About the Episode
This episode is brought to you by the Museum’s Jenny Craig Institute for the Study of War & Democracy.
In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, join us for a conversation from July 2020 with Dave Gutierrez, author of Patriots From The Barrio.
Patriots From The Barrio is a true World War II story of the men that served in the US Army's all Mexican American Combat unit, Company E, 141st Infantry Regiment of the 36th Infantry Division.
The 141st Regiment is the oldest fighting unit in the state of Texas and traces its roots back to the Texas Revolution. Deployed to North Africa in April 1943, Company E took part in the Allied landing at Salerno, Italy, in September 1943 and fought at San Pietro, the Rapido River, Cassino, Anzio, and Rome.
Topics Covered in this Episode
- El Paso, Texas
- Soviet Union
- Rapido River
Dave Gutierrez is the author of Patriots from the Barrio and President of Nuevo Mundo Historical and Genealogical Society of Silicon Valley.
Pictured: Members of the Mexican Expeditionary Air Force on Luzon Island, Philippines, July 1945. The National WWII Museum, Gift of Dylan Utley, 2012.019.234.
Contrary to Winston Churchill's belief that Italy was the "soft underbelly" of Axis-dominated Europe, the Allied campaign in Italy was a long and bloody undertaking.
Contrary to Winston Churchill's belief that Italy was the "soft underbelly" of Axis-dominated Europe, the Allied campaign in Italy was a long and bloody undertaking.
"World War II On Topic" is made possible by The Herzstein Foundation.
Hello. I'm Jeremy Collins, the director of conferences and symposia at the National World War Two Museum in New Orleans. Welcome to World War Two on Topic. This episode is brought to you by the Museum's Jenny Craig Institute for the Study of War and Democracy. In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month. Join us for a conversation I had in July of 2020 with Dave Gutierrez, author of Patriots from the Barrio. Patriots from the Barrio is a true World War Two story of the men that served in the U.S. Army's All Mexican American Combat Unit Company E 141st Infantry Regiment of the 36th Infantry Division. The 141st Regiment is the oldest fighting unit in the state of Texas and traces its roots back to the Texas Revolution deployed to North Africa in April of 1943 company E took part in the allied landings at Salerno, Italy in September of 43 and fought at San Pedro, the Rapido River Cassino, Anzio and Rome.
Hello everyone. I'm Jeremy Collins, the director of conferences and symposia here at the National World War two Museum, which I'm actually in. It's nice to be in the office. Well, everybody's working from home. It's great to have everyone with us and it's going to be a great conversation here with Dave. Dave Gutierrez is an author and historian, a professional researcher who has has really brought to the World War to Library a unique and important story, which I am delighted to be able to lead him in a question and answer conversation with today.
We have a lot of questions. I have a lot of questions for Dave, and I think the audience will today, too. So I'd like to get into it. But first, Dave, let me thank you and commend you. You've provided a rare work that blends a highly personal story, even family history, within the broader context of the war that was raging around them and their loved ones.
It's family history. It's a unit history, and it's a theater history all in one. It's a great book in preparation when I got this from you and your publisher, and I've got my autographed copy here, I enjoyed it because it is a new story but I reread it when we booked you for this webinar, and I reread it again in preparation.
So three times through and I picked up something new every time. So let's start off and tell us about your book. Just give us a summary. What was this unit company and what made them so unique?
Sure. Company E and the 141st Infantry was an all Mexican-American World War unit in World War Two. It was a Texas National Guard unit out of El Paso, Texas. And so Patriots from the Barrio tells their story and follows the men from the barrios of Texas really to the front lines. And the battles in Italy during World War Two.
Great, great. We'll get to the company E's history in a bit, but tell us this question. I'm always fascinated by with authors, historians. What inspired you to write this book?
Yeah, we have well, I grew up listening to stories from my family of a cousin of ours who had served in World War Two. I grew up listening to stories of my cousin Ramon Gutierrez from Del Rio, Texas, from from a kid growing up. I heard the stories of Ramon serving in the US Army. Ramon was wounded on three different occasions during World War Two, captured twice by the German army, escaped both times making it back across allied lines.
And he would become one of only a few Americans to be decorated for valor on the battlefield by the Soviet Union. So hearing those stories, I was always fascinated in our family. He was the the Audie Murphy of the family is what we call them. And as I was going through genealogy research, I became very fascinated with family history.
I started finding news articles about him. I connected with a cousin of mine, Gloria Cadena, who lives here in San Jose. I had never even met her and her mom is Ramon's little sister, and the light bulb just went off in my head that why hasn't anyone ever put this man's story together? Because I always found it fascinating.
And then going through research and it took me five years of research to write this book, I realized through research that he had served in the only all Mexican-American U.S. Army unit in World War Two. So the focus shifted from telling just his story to the entire unit.
Your title, Patriots from the Barrio. For those who are watching who don't know, tell us what a barrio is and tell us about the background of these American heroes.
Sure, sure. Good. Great question. And I do cover this in my presentations. Barrio to Hispanics, especially Mexican-Americans, Barrio is our neighborhood. That's that is what we called it now in 1930 in the 1940s when the US US census records were being done, US census people were writing Mexican part of town. This is Mexican town. That's what they referred it to we know we knew it as the barrio our neighborhood.
So it's the Mexican section of town in Del Rio, Texas, for instance. It's the San Felipe Barrio of Del Rio, Texas and in El Paso. It was the El Segundo Barrio of El Paso, Texas.
Great what many of these men enlisted prior to Pearl Harbor. They weren't drafted on December 8th or beyond. Was there one motivating factor or did you find that these these boys, these young men joined for a variety of reasons?
Well, many of them joined for the $21 a month that the Texas National Guard was was given out to them $21 a month for a young Mexican-American was something they weren't going to pass up. So a lot of them, for financial reasons to help their families out, would actually join the Texas National Guard.
I think that's a common story around the Depression era America. Now, we know that the military was segregated by race between African-Americans and whites, but everybody else fell under that category of white. That was not an African American. How was the decision made to put these men in the same unit, making it virtually at first an all Mexican-American company and then a few white replacements, additions?
Yeah, I found it fascinating in in 1939 there were two National Guard units, Texas National Guard units in El Paso, Company H, completely Anglo Company E was comprised entirely of the Mexican-Americans from the Barrios there, a little Paso, Texas. So they were completely segregated due to the two company. Now when the unit was federalized in 19 November of 1940, they moved to Camp Bowie in Brownwood, Texas, in early January of 1941.
They started receiving more Mexican-Americans from South Texas, including my cousin, Ramon Gutierrez, from Del Rio. As they came in, they were also placed into Company E while at Camp Bowie the 36 division actually pulled out other Mexican-Americans from other units and placed them into company E. So really Company E they have been training since 1939. So they really stood out in drills and tests because what they did was they grabbed all the veterans from the other units.
These guys have been trained since 1939, so they really stood out in training.
You mentioned in training, can you go over it, was it the same as the hundreds of thousands of other young men at the time? Were there unique experiences or did they, did they feel ostracized a bit by being segregated into their own company, or did that help them in a way or both?
I think they found themselves in normal circumstances as we, as I tried to illustrate in the book, they had always been segregated. The Mexicans always lived in the Mexican area, part of towns of Texas. So they were in there always in their own little barrios and so for them to be in all Mexican-American unit in the 36 division, it wasn't uncommon for them they just it was natural for them.
So a little bit about the training after December 7th, 1941 in America thrust into World War Two the 36 division trained at Camp Blanding, Florida. They had taken part already in the in the Louisiana maneuvers. They took part in the Carolina maneuvers, the training that they had there. And in early in 1942 they found themselves at Camp Edwards in Massachusetts where they actually went through commando training.
They were one of the first units to go through what what the US Army was fairly new to them. Was called ranger training so and they were being taught by British commandos at Camp Edwards.
Well you had mentioned that the maneuvers and you'd mentioned the 36 division "T-Patchers" the Texas unit there their paths crossed with Mark Clark who was instrumental in the Louisiana maneuvers and the the company of their regiment ships out to North Africa. But it's it's not during the landing of North Africa it's it's after the November 42 landings and and tell us about their time in North Africa but also about the transatlantic journey.
How was this was it relatively safe at that time. I think we all know the answer with the U-boats out there. But tell us a little bit about that Cross Ocean journey.
Yeah, it was a little nerve racking. And you get a bunch of guys from the barrios of Texas. You put them on a ship in the ocean for the first time. And it was it was it was kind of awkward for them. A lot of them got seasick on the way over there, but they kept busy with their music and that they played all the time.
So they went over in April of 1943 and landed in, in Algeria, in North Africa, in Iran. They continued to train in, in North Africa. As a matter of fact, they were teasing one another that the "t" on, on, on their t-patch only stood for training because that's all they were doing. They had been training since, you know, since the outbreak of World War Two.
Here they are in early 1943, they're still training they were kept out of the Sicily operation and then they were assigned to Mark Clark's Fifth Army where they spearheaded the landing at Salerno, Italy.
Yeah. So that's a great segue into the first major landing on continental Europe at Salerno in September of 43. It's also companies first combat. Can you tell us about that. I know, I know you've covered in a couple of chapters in your book, but tell us about their first taste of, of action with the enemy.
The 141st landed here in the past in the beaches of Salerno and as company was coming across the little railroad tracks they run into heavy machine gun fire and five German mark IV tanks were easily halted. Some of the men are killed instantly with tank fire machine gun fire. My cousin Ramon at this point and this is where he's awarded the Silver Star for his actions at Salerno my cousin, Ramon, witnesses a couple of the men killed in company E and machine gun fire machine gun nest was behind the tanks.
He charged the machine gun nest with his B.A.R. and the B.A.R. was shot out of his hands and he continued to charge the machine gun nest without him, without a rifle. He silenced it with a hand grenade. And then he jumped in and killed the last German soldier in hand-to-hand combat. In order to silence the machine gun nest. And that cleared the way for them to continually move forward.
And for that action, he was awarded the Silver Star by the U.S. Army. Well, the Russians had sent over an observer and officer. The Russians were really eager to learn about what the allies were going to do with this new front. The Russians had been fighting the Germans on the Eastern Front for years, and here the allies were now moving in into the European continent.
So they were really focused on on what is happening. The Russian officer over hears what my cousin Ramon had done. In silencing the machine gun and killing the last German soldier in hand-to-hand combat. He felt that this is the kind of action that would inspire his comrades back on the eastern front. And little did Ramon know at the time, but they put in a medal for him.
And later on in 44, he would be awarded the order Patriotic War, second degree by the Soviet Union during World War Two.
You had mentioned the the Mark IV's. You have a title chapter, The Iron Monsters. Tell us about this encounter.
Sure, sure. I think we need to talk about Rafael Torres during this time. Rafael Torres was a squad leader from El Paso, Texas. As a matter of fact, today would have been his 105th birthday. He was born on July 1st 1915. Rafael Torres was leading the squad and they ran into a couple of Mark IV tanks. He was carrying an old Springfield rifle and he was amazed that he was able to shoot into try to shoot at the tanks with the old Springfield rifle.
And you'd actually have they actually retreated when he shot it with the Springfield rifle. A couple of the men were wounded. Marcelino Valdez from El Paso also wounded and Rafael was wounded trying to help his buddy, Marcelino Valdez. Rafael was wounded, went back to North Africa and when he came back, it was right before San Pietro and the battle of San Pietro, where he was wounded again.
But Rafael Torres came back and lived to be about 95 years old.
Well, they the action at Salerno, the landings, the fight on the beach, they do get off the beachhead. They start getting into the tough terrain that was the Italian battlefield Alta Via, Monterotondo, San Pietro, that you mentioned earlier. This is where company and the rest of the allied forces really get a sense of how difficult this Italian campaign was going to be.
It wasn't going to be the soft underbelly. Can you can you talk about some of those actions off of the beachhead as they start slowly making their way up the Italian boot?
Yeah. So after Salerno, after they were able to push back, the Germans from Salerno and Salerno was no easy cakewalk. This was I mean, the words Dunkirk were being whispered around at the time the Germans had had made a huge counter attack at Salerno and nearly pushed the allies into the sea. So they finally got a hold of the beachhead move the Germans back north of the [?] River.
And then company E was then brought in at Monterotondo, Strategic Hill overlooking the Leary Valley into San Pietro. However, they were on Monterotondo and the surrounding mountains were even higher. So the Germans were looking right down on they were getting bombed and shelled four or five times a day. They took heavy casualties at at Monterotondo. All they could do was dig in and just hope that one of these shells didn't have their name on it.
They lost a lot of good men. Reuben Rodriguez of Paso, Texas, was killed on on that. I'm Monterotondo. Pedro T. Soto of Kingsville, Texas, was killed in action during this time. So they took they took a lot of heavy casualties there. Then after Monterotondo, they were the 36 division, did a a an attack on the village of San Pietro.
And again, the 141st took heavy casualties. It's starting to get into the winter now and it's raining, mud. It's just miserable conditions. And these guys are trying to survive.
And a quick sidebar for those. I know everybody watching is interested in World War Two. You can find easily on YouTube or Google John Houston's piece The Battle of San Pietro, to get an idea of what the actual fighting was like at combat video-- well, filmography it for the time. It's it's also it reminds me of a veteran that I had gotten close to who talked about the Italian campaign, probably apocryphal, but certainly founded in truth, that all you did was fight to get to the top of a hill or a mountain.
You feel proud for that. And then you look and you see there's the next one and there's the next one. And it's this long, hard slog. Let's switch gears a little bit. While these men were were fighting this hard slog, their loved ones, like millions of other Americans, were at home worried sick about the boy's well-being. What communication, the emails, letters.
How how were how was the barrio able to keep in touch? And what words were they getting from their--
Newspaper accounts were really important at this time, of course, throughout America. Of course, you had the the Ernie Pyle stories going out at this time and a few of these men ran into I know Rafael Torres had run into Ernie Pyle while they were there. And this is right, right in the same area that they were fighting in that Ernie Pyle wrote his his famous article is column so newspaper accounts were really important.
I want to get into one area in particular where a few of these men were wounded. Manny Rivera from El Paso, Texas, was wounded while trying to take ammunition up one of these hills and a telegram arrived back in El Paso, Texas, notifying that his is notifying his mom and he had been killed in action. It wasn't three days later till another telegram arrived and said, oops, sorry, he's just wounded.
He's OK. So you could you could imagine what the family was going through during that time. And the same thing happened to Ramon, one of the times that he would be wounded. A telegram arrived in Sonora, Texas, that he had been he had been missing in action or in or killed. They weren't able to locate him until finally they they they found Ramon later and they were able to--
But, you know, the family actually felt that it based on the telegram that he had been killed.
The the emotional roller coaster they must have been on and the chaos of combat and the communications that they don't that they had at the time that are not anything near what we have today. The the Rapido River is their next combat and it's gone down in World War Two. History is one of the most controversial and toughest, toughest actions of the Italian campaign.
It's not all of the ETO It's where company E suffered heavily. Explain this operation and what made it so difficult and how company E and their fellow T-Patchers overcame it.
Sure. So after Salerno, Albert Kesselring, the field marshal for for the German armies in Italy had devised his plan to a defensive plan in order to after after Salerno, he devised three defensive lines the Barbara Line, the Bernhardt line, and set in where San Pietro was, and then the Gustav line near Monte Casino and the Rapido river from September through January of 1944 they were heavily fortified.
Their defenses at the Gustav line and the Rapido River was the main line of defense at the time. The 36 division gets to the Rapido river. Well Major General Fred Walker was the commanding officer of the 36 Division during World War Two. But during World War One, Fred Walker was commanding a unit with the Third Division at at the Marne River.
And during that time Fred Walker was in a heavily defended position at the Marne River, and they slaughtered nearly 10,000 Germans who tried to cross the Marne River. For that, he was nicknamed the the Rock of the Marne, and he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions in during World War One. Well, we fast forward now to January of 1944 and Fred Walker's commanding the 36 division and he has orders to cross the Rapido River.
A Fred Walker knows firsthand experience. What happens when you try to cross a heavily defended river as a main line of defense? But with orders in hand he goes ahead and gives the orders to cross. In a span of 48 hours the 36 division would lose over 2000 men in its attempt to cross the Rapido river with the 141st and 143rd infantry regiments suffering heavy casualties.
Many of the men were either killed, wounded or captured. Many of them captured Ricardo Palacios, Jr from El Paso, Texas, spent 16 months in a German P.O.W. camp he crossed the Rapido River on his 21st birthday. He was one-- Ricardo Palacios Junior was one of eight men that was still alive. When I was first writing this book, and he suddenly passed away 2017.
And I always remember Ricardo because he always told me, you know, I was the one that trained Ramon when he first arrived. So he was always telling me I taught him what what he knew where he belongs. Eduardo Romo, El Paso, Texas, also captured at the Rapido River. During this time, as they're crossing the Rapido river, the allies are swinging around and landing at Anzio at the same time, Captain John Chapin was a commanding officer of Company E from El Paso, Texas.
He was leading his men across the river when he was killed in action. During that time. In 2000, a new high school was built near Fort Bliss in El Paso. And they asked the members of the surviving members of company E you said, you know, we want to we want to name this after somebody in company E. Every person said they should name it after Captain John L Chapin and they did.
In 2000 school, the doors opened to the new school. And it's the first place I had a book signing event. But yes, very controversial battle, it was so controversial that there was a congressional hearing after the war about what should happen to these officers who were in charge of these men that, you know, this this unit that lost so many American lives.
It's now company E the 141st and and the 36, you know, but especially this this unit, they seemed to be not to make light of it the Forrest Gump of the Italian campaign there were all these key places including Monte Cassino and they were part of the assault on on the areas surrounding Cassino could you could you go into detail on that another controversial episode with the bombing of the abbey--
Right. Right so right right at the foot of the river sits Monte Cassino and a sixth century abbey that's been there. And the allies feel that the Germans had been using the abbey as an to observe and to fire their artillery because artillery was so accurate that they felt, oh, they have to be in the abbey.
They have to be using it. They went back and forth what to do with the abbey until finally they gave the order and they ended up bombing the abbey and destroying a sixth century monastery. One of the most regrettable missions ever in during World War Two. They later rebuilt the abbey, of course, but yes, company E was dug in right there at the foot of Monte Cassino during the attack on on the abbey.
And until they were pulled off the line, finally what was left of them. Now, just to give you an idea of the catastrophe and the colossal blunders of the Rapido River crossing. 154 men that during this time there's only 154 men that cross the Rapido river from company e only 27 of them came back. Again, They were either killed, wounded or captured.
Rome. So Monte Cassino the break out at Anzio, the break out from the line, Rome was the eternal city. It was a key goal of General Clark and the entire Allied leadership to be the first capital city of the axis' Power to Fall would have been a major headline and it was for a couple of days until, of course, the June six, two days later, June six.
1944 with Normandy, the road to Rome wasn't kind to your cousin Ramon, though. Can you, can you tell us about his, his experiences there and sort of the end of his his time overseas.
Sure, sure. So let's, let's backtrack a little bit to the Rapido river. Ramon was one of 27 men to come back from from the Rapido river while getting over across the Rapido river he was captured like many of the men he was being led back to behind German lines when he kept tripping in the heavily dense fog near the river.
Well he didn't realize it at the time, but he was tripping over dead Americans one of the times that he would fall. He's just laid there and the two Germans that were escorting him back just kept on walking right by. He spent 24 hours on the on the German side of the river before he came back without his weapon.
Of course, so again he's one of 27 men to come back from, from the Rapido River crossing. At this time he was a private first class, after the Rapido River. He's one of only a few left that has combat experience. He totally bypassed this corporal and they made him a sergeant. They get to Anzio in late May of 1944 and they're at the battle of [?].
He's leading an advance squad, he's a sergeant now, he's leading an advanced squad and they're overrun. They take them again as prisoner this time because he's wearing sergeant stripes. They put him in an isolated area and they beat them and tortured him he was bayoneted in the back he's got, he had scars all over his back from, from the bayonets because they were looking for information during one of the times in the days that they were holding him, an allied bomb hit the building and through all the confusion, Ramon was able to get out of the building.
It was that actually Italian civilians that actually hid him away and saved him until allies came back where once badly wounded during this time, he spent a few months in in a in a hospital and he was ready to go back with company E until they told him, I'm sorry, you have to you have to go back home. You have to go back home to to Washington, DC, because the Russians had given you a medal and we need you to go pick up this medal from the Secretary of State, Cordell Hall, at the time.
So he he comes home, but the men of company E keep fighting for for nearly a whole another year to the Italian campaign through May of 45 with the final capitulation. What was the coming home experience. Obviously Ramon's was a bit unique and going to DC and receiving the the Soviet decoration but what was what did these guys do during with the demobilization the war is over they've they've for many that's been the pinnacle of what will be long healthy lives but but talk to us about their experiences.
Sure a lot of them came back and found that not much had changed in south Texas for Mexican-Americans. But these men had gone through so much and had suffered and sacrificed so much that they were no longer going to take the fact that they were walking into hamburger joints and there were signs that said no Mexicans or dogs allowed.
That's what they were that's what they came across before they went. It didn't change much when they came back. And this is why Dr. Hector Garcia formed the GI Forum to make sure that Mexican-Americans who had fought bravely for this country knew their rights and went ahead and made sure that they got the GI Bill and they went to school.
So a lot of that changed things for Mexican-Americans.
I've got to sidetrack here. You mentioned Lieutenant Chapin earlier with the school, and you mentioned the hamburger joint. Yeah. The episode in your book. Can you can you go into a little bit on that?
Sure. Sure. Gabriel Navarrette, was a very strong soldier, a very smart individual. He was a sergeant at the time while they were in Camp Bowie in Brownwood, Texas. And they kept telling Gabriel, you know, you should be an officer. You should go to officer candidate school. Gabriel takes the test and the written test, he passes it.
Then he takes the oral test. And during the after the oral test, they said, I'm sorry, we're not going to let you go to this candidate school because you have too much of an accent that was the reason why they told him he couldn't go to Officers Candidate School. He took the test three times, passed it all three times, and each time during the oral test, they told him, no, you have too much of an accent.
That's why we're not going to make you an officer. Well, it was Gabriel Navarette who was leading Ramon's advanced squad at Salerno, and he was wounded during that battle. When he came back, he was commissioned an officer in the United States Army. But while he was at Camp Bowie, as when he was made a sergeant, they wanted to go and celebrate in Brownwood, Texas.
However, they went in. There was not much to do in Brownwood, Texas, in 19, in 1940, 1941. So he went into a hamburger joint and they didn't realize a sign that was on the on the window that said no Mexicans or dogs allowed. And they told the lady in the establishment, told them if you want the food we'll give it to you in the back door.
Well the guys wanted to really bust up the joint. Gabriel talked them down and said hey just relax and just go back to base. Let's forget it. Well Captain Chapin and comes over with a full bird colonel and they talk to the, to the manager there at the establishment and he tells them why aren't you serving these officers or these men, these soldiers?
And the lady goes, well, we don't serve Mexicans and the colonel goes, Well, these are Americans. They're soldiers. You should serve them. They said, Nope, you can take your Mexicans out out of here. Well, the colonel put a standing order at the base that no soldier is allowed to go into that hamburger joint and they were quickly losing money. And it wasn't--
They went ahead and fined the, the establishment like $500 before they allowed another soldier to go back in there. But this is the kind of thing that they were they were dealing with at the time.
What is the legacy of company E? Obviously, your book helps that the men in coming back and being productive members of society and helping build the postwar America are is part of that. But what is what is the overall legacy? What lessons for today, especially for the students at JFK School who are watching today? But but for the whole audience, what did these men mean?
Well, this they were part of a very unique and historical U.S. Army unit. It was they were one of a kind. Now, there are many people out there that are going to say, well, there were Mexican-Americans in the Navy. They were Mexican-Americans. In the Marines. Yes, there were. But that's what made company E and these men very unique. It was the only such unit that was like this they fought bravely.
They sacrificed much. So did their families during this time. And I felt that they should be honored that way and they should not be forgotten. And that's why I wrote the book. I wanted the story out there because we really need to embrace what they did there. They were very heroic men.
I understand that there's a good chance that this story may be more widely told. Can you share with the audience?
Sure. So I self-published the book in 2014 originally. And in September of 2017, I received an email from someone representing Hollywood actor producer Wilmer Valderrama, and Wilmer invited me to come out and, and, and speak with him and in September of 2017 his production company, W.B. Enterprises, obtained the film rights to the book Patriots from the Barrio.
So Wilmer's plan is to produce a TV series based on the true story and and I'm sitting there talking with Wilmer, and he had already read the book and was-- For a first time writer to be sitting in the offices of a production of an actor that's very well known. And for him to be talking to you about your book was well, my I had to do everything to have my jaw from hitting the floor.
But Wilmer knew that I was coming on and speaking with the National World War Two Museum, and he wanted me to pass on this information, this little quick message so I talked to him and I said, Well, I'm going to be on with the World War Two Museum. And I asked him if he wanted to send a message.
And this is what he this is what he wanted me to share. Wilmer state in this ever changing moment we are living today, we are not only remembering and educating ourselves about where we came from, but Patriots from the barrio reminds us of the contribution our community had in making our freedom. So we're very thankful to Wilmer.
He has shined a huge Hollywood spotlight on this story. And we're really excited to be rolling up our sleeves here really quickly and getting to work on this project.
It's great that we're we're excited about it and hope you share share information as it progresses so we can share it with our friends and followers and members. If Wilmer gives you one casting decision, who plays Cousin Ramon?
I'll leave that up to him. I'll leave that up to Wilmer and the people at the studio.
Let let the professionals handle it.
Yeah, let's let them handle it.
Maybe they'll give you a cameo somewhere. The you had mentioned I think eight of the veterans were were still alive to to to be able to interview and get their insights. It's an invaluable experience we're all living through. Sadly, that window's closing. But here at the museum, it's still a major initiative to collect those stories as much as we can.
We've actually started doing our own distance oral histories, doing zooms like this where we record the stories as opposed to personally visiting them in their home where they're. Were there any special? They're all special. I get that. But are there any special stories or individual veterans who stand out and really helped put this together?
That were still alive, you're saying?
Yes, yes, yes. During the--
William Barker was special to me because I got an officer's perspective. His perspective. Thank you. Of what was happening in company and the 141st. And as an officer, he was always writing notes. And so he had great notes yeah. He had his original notebook of everything that he had written and what was happening. So throughout the book, you'll see, you'll hear through his own words of what was he, what he was thinking at the time and what was happening during that time.
I mentioned already Rafael Torres, and today was would have been his birthday. Well, genealogy played a huge role in me writing this book. So I used genealogy to really go out and try to find the families I would connect with over 60 different families of women that served in this very unique and historical U.S. Army unit. But Rafael Torres, when I found is his granddaughter, Sonia Hillman.
And in Iowa, she sent me 200 pages of his personal memoirs. So I had Rafael Torres, his own words of what was what was happening. Gabriel Salazar of El Paso also wrote his memoirs. So those are the kind of things that really helped me to put their stories together.
I had I didn't want to breeze over it or gloss over it. Ramon's coming home experience was unique going to DC, but what about his postwar life? What was his civilian life like? And did he you know, PTSD of today is not really discussed about the World War Two veterans when they came home in 45. 46. But were there any episodes of that or just give us a minute.
Ramon suffered with PTSD throughout his entire life.
When you read everything that these men went through, you could understand why. And I think if we would have had the the support for veterans like we do today, I think we would have been able to really help a lot of these World War Two veterans but yeah, Ramon suffered through through with with PTSD his entire life. He married he married Connie and Connie, his wife at the time that Ramon was in Italy, was in the US Navy WAVES during that time.
So they were both war World War Two veterans, and they had a family together, lived many years in Wichita Falls, Texas. And I'm grateful to all of their grandchildren who who really supported me in telling his story.
The along with the series project, the Wilmer Valderrama project, you have an upcoming book, another another project. Can you tell us about that?
Yeah, I'm very close to wrapping that up. I for the last 12 months I've been trying to put myself in the cockpit of a P 47 and my next book is to tell the story of Oscar Frances Perdomo, who was a 47 fighter pilot with the 464 fighting group what made he's a Mexican-American born in El Paso, Texas, raised in East L.A., the Boyle Heights area of Los Angeles, Oscar Perdomo becomes the last American ace in a day of World War Two. In order to become an ace in World War Two, you would have had to shoot down five enemy planes.
Oscar does this in one mission on August 13th. 1945, two days before Japan's surrender. He's there flying in one of their last missions over Korea. And Oscar Perdomo shoots down five enemy planes in that mission, becoming the last American ace in a day in World War Two. Very few know his story. I reached out to his family they're all very supportive of me telling their story.
And just like patriots from the barrio, I connected with many of the fighter squadron of the 464th family and for me to be able to tell their story. So that is my next project. I'm in the final editing pieces of that, and I'll be looking for a publisher.
Great, great. Well, congrats on that. So still some work to be done. Oscar seemed to be the only Hispanic American.
Did you find some experiences to be different with him being one of one as opposed to company E?
Yeah, that was that was totally different. And this is why I wanted to tell Oscar story. First of all, for him to become an officer is unique in itself, and then to become a pilot was also extraordinary. Because he's one of he's one, like you said, one of one. He was the only Hispanic in this entire fighter squadron.
And he would turn out to be the only ace of the fighter squadron during World War Two.
Well, I can't wait for that to find a publisher and be be released for me, but also for all of our all of our members. And we can bring you back for that. Before before we wrap it up here, I'm looking to see if there's any other questions. One of the questions that we always ask, what other resources are out there for somebody that wants to dig deeper?
Obviously, start with your book, but to get a better idea of the Italian campaign or of the Mexican-American experience in World War Two.
I think one of the one of the best things out there would be the oral history project at the University of Texas. I think Maggie Rivas Rodriguez has put together I mean, you could probably count on on one hand, the people that are doing that. And Maggie Rivas Rodriguez stands out to me as as one of the people who have been in the forefront of making sure Mexican-American Hispanic Americans stories are out there.
So I would definitely look at that. The Oral History Project at the University of Texas.
And Maggie was one of our original presidential counselors that we started it. It's a non governing advisory board of historians, academics, museum personnel. And Maggie certainly helped us in our infancy about six years after we opened. We do have a few questions online. You mentioned the congressional hearing on the crossing of the Rapido. Well, were there any what were the findings?
Were there any repercussions?
For a lot of what the reason why they came about was that they were looking to give Mark Mark Clark his his star to become a general and the the officers who were part of the 141st, the 143rd who survived the Rapido river crossing weren't going to have it. And they put out a resolution. It went all the way to the Congress floor.
They had a hearing, but nothing really came of it. It just brought some some headlines to the stories that, you know, this is what happened during World War Two at the Rapido river.
We have Jose Luis Salinas who says his uncle, Natividad Salinas of La Hoya was in the unit killed on the Rapido River he talked to a fellow soldier that was with them when he got shot, taking a message across the river. Do you have any did you come across Salinas in your research?
I'd have to look that up in the in the in the rosters.
Maybe we can get back to Jose after the webinar if you're able to find anything on that. Is there any information? Sergeant First Class Juan Solano wants to know, is there any information on how the P.O.W.s were treated? Were they were there any other were there prejudices expressed to them because of their heritage or--
Well, I found a lot of websites on the actual prison camps so if you know where they were kept, there's tons of Web sites that are, you know, specifically specialized in like Stalag to be and so forth. I found a lot of great information about that. Julio de Hoyos, who from Laredo, Texas, was at these camps also. He was part of a company E and captured at the Rapido River but I got a lot of photos and stuff from the family regarding Julio.
But I don't think that there was anything in there that I found specific to the Mexican-Americans.
So no, no special or extra harsh treatment due to their--
Petree asked here, how can more stories like the one first reach a wider audience and possibly influence the DOCA immigration debate? He states here, research shows 75% of Americans support immigrants. But that's not necessarily the narrative we hear. But how can how can these stories be reached? I think one part is the Hollywood treatment that always helps. And your new book that you're working on, but do you have any any pointers?
Yeah, I think that Hispanic Americans, we have to look at ourselves in the mirror. I think we can be pointing the finger said, well, you know, we got left out of that and we got left out of that. But we need to record and document our own history. Here is a good example. Why did it take 70 years for the true story of--
The only all Mexican-American US Army unit to come to light. We have got to get better at it at recording and documenting our own history because no one is going to do it for us. We have to do it.
Thank you for doing it with company. Thank you for sharing this important story. I can't help but think that yes, they're unique, but they are all American. It's not just a Mexican-American unit. Many of many of their experiences, their hardships and their heroism it really lines up with the overall narrative of the American experience in World War Two.
And thank you for sharing it. Can't wait to have you back. Please stay stay on our websites, check into Facebook and be aware of our upcoming programs and all the great digital content we've been producing. Before I close out, Dave, do you have any any final comments?
Well, I want to extend my gratitude to the National World War Two Museum to you, Jeremy. And to your entire staff there, because you recognized that the only all Mexican-American US Army unit should have a platform of this kind. We've been waiting for decades to be able to share our stories, and we've always asked the question: Where are our stories?
So I applaud you, and I thank you for giving us this platform. Thank you.
Thanks for listening. If you liked what you heard, please consider visiting National WW two museum dot org backslash podcast for more episodes. Again, that is National w w the number two museum dot org Backslash Podcasts. And don't forget to check the events and programs page at National WW two museum dot org backslash events dash programs to catch some of these conversations and lectures in real time.
This series is made possible by the Albert and Ethel Herzstein Charitable Foundation, which supports content like this from the National World War two Museum in New Orleans. Please remember to rate and subscribe. It goes a long way to helping others find this series. I'm Jeremy Collins signing off.