Monday, May 28, 2012


[In honor of Memorial Day, I am reprising this piece that originally appeared on November 12, 2007.]

As I was browsing at Williams’ Book Store in San Pedro recently, I came upon a book with a title that caught my eye: Arizona's Hispanic Flyboys 1941-1945 (Writers Club Press, 2002) by Rudolph C. Villarreal (pictured below). I flipped through its pages and immediately knew that I had to buy it. The first thought that went through my mind was: Ken Burns should have read this book.

La Bloga has extensively covered the controversy over Burns’ initial failure to include any interviews – whatsoever – with Latino veterans of World War II for his PBS documentary, The War. Only after much public outcry did he relent and add a couple of interviews. Then we learned from Gus Chavez of Defend the Honor Campaign that in the book version of the documentary, other than one reference to Mexicans when describing the population of Sacramento, Burns excludes any reference to the Latinos who served in our armed forces.

Burns should have read Villarreal’s book before moving forward with his version of history. Though Villarreal limits his book to Latinos from Arizona who flew or supported flight crews, he was able to tell the story of 77 – yes, 77 – Latinos who served this country during WW II. As Villarreal notes in his introduction:

World War II remains probably the most significant historical event of the 20th Century. It has been well documented in print and film over the last sixty years. Not much, however, has been written about Hispanics who served in uniform from 1941 through 1945. This is especially true of those who served in the so-called "glamorous" air corps of the US Army and Navy. This is a documentary of Hispanic young men from Arizona who served as pilots, navigators, bombardiers, flight engineers, gunners, and radio operators. Hispanics make up the largest ethnic minority in Arizona. Many of Arizona's Hispanics served valiantly in ground and sea forces during WWII, and today, in the Hispanic community as elsewhere, their service is remembered proudly. Less well known, however, is the contribution made by those young men in the elite volunteer services that fought the war from above.

Each “flyboy” receives a chapter that begins with the basics: a photo (if available), hometown, branch served, rank, duty (i.e., bombardier, pilot, engineer, gunner, etc.), medals won and where they did battle. Villarreal offers a narrative of each life, often footnoted, and sometimes he includes newspaper clippings with such headlines as “Sgt. Estrada Dies in Action,” or “Five Yuma Fliers Killed in Crash” or “Missing: Mesa Fighter Pilot.” These are heartbreaking accounts that are personalized by Villarreal’s extensive research. Sometimes Villarreal has nothing more than one newspaper clipping to offer; even these short entries are moving and enlightening. Other times, he has enough information to write extensively on a flyboy’s education, family and acts of valor. Sometimes we read letters from a flyboy to his loved ones. Here is an excerpt from such letter:

August 17, 1943

Hello Dad,

I have never been so tired before. My hands are still jittery with the shock of the guns. I may be able to get a good sleep tonight. Our raid today will be old headlines when you receive this, but we gave Jerry hell. It is rugged, dad... Write as often as you can. Perhaps I will hear from you. I am tired and may have to go again tomorrow. How is everybody? I wonder how little Diane is doing. Hector.

Lt. Hector E. De Vargas was killed two months later flying a mission over Germany.

At the end of his book, Villarreal includes an appendix explaining the numerous (and inevitable) acronyms and abbreviations used throughout the text. Interestingly, Villarreal also offers an in-depth bibliography which demonstrates that others have chronicled the role of Latinos in WW II.

Villarreal is a native of Morenci, Arizona, and currently makes his home in Tempe with his wife, Mary Ellen. He is a graduate of Northrop Institute of Technology, and is retired after 30 years in the aerospace industry, having worked for Douglas, Lockheed and Allied Signal. Villarreal served in the United States Army from 1964 to 1966.

Flyboys from Arizona with names like Sosa, Gallegos, Ochoa and Campos fill these pages with their brave acts and dedication. If Villarreal could tell the stories of 77 Latino flyboys from one state, how is it that Burns failed so miserably in his attempt to tell the "real" story of those who fought in WW II?

In sum, Villarreal has written a gripping and indispensable testament to the bravery and contributions of Latinos who fought in World War II.

Arizona’s Hispanic Flyboys may be purchased through a myriad of online booksellers or you can ask for it at your favorite bookstore and they will order it for you. Also, if you wish to read an interesting profile of Villarreal, visit this link to a piece written last year by Angela Cara Pancrazio for The Arizona Republic. [Photo credits: photo of Rudolph C. Villarreal from The Arizona Republic; photo of a group of Flyboys from p. 171 of book.]


Manuel Ramos said...

Very appropriate post for Veterans' Day. Good job. I agree, Burns should have read Villareal's book.We should honor all those who served and sacrificed. And we should look closely at and speak out about the policies that require such sacrifice. In terms of Iraq I'd suggest the recent movie, In the Valley of Elah.

Lisa Alvarado said...

"When we learned from Gus Chavez of Defend the Honor Campaign that in the book version of the documentary, other than one reference to Mexicans when describing the population of Sacramento, Burns excludes any reference to the Latinos who served in our armed forces."

What an impoverished time we live in, what a narrow small man. I will not be watching Ken Burns again, and I'll let my local PBS station know why.

Daniel, you do our heroes a great service as do all the the writers who bear witness.

msedano said...

Let PBS' successful campaign to write us out of US history (baseball, no latinos; jazz, no latinos) be its own reward. I urge all who have donated money to their local public broadcasting station to spend that money on yourselves. Obviously, PBS doesn't deserve your money or respect.


Anonymous said...

When Mexican people are left out of history, we need to protest loudly. I contacted PBS that Ken Burns was leaving us out. Did you? Secondly, why are Mexican people left out of history? Did you write yours and get it published? Even a letter-to-the-editor is read by many.
Each of us needs to share our dreams, our accomplishments, by communicating. No one knows about us if we don't speak up.
Carolina in Arizona