Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Answering Their Country’s Call

In the book, Among the Valiant, Mexican-Americans in World War II and Korea, by Raul Morin, he chronicles the extraordinary and little-known heroics of Mexican Americans in combat.  One such story tells of Company E, 144th Regiment of the 36th (Texas) Division, the “all Chicano Infantry Unit.”

According to Morin, the soldiers were all Spanish-speaking, and included Mexicans, Mexican-Americans, and “so-called Latin-Americans.” Most were former members of other units, including the Texas National Guard. Thus, while other companies filled their ranks with “raw recruits”, Company E was “up to full strength with seasoned and well-conditioned GI’s.”

The unit says Morin, shipped out of Staten Island in 1943, bound for Europe. “Everyone agreed that Easy Company ‘era la mas alegre.’”  They kept each other company onboard with songs, corridos, boleros and rancheras, skits, and comedy acts using language from the barrios they had come from, aboard two ships, the “Argentina”, and the “Brazil.”

Among the first Americans to land in Italy, they led the assault on Salerno on September 9, 1943.  “They waded right into the thick of things, [and] within one hour the ‘boys’ in E Company became men, battling back and forth with the Nazi defenders,” and it wasn’t long before one of them distinguished himself with bravery, “a tall, bronze-faced Chicano Sergeant named Manuel S. Gonzalez, better known to his friends as ‘El Feo’ (the ugly one).” 

His unit had been pinned down by mortars and a Nazi machine-gun nest, and as he crawled toward the German lines, a grenade exploded beside him, wounding him in the back and in one hand. “But he did not stop until he reached the German position.” Says Morin, “when Gonzalez came crawling back to his outfit, the mortars and the machine gun had been silenced. He earned himself a Distinguished Service Cross, in the process and the respect of his men.

Morin goes on the document many engrossing tales of the bravery and bravado of Mexican American soldiers who distinguished themselves in combat, seventeen of whom were awarded Congressional Medals of Honor, and many more were awarded lesser awards.  

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