THE HISPANIC EXPERIENCE
American Heritage and Patriotism
Houston Institute for Culture
MEMORIAL DAY SPECIAL FEATURE
IN THE SERVICE OF THEIR COUNTRY: ONE FAMILY'S PATRIOTISM
By Donna S. Morales and John P. Schmal
Once again, Memorial Day has arrived. For many people, Memorial Day has great significance; but to many others, it is just another holiday. But to me and to my family, Memorial Day represents something very special and significant. For my family, it represents the sacrifices that one Mexican-American family made in its efforts to become part of the "American Dream."
My name is Donna Morales and I am a member of the Dominguez Family of Kansas City. Our family came to the United States ninety-four years ago (in 1909) and arrived in Kansas City eighty-six years ago. My family's services in the railroad and meatpacking industries of Kansas City were very much desired and appreciated by the Kansas business community. From a social standpoint, however, we were not warmly received in the heart of America by many of our fellow citizens.
For the first three decades of our stay in Kansas, our fellow countrymen engaged in a very blatant discrimination against us. We could not eat at certain restaurants, could not attend certain church services, were not allowed in some movie theaters, and could not send our school to certain schools. And my mother has told me that many times, children in her neighborhood threw rocks at her as she walked home from school.
But, once a family has embraced its new home in America, it will go to great efforts to contribute its services to that new home and become a part of its social fabric. This is, in fact, the hallmark of many Mexican-American families, including my Dominguez family. My family is a very patriotic family and, like many other American families, we have been willing to make great sacrifices for the country we love. This is the story of my family's sacrifice.
On Sunday, December 7, 1941, many years before I was born, the Dominguez family returned to their home in Turner, Kansas after attending church services. Upon turning on the radio, they heard the startling news. According to the radio reports, the Japanese Imperial Navy had launched a surprise attack on the American naval fleet at Pearl Harbor. Nineteen-year-old Erminio Dominguez and fifteen-year-old Louie Dominguez huddled around the radio with their father Geronimo Dominguez. By this time, the older siblings of Erminio and Louie had already left home to start their own families. Their mother Luisa had died in childbirth with Louie way back in 1926.
Although their parents had been born in Sain Alto, Zacatecas, Mexico, Erminio and Louie had both been born and raised in Kansas City. And as American citizens, they felt a great sense of outrage and betrayal with this surprise attack. The implications for these important developments became clear to Americans in every part of the country. Within days, we at war with Germany, Italy, and Japan, a formidable alliance. Able-bodied men in every town of every state made painful decisions to leave their families behind to defend their nation in its time of need. Such was the case for Erminio.
Nine months later, on September 2, 1942, after turning 20, Erminio Dominguez enlisted in the 102nd Cavalry Regiment, although this Regiment would later be redesignated as the 117th Cavalry Reconnaissance (Mechanized) Squadron. The 117th Squadron was sent overseas to England in 1943 and served as a security force for General Eisenhower during the North African campaign. However, in April 1944, the 117th Squadron was attached to the Fifth Army under the command of General Mark Clark and ordered to embark for Naples, where it landed on May 16, 1944.
The Squadron moved into combat on May 22 to relieve the 36th Division. Soon the Squadron moved to a location some 100 miles south of Rome. In only twelve days, the Squadron advanced nearly 100 miles, against strong enemy resistance, and entered the Eternal City on June 5th as one of the leading elements of the final drive on that city. The Squadron continued to spearhead advances to the north until, on June 29, it was relieved of its assigned missions and ordered to proceed to Naples, where it was reassigned to the VI Corps, 7th Army, and prepared for Operation Anvil, the American invasion of Southern France. During this time, some American military leaders had decided that an Allied invasion along the southern Mediterranean shore would help relieve the American forces trying to break out of Normandy.
Meanwhile, at home, Erminio's brothers and sisters watched the progress of the war with great concerns. Most of his siblings were married with families to support. However, 17-year-old Louie -- the baby of the family -- saw the war in a different light. The young teenager had watched the progress of Erminio's military career and was anxious to play a role in the great struggle against Hitler. Louie admired and emulated his older brother and could not wait to become a soldier. To his friends and family members, Louie talked incessantly about his longing to become a soldier and serve his county like his older brother Erminio.
By this time, both Louie's parents were deceased. So, when Louie approached his siblings, asking them to sign the papers that would permit him -- a minor -- to enlist as a soldier, the family firmly rejected his request. Erminio, on the front lines, wrote to his siblings, indicating that he would support Louie's enlistment. But, as it turns out, Louie never received his family's blessing or approval. On July 30, 1944, Uncle Louie celebrated his eighteenth birthday, thus becoming eligible to enlist in the armed forces.
On August 15, 1944, Louie followed his dream and enlisted in the Army. He was assigned to the Seventy-Fifth Infantry Division and -- within months -- would be prepared to leave for foreign shores. It is fortunate that my Uncle Louie had a childhood friend, Esperanza Rangel (now Esperanza Amayo), a Kansas City resident who has contributed articles about the experiences, tribulations, and contributions of the Mexican-American community to Kansas.
In describing her youthful memories of Louie, Esperanza Amayo wrote "It seems like only yesterday that we were children, my friends Isabel, Louie and I. In daily ritual we ran across cow pastures and climbed over barbed wire fences on our way to Turner Grade School. Our life was happy and carefree in the '30s and early '40s. Louie was our next-door neighbor on the hill where we lived." Commenting on the day that Louie left for the service, Esperanza wrote: "Louie looked fine in his Army uniform the day he walked across the dirt road, never again to return. He went to war radiating youthful and patriotic eagerness. How sad -- he died soon after in the carnaged wastelands of Germany."
Meanwhile, in Europe, the Operation Anvil landings on August 15 -- the same day that Uncle Louie enlisted -- brought Uncle Erminio and the 117th Regiment to the shores of France for the first time. However, a few weeks later, a new development shocked the Dominguez family. Word reached Kansas City that Erminio had been captured by the Germans in early September 1944.
As part of the invasion of Southern France in August 1944, the 117th had moved steadily to the north through French territory, meeting with fierce resistance from German forces. In the first days of September, the 117th seized the city of Montrevel with the hope of holding it until reinforcements could arrive. Brigadier General Carlton, the Deputy Commander of VI Corps, had issued orders to the 117th, giving them the mission of capturing Montrevel so they could cut off the escape route of the German Nineteenth Army. However, once in the town, Erminio and the other troopers found themselves surrounded by the 11th Panzer Division, one of Germany's best units, which had mounted a fierce counterattack.
Quickly the Panzer Division was able to isolate the town from the main Allied force and engaged the outnumbered 117th in a pitched battle lasting for many hours. However, the brave defenders of Montrevel were eventually overwhelmed and the survivors -- including my Uncle Erminio -- were captured. Erminio Dominguez and his fellow soldiers of the 117th were captured and immediately transported as POWs to Germany. Within days, they were at Stalag 7A in Moosburg, Bavaria.
The news of Erminio's capture reached Kansas City several weeks later. When Louie -- who would soon be on his way to boot camp -- heard the news, his patriotic fervor reached its highest point. Louie promised his family that he would take part in the defeat of Nazi Germany, with high hopes that his brother would one day be a free man again. When he started his basic training at Camp McClellan, Alabama, a few days later, Louie recognized that this war was -- for him -- a special mission, both to serve his country and to help liberate his brother from German captivity.
In January 1945, Louie and the 75th Infantry Division joined the American forces in France. Because the 75th Infantry Division was one of the last units to join the American forces in Europe, it was nicknamed the "Diaper Division." But the 75th made up for lost time, spending 94 consecutive days in contact with the enemy. As the American forces moved closer to the German homeland, the enemy's resistance grew more determined. In an attempt to halt the Allied advance on their native soil, German forces counterattacked more frequently and with increasing intensity.
As the American forces moved through Belgium and Holland, ever closer to the German homeland, the enemy's resistance grew more determined. In an attempt to halt the Allied advance on their native soil, German forces counterattacked more frequently and with increasing intensity. In March, Louie and his unit, the 289th Infantry Battalion (of the 75th Infantry Division), reached the Rhine River, the doorway into Nazi Germany.
A number of reconnaissance missions took place at this time. In an attempt gauge the enemy's strength, Sergeant Flores crossed the Rhine with Uncle Louie and several other soldiers. Two of six men in this patrol were killed, but Louie made it back safely. Finally, on March 29, the 289th made its way across the Rhine River. However, on March 31, 1945, near the small border town of Papen, the 289th approached a hill on which the Germans were entrenched. Louie's Captain 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 quickly stepped forward. Soon after, Louie and several other soldiers of the 289th Infantry Regiment, 75th Infantry Division, advanced up the hill towards the German positions. Suddenly enemy fire targeted the American soldiers and several of them fell to the ground. On this day, five weeks before the surrender of Nazi Germany, eighteen-year-old Louie Dominguez died for his country.
In the middle of April, the news about Uncle Louie reached Kansas City. My family was devastated, especially because they had no idea whether Uncle Erminio was still alive or not. Esperanza Amayo, in her anguish, struggled to understand the loss of her childhood friend and pondered over the meaning of it all. Many years later, reflecting on Uncle Louie's service to his country, she wrote: "Statistics say that Mexican Americans died completely disproportionate to our numbers... They told me that Louie died in the name of peace and liberty." But Esperanza observed that Mexican-American servicemen returning home from World War II "did not earn one ounce of respect for their war duties. 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. Half a century after the end of World War II, Esperanza noted that Mexican-American veterans "can stand tall and proud of their contributions in war and peace." Writing for the Kansas City Star, she stated that Mexican Americans "were free to struggle and rise above our adversities. And now in this era of racial justice I finally know that indeed my friend did die for me. His memory will live with me always."
On May 8, 1945, Germany unconditionally surrendered to the Allied forces. Soon after, American POWs throughout Germany were released from captivity. Erminio Dominguez, one of 90,000 American POWs, returned home to Kansas City. The brave veteran of the French and Italian campaigns received a warm welcome from his family. However, when Erminio found out that his younger brother Louie had died in combat, his sense of loss was overwhelming.
Uncle Erminio's treatment at the hands of the Germans had been terrible. He once told Uncle Jesse Dominguez that the Germans had treated the POWs at Moosburg like animals, sometimes throwing food to the American soldiers as if they were dogs. 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. However, proud to have served his country, Erminio did become a member of the Kansas City VFW. Two years after being released from German captivity, Erminio Dominguez was married to Carmen, the half-sister of my father. For the rest of his life, he worked as a forklift operator for the Santa Fe Railroad. On June 8, 1996, Erminio Dominguez died, leaving behind two children.
For his military service, Uncle Louie received six medals, including the bronze star, the purple heart and the combat infantry badge. Nine servicemen surnamed Dominguez died in the service of their country in World War II. Three of these men came from California, two from Arizona, one from Ohio, one from Florida and one from Illinois, while my Uncle Louie Dominguez had entered the service from the state of Missouri. Sergeant Ygnacio O. Dominguez of the 89th Infantry Division died only five days before Uncle Louie. Today, I realize that when my Uncle Louie died on that hill in Germany, he paid for my freedom and he paid for your freedom. I will remain forever grateful for his service.
My uncles, with great pride and determination, served their country in a time of need. They are merely two among many who served proudly. Writing in "Hispanic Heritage Month 1996: Hispanics -- Challenging the Future," Army Chaplain (Capt.) Carlos C. Huerta of the 1st Battalion, 79th Field Artillery stated that "Hispanics have always met the challenge of serving the nation with great fervor. In every war, in every battle, on every battlefield, Hispanics have put their lives on the line to protect freedom."
Erminio Dominguez and Louie Dominguez served as roll models for my family. Five years after the end of World War II, my cousin Eleno Salazar, Jr., served in the Korean War. In the years to follow, many family members, including my daughter Gina, have enlisted in the armed forces and served their country. The Dominguez family has been in the United States for ninety-four years and in that period of time, we have earned an important place in American society.
In seeking to convey to you my feelings about my family, I will once again borrow the words of family friend, Esperanza Amayo. Discussing the Mexican-American community of Kansas City, Esperanza wrote that "There is a grace to our achievements because, in spite of educational barriers and the subjugation of job restraints, Mexican-Americans in this area prevailed. We 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."
Copyright © 1999 and 2001, by John P. Schmal and Donna S. Morales. This article has been derived in its entirety from the unpublished work, My Family Through Time: The Story of a Mexican-American Family (by Donna Morales and John Schmal). All rights under applicable law are hereby reserved. Reproduction of this article in whole or in part without the express permission of the authors is prohibited. Read more articles by John Schmal.
We offer our grateful thanks to Carole Turner, Esperanza Rangel Amayo, Louie Gonzalez, Jesse Dominguez, Bessie Dominguez Morales, and Steve Graber. Steve very graciously procured and donated to us the diary of the Able Company of the 289th Infantry Battalion. Without their support and assistance, this story could not be told in its entirety.
Interviews with Jesse Dominguez, Bessie Dominguez Morales, Carole Turner, Esperanza Amayo, and Louie Gonzalez.
Esperanza Amayo, "Mexican-American Vets Deserve to Be Honored," Kansas City Star. Esperanza Amayo, "All Equal in Death," Kansas City Star.
Department of Defense. "The Hispanics in America's Defense," Washington, D.C.: U.S. Printing Office, 1990.
Louie Gonzalez, "The Dominguez Chavez Family History" (Kansas City: 2000).
Sgt. Franklin C. MacCarrick, Jr., "Up Front with the Able Doughboys: 289th Infantry" (August 1945).
Donna S. Morales and John P. Schmal, "My Family Through Time: The Story of a Mexican-American Family" (2000, Los Angeles, California).
Harold J. Samsel, "The Operational History of the 117th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron (Mecz.), World War II" (Westfield, N.J.: 117th Cavalry Association, 1982).
About the Authors: John Schmal and Donna Morales are the authors of "Mexican-American Genealogical Research: Following the Paper Trail to Mexico" -- published by Heritage Books of Bowie Maryland in 2002
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