Mexican American War Stories from World War II
Learn about the contributions of Mexican Americans through the war stories of Mexican American soldiers and pilots who fought in WWII.
Mexican American War Stories from WWII
Gilbert Orrantia: I was the only officer. I was the only pilot in the whole group who was Mexican-American. The whole group consisted of four squadrons, 64 airplanes, 64 crews.
Richard: After more than sixty years, Gilbert Duran Orrantia still fits into his flight jacket. When World War II broke out, he was an Arizona college student training to be a teacher. But he dropped out to join the Army Air Corps.
Gilbert Orrantia: I just went in, because I thought that was the best thing for me and for the Army. They needed people who had two years of college, and I needed to be in some place that could challenge me rather than carry a rifle, say, across Germany or wherever.
Richard: The young cadet flew a twin-engine bomber.
Gilbert Orrantia: It was noisy, but the very first mission I went on, they blew off a wingtip, and I thought, is this thing going to get back?' Well, it did great!
Richard: While discrimination in the armed forces was uncommon, it reared its ugly head on occasion like the time Lieutenant Orrantia was asked to work with a young man named Ramirez.
Gilbert Orrantia: So he reported to me and he became my radio gunner, because the other pilots didn't want him. They didn't want him because he was Hispanic, and Hispanics were not supposed to be that intelligent. Well, and the same thing happened with my crew chief. No one would take him because his name was Torres, and he was the best crew chief we had.
Richard: Another Air Corps volunteer, Joe Hernandez from San Antonio, landed in a job, not for the faint of heart, as a turret-gunner, flying bombing missions over Germany.
Joe Hernandez: Another really bad experience happened to me on Friday the 13th. One of our airplanes came up right in front of us, and the prop wash, you know, the propeller flipped us over. We fell down about 5,000 feet. We were at about 20,000 at that time, and we went down to about 14 - 15,000 when finally the plane...the pilot and the co-pilot, pulled it out.
Richard: As part of the famed 82nd Airborne Division, Daniel Ramirez worked on board C-47s, planes that towed gliders across the English Channel during the harrowing D-Day invasion.
Daniel Ramirez: They had 35 paratroopers in one of those gliders, and some of those guys never got out. They went in and shot them even before they hit the ground.
Richard: D-Day, June 6, 1944 marked the Allied invasion of Europe, and John D. Luna from Ceres, California was there.
John D. Luna: Well, when I first went in, that was bad. That was very bad. I saw my buddies fall to the side of me. I tried to help them. They had blood all over. I just couldn't help that.
Doroteo Cruz: The seas were real heavy, and some of our tanks just went to the bottom and didn't come up. But we managed to make it to shore, and it was real crowded. We couldn't get out. We were closed in for several weeks, and we were bombarded day and night. And people were dying all around me. And all I did was prayed and fall to the ground. That's all, and it wasn't my turn.
Ernesto Pedregon Martinez: I wanted to pay tribute to the different divisions that had fought throughout America's Wars.
Richard: Ernesto Pedregon Martinez is an artist who honors the armed forces on canvas. During World War II his unit liberated the Nazi concentration camp at Nordhausen. We were struggling to tear down the gate, and from far away in the barracks, we started seeing, like, a little black cloud moving.
And we almost opened up on them, you know, because we thought they were soldiers. And as they came close, it started getting clear that they were people. And we thought it was an insane asylum, because a lot of them were almost completely nude. Eventually I think we liberated about five thousand prisoners alive.
Richard: How did these young Mexican-American soldiers, many of whom had never been but a few miles from home, deal with the carnage, the danger, and the loneliness?
Joe Arambula: Every night that we were in our camp or in our foxhole, I always said my rosary. Faith and friendship: two pillars of strength among G-I's like Joe Arambula from San Antonio.
Joe Arambula: To watch over me, and secondly, it kept me awake.
Richard: Awake in the foxholes, he shared with Amos, his buddy from Missouri.
Joe Arambula: He's a fine man, just like a brother to me. Joe had already lost two of his brothers in battle. Then Amos died when the truck he and Joe were riding in rolled over. His widow wrote to me after he got killed, and I took it pretty hard because he was...we looked after each other. Even as the truck rolled over, he grabbed me. He grabbed me. Then after the first roll, I got knocked out. I don't even remember, but that's where he got killed.
Mexican American War Stories from World War II
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