For the Garcias, World War II was a family affair. Six brothers served and their father was a civil defense warden in their Boyle Heights neighborhood.
Today, as on every Veterans Day, family members will pay tribute to their only sibling killed in action during the war. Staff Sgt. Ignacio “Nacho” Garcia, member of a B-24 Liberator bomber crew, died Feb. 23, 1944, on a bombing run over Austria.
The Garcia family was one of three Latino families from the Los Angeles area -- each with six brothers in uniform during WWII -- honored Saturday by the Latino Advocates for Education Inc. at a Veterans Day ceremony at Cal State Fullerton.
The family’s ties to the war started Dec. 8, 1941, when Anthony, the first of six Garcia brothers to serve during the war, told his family he had joined the Marine Corps.
“It was the day after Pearl Harbor, and Tony left for boot camp on Christmas Eve,” said his brother Alfonso.
Ignacio, Leonard, Gustavo, Joe and Alfonso followed, enlisting in different branches of the service or were drafted.
“All of us wanted to do our part,” said Alfonso, 78, a Navy veteran who lives in Buena Park.
Another brother, Nestor, was in the Army during the Korean War.
But Ignacio was the hero, said Leonard, 85, who lives in Fullerton. He served in the Army’s 27th Infantry Division in the Pacific.
Ignacio’s plane went down Feb. 23, 1944, and he was listed as missing in action. He was declared dead Oct. 1, 1945. A farmer had found his body and buried him near Steyra, maintaining the grave until the body was sent to a U.S. military cemetery in France. In 1949, the body was laid to rest at Calvary Cemetery in East Los Angeles.
To honor Ignacio, the family put together a booklet that includes his wartime letters, mostly tales of bravado with occasional mentions of the loneliness of battle.
After a 5 1/2-hour mission on Dec. 14, 1943, he wrote that U.S. bombers “smashed the hell out of an enemy target,” a German airfield in Athens.
Five days later, he wrote that 64 B-24s sent to bomb an aircraft factory in Augsburg, Austria, “were scattered all over hell” by a fierce storm and his ship limped back to Italy on four “bad engines.”
Six days before his death, Ignacio wrote to his oldest brother, Father Ramon Garcia, hinting at his loneliness but staying upbeat.
“Dear Ray.... It is very lonesome here, but I know that at last I am in the war.... You’d be surprised how high our morale is, maybe because we’re really giving the enemy hell.”
Later, a crew member who parachuted from the same stricken B-24 Ignacio was on wrote to Ignacio’s mother detailing “that horrible day.”
“I’d like to make this letter as painless as possible....We were attacked by 7 ME-109s [German fighters]. They riddled the ship with incendiary bullets, rockets and 20mm shells.... It was every man for himself. I tried to talk to Ignacio over the interphone to see if he was alright; I didn’t get any answer. He may have been busy firing his guns,” wrote the crew member, who said he hoped that “everything turns out for the best.”
During the war, Leonard said, there was nothing unusual about six brothers serving in the military.
“It wasn’t just patriotism. It was a sense of duty that all of us felt we had to do,” he said. “I never thought we were special because six of us served during the war.”
Such service seemed the norm, Alfonso said.
“It seemed like every family [in their neighborhood] had two or three or four sons in the war.”
In addition to Leonard and Alfonso, Tony and Joe Garcia are still living. Alfonso said most men in his old Boyle Heights neighborhood served during World War II. About 40 of them get together monthly for breakfast in Whittier.
“We’re all old guys now. We were very close growing up, but the war brought us closer together,” he said. “We all did our duty for our country.”