Did You Know?

Some 200,000 Latinos were mobilized for World War I, most being Mexican-Americans.  William Rico was in a formation of the U.S. Army, the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF), involved in the Russian Civil War in Vladivostok, Russia.  The AEF was part of the larger Allied North Russia Intervention whose major objective was to rescue 40,000 men of the Czechoslovak Legion who were being held up by Bolshevik forces.  Concurrently, about 5,000 American soldiers were sent to Arkhangelsk, Russia by President Wilson as part of the separate Polar Bear Expedition.

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The family of a military hero who died in action in World War II was denied access to a town's only chapel for services due to their racist policy of discrimination.  Felix Z. Longoria was a Mexican-American from Three Rivers, Texas who served in the United States Army as a private.  He was killed in battle during World War II in Luzon, Philippines in 1945, however it wasn't until 1948 that his body was sent home for burial with honors.  At the time, discrimination was prevalent, and the funeral director would not allow the Longoria family to use the chapel.  Dr. Hector Garcia, founder of the G.I. Forum, attempted to help and when he was also refused, he requested and was given assistance by then Texas Senator and future President Lyndon B. Johnson who offered to arrange the burial at Arlington National Cemetery.  Longoria was buried there with full military honors in February 1949.

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There was a Cuban Latina who took part in the Civil War disguised as a male soldier.  Loreta J. Velazquez, also known as Harry T. Buford, fought in the First Battle of Bull Run, Ball’s Bluff and Fort Donelson.  When discovered, she served the Confederacy as a double agent.

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A Latino-American endured one of the longest periods as a Prisoner of War in history.  Everett Alvarez was the first pilot shot down in 1964 during Operation Pierce Arrow in the Vietnam War.  He spent over eight years at the Hoa Lo Prison (sarcastically known as the Hanoi Hilton).  John McCain became a fellow prisoner when he was shot down in 1967.

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The very first U.S. Marine killed in the Iraqi War was an Orphan from Guatemala.  Jose Antonio Gutierrez was born in Guatemala City and in 1997 he followed the path of many of his countrymen and crossed illegally into California.  He was detained by the Immigration and Naturalization Service, then received asylum.  He joined the Marine Corps in 2002 to give back to this country.  Gutierrez was killed in the opening of the Iraqi War – in the Battle of Umm Qasr.  He was awarded his U.S. citizenship posthumously by then President George Bush.

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A famous Hall of Fame baseball player had a Latina mother.  Ted Williams was born to May Venzor who was a Mexican-American from El Paso, Texas.  He was also a fighter pilot in Korea and World War II. 

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In World War II Mexico sent El Escuadron 201 (The Aztec Eagles) as part of the Mexican Expeditionary Air Force to aid the Allied war effort.  Their main mission was in the Philippine Island of Luzon in December 1945.

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The first Latino that received the Medal of Honor served in the Civil War.  His name was Corporal Joseph H. De Castro and he distinguished himself during Pickett’s Charge in the Battle of Gettysburg.

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A Mexican-American teenager deliberately spent years in a Japanese internment camp during World War II.  In 1942 Ralph Lazo empathized, because of his own personal experience with racism and discrimination, with his Japanese-American friends and their families.  When he found that they were going to be incarcerated at Manzanar internment camp Lazo was outraged and (passing for Japanese because of his skin color) went with them without even being asked if he was Japanese.  In fact, Lazo was elected President of his class at Manzanar High School.  In August 1944 he left the camp because he was inducted into the U.S. Army.  He later on graduated from U.C.L.A. (University of California Los Angeles) and got a master’s degree at Cal State Northridge.  He is the subject of the film Stand Up for Justice: The Ralph Lazo Story.

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An incredibly famous pinup in World War II was a Latina.  Rita Hayworth, originally Margarita Cansino, eventually became one of the 1940’s most famous stars and pinup icons for World War II soldiers.  To reach this status, she changed her name and her appearance in many ways

that seemed to obscure her Latina roots.

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There was a 16-year-old Latino youngster who helped catch Nazi spies.  Anthony Acevedo was from San Bernardino, CA and in his youth was made to go to a local school for non-white students.  As a result of his stepmother being deported to Mexico and his family experiencing discrimination, his father moved his family to Durango, Mexico in 1937.  As a teenager Acevedo and a friend intercepted radio messages sent in morse code from German agents operating in Mexico to German submarines operating in coastal waters.  As a result, the agents were captured and tried in court.  In 1942 Acevedo reported for the draft out of American patriotism.  During war time Acevedo was captured by the Germans at the Battle of the Bulge.  A Nazi commander said that he looked like a Jew and he was sent to the death camp at Berga.  That is where he kept a diary (which if found out was punishable by automatic death) which listed in detail the death of each soldier.  He was tortured after his role in capturing German espionage agents was found out.  Acevedo during his imprisonment tried to keep his fellow POW’s alive by “cooking”, adding cats, grass, rats, sand, wood shavings and other material to the bread they received on some days.  He died on February 11, 2018.

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