Unsung Mexican Heroes Of WWII"
By Maggie Van Ostrand
June 2002 Guadalajara-Lakeside Volume 18, Number 10
yesterday, I had never heard of Charlie Foster. Today, I'm writing about
him. One of the benefits of being a writer is the fact-checking, because
you can end up with provocative information. That's how I found out
about Charlie Foster.
An ace flier is defined in the dictionary
as a fighter pilot who has destroyed five or more enemy aircraft. Charlie
Foster was a World War II ace with the 201st Fighter Squadron. What's
more, Charlie's heroism beyond the call of duty netted him a Congressional
Medal of Honor.
Yet no one made a movie about Charlie
Foster, the way they did about Audie Murphy, a famed Medal of Honor-winning
World War II hero, in To Hell and Back. No HBO miniseries about
Charlie was made by Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg the way they made
Band of Brothers, the one about WWII's 101st Airborne Division's
Easy Company. No Hollywood studio made an Oscar winning film about the
201st, as they did about the Civil War's first all-black volunteer company
in 1989's Glory. But in its way, Charlie's tale is as special
as those famous stories of heroic actions.
What makes Charlie's story unique is that
his real name isn't Charlie Foster, it's Carlos Faustinos, a Mexican
citizen. Carlos fought beside American airmen in the Pacific Theater
and was a member of the elite "Esquadron Aereo de Caza 201,"
also known as the Fighting 201st.
Not only did this information surprise
me, but so did the fact that Mexico declared war on the Axis powers
on June 11, 1942. Imagine that. Can't you just see kind, agricultural
Mexico declaring war on the Big Bad Wolves Hirohito, Mussolini and Hitler?
But Mexico did indeed declare war, and they put their men where their
collective mouth was.
It was at that time Mexico organized the
201st Fighter Squadron, a select group of Mexican pilots, including
Carlos Foustinos. Thirty-five officers and 300 enlisted men were trained
in Mexico, then given additional flight training as P-47 fighter squadron
at Pocatello Army Air Base in Idaho, and were then attached to the 58th
Fighter Group in the Philippines where they began combat operations.
They wiped out machine gun nests, dropped 181 tons of bombs and fired
153,000 rounds of ammunition, acquitting themselves well and bravely.
Seven of their pilots were killed in action.
The Fighting 201st wasn't the only heroic
group of Mexicans. In a town called Silvis, just west of Chicago, runs
a street once named Second Street. It's not much of a street, not even
two blocks long, muddy in spring, icy in winter, dusty in summer. On
this single street, 105 men participated in World War II, Korea
and Vietnam. It's the street where Joe Gomez, Peter Macias, Johnny Muños,
Tony Pompa, Claro Soliz, and Frank, Joseph, and William Sandoval grew
up together. They worked for the railroad, like their fathers who had
emigrated from Mexico. These young men, raised to revere freedom, went
to war without hesitation.
The two Sandoval families alone sent thirteen;
six from one family; seven from the other. According to the U.S. Defense
Department, this little street contributed more men to military service
than any other place of comparable size in the United States, standing
alone in American military history.
In a letter to Frank Sandoval, Claro Soliz
described Second Street as: ". . . . Really not much, just mud
and ruts, but right now to me it is the greatest street in the world."
He never saw it again. Not one of these boys came home alive.
In honor of their supreme sacrifice, a
monument listing the name of each man now stands in Silvis, Illinois.
Second Street has been officially renamed Hero Street USA. Next time
you're in the mid? West, you might want to visit this street of heroes
just to say thank you.
Maybe these stories weren't sensational
enough to be covered by CNN, but they happened just the same.
(Ed. Note: Bravo, Marge, for a fine article, and yet another salute
to the heroic actions of both Mexicans and Mexican-Americans during
WWII. In researching my first historical novel, I too made surprising
discoveries-such as that the latter group became, in ratio to their
numbers, the second most highly-decorated ethnic group in the entire
history of the United States. They also won-again in ratio to their
numbers-the most Congressional Medals of Honor. Mexico has much of which
to be proud-and we are proud to bring some of that history to our readers.)