Leon, 20, and her husband, Alfredo, 25, from their car after it was flipped 300 yards down the highway. 85 South of Polk Street… Mrs. Leon and her husband were knocked out inside their car…”

Further details explained that the car had been rammed by a tractor-trailer, flattening and igniting the fuel tank of the car and sending it rushing towards the Caltrans work crew, who narrowly escaped the disaster. Salinas left his advertising spray equipment and ran towards the burning car. He found the passenger door jammed and thought the woman inside was probably dead. Arrived at the driver’s door, he managed to open it and release Alfredo Leon. But Leon’s pregnant, unconscious wife was still trapped inside.

Salinas recounted the events for the newspaper: “Suddenly something inside the car exploded with a pop and shattered glass. I hesitated for a moment, but I knew I had to come back for her… I just did what anyone would do.

The couple and Salinas were all taken to Indio Community Hospital and treated for their injuries. Angela Leon will later give birth to a child whom she will name Amado in honor of the hero who had saved her family.

Salinas received California’s highest honour: the Gold Medal of Gallantry for heroism. He was also recognized by the Carnegie Hero Fund with the Carnegie Medal, awarded to individuals in the United States and Canada who risk their lives to an extraordinary degree saving or attempting to save the lives of others. The story of Salinas’ accident and heroism was reported in newspapers across the state.

Young Salinas benefited greatly from his father’s decision to settle in the desert. He excelled in school in athletics and music, playing the French horn and trumpet. In high school, he worked at a downtown men’s store. Once Bogert came to buy some clothes. Young Salinas recognized Bogert by his gait and stature. He recounted the heartbreaking experience of being stranded on the freeway and thanked Bogert for helping his father, believing it had been as memorable for Bogert as it was for Salinas as a young boy. Bogert opposed it, he had done what anyone should have done.

Amado Cano Salinas II would follow his father’s example in serving others. After school, he had a successful career in the Navy as an aviation flight systems specialist, making sure all avionics were working properly. He left the Navy to join the aerospace team at Hughes Space and Communications, working with NASA on the development of the Space Shuttle Transport Craft STS to satellite systems. He worked at Northrop and the Department of Defense as a systems analyst in Southern California. In the private sector, he has worked on projects internationally and throughout California. He worked as an FAA flight certification engineer for Boeing’s 787 Dream aerospace project.

Salinas volunteers for several veterans causes. He is a life member of the American Legion and the VFW and is currently the 1st Vice Commander in Owen Coffman’s position and is running for Commander.

This week, Salinas inadvertently made the newspaper. He hadn’t pulled anyone out of a burning car like his father had, but nonetheless, many people found his unplanned act newsworthy, even heroic. Salinas arrived at City Hall to see the life-size bronze statue of the man who randomly helped his family 60 years ago. The Salinas family had been in trouble, stuck on the side of the highway in an inhospitable and threatening desert. Bogert had made all the difference to them by doing one kind thing.

Bogert’s statue was ordered to be removed this week by the Palm Springs City Council, after a complicated controversy over disputed events in the late 1960s in Section 14 that divided the Palm Springs community at over the past two years. As Salinas watched the crane ready to lift the statue, he suddenly found himself forced to act: “How do we stop them from pulling out the statue of Frank until we can get a decision, until we can have a fair hearing in court? So I sat down.

Salinas’ simple gesture paralyzed the crane. He sat at the base of the statue, blocking the removal for hours, finally momentarily relieved by others inspired by his bravery. Salinas spent the night making sure the crane wouldn’t return until after a judge decided the fate of the statue.

The next day, the judge indeed put a temporary end to the immediate removal of the statue. There will certainly be other legal disputes.

Salinas, 60 years later, still feels a debt of gratitude to Bogert. “I remember how Frank’s kind gesture, just by doing the right thing, could have such a lasting effect. Who would have ever thought that one day I could help Frank and his family?

Tracy Conrad is president of the Palm Springs Historical Society. The Memories Thanks column appears on Sundays in The Desert Sun. Email him at [email protected]