THE HISPANIC EXPERIENCE
Hispanics in Military Service
Houston Institute for Culture
LOUIE DOMINGUEZ: AN AMERICAN HERO
By Donna S. Morales and John P. Schmal
When Louie Dominguez was born on July 20, 1926, it was a day of both celebration and mourning for the Dominguez family of Turner, Kansas. In recent years, Louie's mother, Luisa Lujan de Dominguez had grown progressively weaker and more fragile with each of her pregnancies. While Luisa had managed to pull through in the past, her general poor health and poor nutrition had led to serious complications this time. Although little Louie survived the birthing process, Luisa experienced serious postpartum hemorrhage following childbirth.
Both of Louie's parents were immigrants from the Mexican state of Zacatecas, but all but two of his older siblings had been born in the United States. And, although they spoke Spanish at home, the Dominguez family was very focused on making the best of their now permanent home in Kansas. By 1930, the Mexican-American community of Kansas City had grown considerably from its beginnings around 1905.
But people of Mexican origin in the Kansas City were, for the most part, segregated and forced to live in substandard conditions. They could not eat in certain restaurants or go to any theater they wanted to. Employment discrimination against Hispanics was widely practiced and Mexican children could not attend certain schools. Even some churches were segregated.
However, little Louie was shielded from these deprivations because the Dominguez family lived in Turner. On a little hill in Turner, ten Mexican families lived side by side in relative isolation. Living next door to the Dominguez family was the Rangel family. Esperanza Rangel (now Esperanza Amayo) became Louie's childhood playmate and friend. In a telephone interview with the authors, Esperanza fondly remembers that her life in Turner seemed so simple during the 1930s and the early 1940s.
Esperanza and Louie had both attended Turner Grade School, and Louie had later gone on to Turner High School. Esperanza said that "it seems like yesterday that we were children. Louie and I ran across cow pastures and climbed over barbed wire fences as we made our way to Turner Grade School." With a sigh, she concluded, "Our life was very happy and carefree before World War II." However, their idyllic lives would soon be interrupted by a worldwide conflagration that would cost the lives of at least fifty million people.
On the afternoon of December 7, 1941, Geronimo Dominguez returned to home from church and family socializing with his three children who still lived at home: 21-year-old Effie, 19-year-old Erminio and 15-year-old Louie. After turning on the radio, the Dominguez family heard the startling news: The Japanese Imperial Navy had launched a surprise attack on the American naval fleet at Pearl Harbor, killing 2,235 servicemen and sixty civilians. Equally devastating was the fact that our entire Hawaii fleet, sitting at anchor in the harbor, was destroyed. Simultaneously, the Japanese launched military strikes throughout Southeast Asia, including invasions of the Philippine Islands (an American colony), Singapore, Malaysia, and the Dutch East Indies.
Geronimo, by now, suffered from tuberculosis and a chronic cough. Although he was only fifty-seven years old, he was not a well man. With the startling news, the Dominguez children fell into a state of shock and did not fully comprehend what this could mean for them or for the country. But, as the reality sank in, both Erminio and Louie started to express anger and outrage over this surprise attack. "How the could the Japanese do this to us," Erminio asked, "what would make them thing they could get away with it?"
The whole family listened when President Franklin Delano Roosevelt made his famous speech to the American people, decrying the savage assault on American territory. The President's opening words - "Yesterday, December 7, 1941 - a date which will live in infamy - the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan." Mr. Roosevelt pointed out that the Japanese and American governments had been having conversations "toward the maintenance of peace in the Pacific." But all Japan's peaceful gestures, it now appeared, had been feigned to lull the United States into a false sense of security. On December 8, the U.S. Congress - acting on the request of the President - declared war on Japan.
In Berlin on December 8, 1941, the German dictator Adolph Hitler was elated, stating to his Propaganda Minister, Josef Goebbels, that "we have ally that has not been defeated in 1,500 years!" Soon after, on December 11, Germany and Italy - the two primary Axis Powers of Europe - declared war on the United States. What the Axis Powers did not realize at the time is that, instead of crippling an enemy and rendering him ineffective, they had awakened a sleeping giant, the United States of America.
Once he had received the news about the actions of Germany and Italy, President Roosevelt addressed the American people, explaining that "the long-known and the long-expected has thus taken place. The forces endeavoring to enslave the entire world now are moving toward this hemisphere. Never before has there been a greater challenge to life, liberty and civilization." Once again at Roosevelt's request, the United States Congress declared war, this time against Germany and Italy. In a mere five days, America had gone from a nation at peace to a nation at war with three formidable enemies, Germany, Italy and Japan.
Now a major world war loomed over the lives of the Mexican American families on the hill in Turner. Esperanza's brothers, Solomon and Tony Rangel, had already gone to war, as did another neighbor, Isaiah Zamarripa, who became an officer in the Army-Air Force. Then, on September 2, 1942, Louie's older brother, Erminio, joined the military. Like most other Americans, Erminio had no illusions and knew that it would be a long road to Berlin and Tokyo. Erminio's first military assignment was with the 2nd Squadron of the 102nd Cavalry Regiment, part of which would later be designated as the 117th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron (Mechanized). After several months, he was sent to the African Theater, after which he moved on to Italian Front.
Erminio, Isaiah, Solomon and the other neighborhood boys became roll models to young Louie, who was still too young to go to the Army. Altogether, the ten Mexican-American families on the hill would contribute five soldiers to the war effort, including both Louie and Erminio. During this period, the movements of Allied and Axis Fronts and the casualty reports became a major preoccupation for the little Mexican-American community in Turner.
Because they were neighbors, Louie and Esperanza would both go to draw water from the same water pump outside. With delight, Esperanza recalls that whenever she went outside to fetch water, Louie would frequently come out at the same time and help her pump the water. She told the authors that she and Louie had developed an attraction for each other and that, from his house, Louie may have watched for her daily journeys to the water pump. She recalls "I sensed an awakening attraction, yet meaningful words were left unspoken and disallowed by both time and circumstance."
As American forces began to engage the enemy on a wide range of fronts in 1943, young Louie watched the progress of the war with great interest. He was intrigued and fascinated by the image of soldiers marching off to war to save America from the Fascist threat. Louie admired and emulated his older brother, Erminio, and aspired to be like him. He could not wait for the opportunity to become a soldier and wear his own uniform.
On April 13, 1943, Geronimo Dominguez passed away at his home in Turner, Kansas. For the last year of his life, Geronimo had been suffering from pulmonary tuberculosis. He had grown steadily weaker and sicker over the years. Up to the day of his death, Geronimo had refused to give permission to Louie to join the military. After his father had died, Louie pleaded with his siblings to approve his entry into the armed forces. But his brothers and sisters also believed that Louie was too young to go to war and possibly risk death at the hands of a fierce and desperate enemy that was being pushed into a corner.
On June 6, 1944, the largest armada ever assembled in history reached the shores of Normandy in France. In the great amphibious operation of the Twentieth Century, 3,000 landing craft, 2,500 other ships and 500 naval vessels - as well as 822 aircraft - delivered 154,000 British, Canadian, and American soldiers to the shores of Normandy. By the end of that day, Hitler's Atlantic Wall had been breached and the Allies struggled to increase their foothold in France. The Allies suffered 9,500 casualties that day, while the Germans probably lost a slightly smaller number of soldiers.
But the landings at Normandy were only the beginning of the end for Hitler. The Allies made slow progress in expanding their beachheads, and supplies and reinforcements were not coming ashore as rapidly as they had hoped for. A great deal was yet to be done, and America was continuing to send more boys off to war.
Seventeen-year-old Louie Dominguez - a few days away from graduation from Turner High School - paid careful attention to the news from the Normandy battlefields. He wanted desperately to become a soldier like his older brother Erminio and wanted to do all that he could to prepare himself for this mission. Louie talked incessantly to his friends and family about his intention to become a soldier.
Finally, July 30th arrived, and Louie Dominguez was eighteen years old. Louie celebrated his birthday by going to Missouri and enlisting in the army almost immediately. Then, on August 15, 1944, Louie Dominguez followed his dream and reported for basic training at Fort McClellan in Alabama. Esperanza soon learned about Louie's enlistment.
Commenting on the last time she saw Louie, Esperanza told the authors, "Louie looked so fine in his Army uniform as he strode across the dirt road on the hill in Turner." After he had joined the Army, Louie had developed a new walk. When he wore his uniform, Louie - already a very handsome young man - now walked with a determined and purposeful gait, exuding both confidence and pride in his new career. Esperanza noted that Louie, with his striking good looks and his sharp well-tailored uniform, Louie cut a dashing and impressive figure as he prepared to go overseas.
Esperanza believes that this walk reflected his enthusiasm for his new career and his important mission. For a young boy from a poor Mexican-American family in Turner, the armed services represented a step up in life. Reflecting on her last meeting with Louie, Esperanza wrote "He went to war radiating youthful and patriotic eagerness."
A month after his enlistment, Louie and the rest of the Dominguez family were informed by the military that Erminio Dominguez was missing in action on the French front. It would be a couple of weeks before they learned that Erminio had actually survived the Battle of Montrevel and was now a prisoner of war in a German POW camp. This startling information greatly upset young Louie, who was now engaged in his basic training at Fort McClellan. It was a difficult period for Louie, who had looked up to and emulated his older brother.
Learning that his hero and role model had been captured had a dramatic effect on the young teenager. Enraged that the Germans were still capable of mounting such counterattacks and fearing for his brother's life, Louie's patriotic fervor reached a fever pitch. Writing from Fort McClellan, Louie promised his family in Kansas that he would finish his basic training and - with great enthusiasm - take part in the defeat of Nazi Germany, with high hopes that his brother would one day be a free man again. Louie had come to recognize that this war was - for him - a special mission, both to serve his country and to help liberate his brother from German captivity.
After finishing basic training, Louie was attached to the 75th Infantry Division and soon found himself traveling across the Atlantic Ocean on his way to the war zone. By the end of the year, Louie had landed right in the middle of the war zone. In these desperate days, Germany was very clearly losing this war. Allied troops had pushed up to the German border in some areas, while the Russians were making steady gains along the long eastern front. In the meantime, American and British bombs devastated many German cities with intensive bombing. And, in the south, most of the Italian peninsula had fallen into Allied hands.
But, Hitler had one more ace up his sleeve. On December 16,1944, eight German armored divisions and thirteen infantry divisions launched an all-out attack on five divisions of the United States in the Ardennes area of Belgium, Luxembourg and France. Initially, the Ardennes offensive - more popularly known as the "Battle of the Bulge - caught the Allies off guard and pushed back several American divisions.
With this sudden threat looming over the Western Front, the Allied Command quickly rushed the 75th Infantry Division up to the front lines, which they reached just before Christmas. Louie belonged to the 2nd Platoon of "A Company" (Able Company) of the 289th Infantry Regiment. Able Company saw their first action on Christmas Day, near the town of Erezec in Belgium. The 75th Infantry Division - because of its recent arrival and its young, new recruits - was originally dubbed as the "Diaper Division." But the division earned the respect of the other units because of its distinguished record during the Ardennes battle and some observers started to call them the "Bulge Busters."
During the period December 24, 1944 and January 24, 1945, the 75th Infantry Division played a pivotal role in turning back the German offensive, but their losses were heavy: 407 killed, 1,707 wounded, and 334 missing. By March 10, the 75th Division had moved up to the Rhine River, the border between Germany and Belgium. In essence, they were mere feet away from the native soil of the German people and expected that enemy resistance would grow more determined.
On March 10, 1945, the 75th Division occupied a sector on the west bank of the Rhine, across from Duisberg and Wesel. Their mission was to defend the west bank against any German attacks or patrol activities and "to guard communication lines, utilities, bridges, and culverts; to improve the defensive positions; to dispatch night patrols to the east shore in order to discover the enemy strength, order of battle, and the terrain situation." The 75th was successful in preventing German patrols from crossing the Rhine to engage in reconnaissance activity.
Between March 10 and 24, the Division sent more than thirty patrols organized by three regiments across the Rhine. According to the official 75th Division history, nineteen of these patrols "were able to produce valuable enemy intelligence, including information of enemy strength, dugouts, trenches, pillboxes, wire, observation posts, 88mm guns, antiaircraft, machine gun, mortar and artillery positions. These operations were made hazardous by the river itself, with its cold waters and swift currents; by enemy searchlights, and by enemy counter-patrol activities. As a result, several of the patrols suffered casualties."
On March 13th, Sergeant Flores of the 289th Infantry Regiment's A Company led one of these missions across the Rhine. Louie took part in this reconnaissance patrol. On their way back, however, enemy fire destroyed the kayak in which Privates Sawgle and Peterson were traveling in. Fortunately, Louie and the other three men in the patrol reached the west bank of the Rhine safely. Finally, on March 29, the 75th Division completed its crossing to the east bank of the Rhine River, officially penetrating German territory.
On March 31, the 289th stopped short of the small city of Marl, a short distance east of the Rhine River. As they moved forward, they had encountered direct high velocity fire on their flanks. Then, as they approached a hill on which the Germans were entrenched, the captain of Louie's unit carefully surveyed the situation and came to the conclusion that, in order to take this elevated stronghold, he would have to send an advance unit forward to locate the enemy's exact position.
When the Captain asked for volunteers, Louie Dominguez quickly stepped forward. Soon after, Louie and several other soldiers of A Company advanced up the hill towards the German positions. Suddenly enemy fire targeted the American soldiers and several of the soldiers fell to the ground. On this day, five weeks before the surrender of Nazi Germany, 18-year-old Louie Dominguez died for his country.
During its ninety-four days in combat, the 75th Infantry had the following losses: 817 soldiers killed in action (KIA), 3,314 wounded in action, and 111 who died of wounds, representing almost 60% of the total unit strength. The 75th captured 20,630 German soldiers. For its combat participation in World War II, the soldiers of the 75th Division received numerous awards, including four Distinguished Service Crosses, 193 Silver Stars, 7 Legion of Merits, 30 Soldier´s Medals, and 1321 Bronze Star Medals. For his own military service, Louie Dominguez posthumously received six medals, including the bronze star, the Purple Heart and the combat infantry badge.
At the time of Louie's death on March 31, 1945, Erminio Dominguez was still interned at the Moosburg POW Camp (Stalag VIIA) in the Bavarian state of Germany. However, on April 29, 1945, American forces, led by General George S. Patton, liberated Mossburg. With these events, Erminio Dominguez became a free man. The brave veteran of the French and Italian campaigns received a warm welcome from the Dominguez family in Kansas City. However, when Erminio found out that his younger brother Louie had died in combat just a few weeks earlier, his sense of loss was overwhelming. Although Erminio received four bronze stars, the Purple Heart, the service ribbon and a good conduct medal for his extraordinary service to his country, he never spoke of his experiences in World War II to anyone ever again.
Esperanza Rangel, in her anguish, struggled to understand the loss of her childhood friend, Louie Dominguez, and pondered over the meaning of his death in battlefield action. World War II represented a bittersweet experience for Mexican-American men in Kansas and the nation as a whole. Although they had helped win the war through their important contributions, Mexican-American soldiers returning from overseas were discriminated against in education, employment, and public accommodations. When she witnessed these injustices to her brothers and other Hispanics in Kansas City, Esperanza felt outrage and disgust.
For some time, she even questioned the validity of the sacrifices of Mexican Americans in war, feeling that these contributions were not appreciated by some Americans. When she heard that Louie had been killed in action, Esperanza was told by her neighbors and friends that "Louie died in the name of peace and liberty." And yet, in an interview with the authors, she observed, "Mexican-American servicemen returning to Kansas from World War II did not earn an ounce of respect for their war duties and sacrifices. Instead of a confetti and ticker-tape welcome, these conquering heroes were blatantly denied the liberties and ordinary human rights guaranteed to Anglos."
Over the years, however, Esperanza saw a change in attitudes and a new appreciation of the contributions of Mexican Americans to America's protection and defense. On May 5, 2004, fifty-nine years after the death of Louie Dominguez, the authors visited with Esperanza at her home in Kansas City. In discussing her childhood friend, Esperanza noted that Louie would have turned 78 in July, but, "for me, Louie will remain forever young." The authors also visited with Louie's surviving siblings, all of whom spoke of their little brother in sorrowful terms because, it seems, they too still saw him as a vivacious and energetic 18-year-old boy. In separate interviews, his 92-year-old brother Jessie Dominguez and 86-year-old sister Bessie Morales would bow their heads and say quietly, "And he never came back."
In the present day, Esperanza sees the contributions of Louie, Solomon, Erminio and Isaiah in a different light. She explained to the authors that, with time, Mexican Americans had become "free to struggle and rise above our adversities." Proudly, she points out that "we [Mexican Americans in Kansas] have contributed in war and in peace to the productivity and stability of this community and now enjoy a self-fulfilling and respectable place in its society." Today, Esperanza proudly states that "in this era of racial justice, I finally know that indeed my friend did die for me. His memory will live with me always."
Note: Donna Morales is the niece of Louie Dominguez.
Copyright © Donna S. Morales and John P. Schmal. This work has been derived in its entirety from "The Dominguez Family: A Mexican-American Journey" (scheduled for publication, Summer 2004, Heritage Books, item M2527, available at: http://marketplacesolutions.net/secure/heritagebooks/merchant2/merchant.mvc?Screen=PROD&Store_Code=HBI&Product_Code=M2527.
Amayo, Esperanza. "All Equal in Death," Kansas City Star, June 3, 1984.
MacCarrick, Franklin C. "Up Front With the Able Doughboys, 289th Infantry: History of Able Company" (August 1945). [The diary of A Company was graciously donated by Jacque Stoltz (a veteran of the 4th platoon) and by Steven Graber.]
About the Authors: Donna Morales and John Schmal are the authors of "The Indigenous Roots of a Mexican-American Family" (Heritage Books) about Ms. Morales' indigenous roots in Jalisco. Ms. Morales has indigenous ancestors from Lagos de Moreno and Spanish ancestors from Teocaltiche.
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