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On D-day, an O.C. vet’s son helps honor Mexican Americans who served in WWII

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Alfred V. Aguirre of Placentia served in the Army Air Corps in World War II. His son, retired Judge Frederick Aguirre, has been researching and documenting the role of Mexican American soldiers in U.S. wars.
(Family photo)

Retired judge Frederick Aguirre has dedicated the last several years of his life to researching and documenting the pivotal — and largely unknown — role Mexican Americans from Orange County played in U.S. military history.

In an effort to refute prejudiced myths and stereotypes, he’s produced books, a documentary and a website with his wife, Linda, and research partner Rogelio Rodriguez. Aguirre, who served on the Orange County bench for 15 years, traveled to Normandy, France, this week for the 75th anniversary of D-day to commemorate Mexican American soldiers and sailors who were killed during World War II. Dignitaries from several countries, including President Trump, attended the ceremony on Thursday.

“We started this because we saw that our Mexican American men and women were not being recognized for what they did for our country,” Aguirre said. “There were negative stereotypes being bandied about that Mexicans were coming into this country to take from this country. Our own president now says Mexicans are rapists and that Mexico is exporting the worst of its kind. These are sentiments that are not characteristic of the people who come over, people who come over and do good things, especially in times of war.”

The Aguirre family has a century of local history. Frederick’s grandparents arrived in 1919 in Placentia, where his father, Alfred, was born in 1920.

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“We are probably one of the oldest Mexican American families in Orange County,” said Aguirre, 72, of Villa Park.

Alfred Aguirre attended segregated schools before enlisting in the U.S. Army for World War II. While he was away, his wife, Julia, supported the war effort working at Douglas Aircraft in Long Beach.

When he returned home from the war, Alfred heard about the Mendez vs. Westminster legal case, which desegregated schools in the Westminster, Garden Grove, Santa Ana and El Modena school districts. He didn’t want his children attending the still-segregated campuses in Placentia.

“My dad was determined to have his children go to an integrated school,” Frederick Aguirre said. “My dad said, ‘This isn’t right after serving my country.’”

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Two of Alfred’s brothers, three of his brothers-in-law and 23 of his cousins served in the war.

Alfred organized the Veterans and Citizens of Placentia group to lobby the school district, which desegregated in 1949.

He was elected to the Placentia City Council in 1958, becoming one of the county’s first Mexican American city council members.

Partly because of his father’s efforts, Frederick Aguirre attended desegregated schools. He received a law degree from UCLA in 1971, practiced law and eventually became a judge in 2002.

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Sgt. Hector G. Godinez, right, of Santa Ana served in a U.S. Army tank destroyer battalion during World War II.
(Frederick Aguirre)

While the law remained his profession, Aguirre decided he wanted to make an impact like his father. Along with his wife, who taught in the Anaheim Union High School District for three decades and whose father and several other family members served in WWII, he began documenting the service of Orange County’s Mexican American soldiers.

The couple eventually enlisted Rodriguez’s help.

Under the nonprofit Latino Advocates for Education, the group held free community events at Santa Ana College, and later Cal State Fullerton, to honor veterans. Those events included parachuting demonstrations and military vehicle displays. Gray Davis, who eventually became governor, and other politicians of the day attended the events. Eventually that grew into publishing books, a documentary and a website, which is managed by the Orange County Department of Education.

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The website features about 30 interviews with WWII veterans, including former prisoners of war and survivors of the European and the Pacific theaters.

The research hasn’t been easy.

“There is no category in World War II records to show the service of Mexican Americans,” Aguirre said. “There were for African Americans, Chinese Americans and Japanese Americans, but Mexicans were considered white, even though they were treated like second-class citizens.”

Using surnames and other identifiers, the group waded through the national archives to find Chicano veterans from Orange County.

“We aren’t saying military is the panacea and we think military intervention is the right way to go with everything,” Aguirre said. “But during the times of defending our country, Mexican Americans have answered the call and served this country very honorably. ”

Aguirre said his research shows that of the 487 Orange County servicemen who died in WWII, 74 were Mexican Americans.

“Which is 15%, a staggering number as Mexican Americans accounted for only 5% of Orange County’s population during World War II,” Aguirre said. “That is a true testament to the patriotism of our Americans of Mexican heritage.”

According to the Aguirres and Rodriguez’s research, the Mexican American soldiers from Orange County who died during World War II include:

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Pvt. Joseph Agabo, Westminster

Staff Sgt. Julian R. Alvarado, Costa Mesa

Pvt. Manuel L. Alvarez, Costa Mesa

Pvt. Daniel L. Arbiso, Santa Ana

Pvt. Luciano F. Arzate, Santa Ana

Pvt. Aciano Avila, San Juan Capistrano

Tech. 5th Grade Henry Barajas, Santa Ana

Pfc. Mariano L. Barela, Santa Ana

Pfc. Delfino Casado, Los Alamitos

Sgt. 1st Class Guadalupe Castaneda, Santa Ana

Pvt. David L. Castro, Santa Ana

Sgt. William R. Contreras, Costa Mesa

Pfc. Nick L. Cordova, El Modena

Pfc. Paul Cortez, Jr., El Modena

Staff Sgt. Martin De La Cruz, Westminster

Pfc. Frank De La Rosa, Santa Ana

Pvt. Porfirio de los Reyes, Fullerton

Tech. 5th Grade Frank Diaz, Santa Ana

Pfc. Saul Diaz, Anaheim

Pvt. Rudolph C. Falcon, La Habra

Cpl. Henry Felix, Orange

Pfc. Alfred Gaitan, Anaheim

Pfc. John P. Garcia, Costa Mesa

Pvt. Florentino Gonzalez, Garden Grove

Pvt. Joe I. Gonzalez, Brea

Pvt. Raymond Grajeda, Santa Ana

Staff Sgt Jack V. Granados, Santa Ana

Pvt. Benjamin Guzman, Santa Ana

Sgt. Maurice A. Juarez, Fullerton

Tech. 5th Grade Raymond O. Marmolejo, Fullerton

Pfc. Jesse C. Martinez, Anaheim

Staff Sgt. Alfonso E. Martinez, Anaheim

Pfc. Ramon D. Mejia, La Habra

Pvt. Fred F. Mercado, Santa Ana

Pvt. Robert Nava, Atwood

Sgt. Guadalupe D. Orosco, Stanton

Pvt. Crispin Orozco, El Modena

Pfc. Herbert Peralta, Yorba Linda

Pvt. Guadalupe C. Perez, Westminster

1st Lt. Melburn A. Quintana, Santa Ana

Pfc. John W. Reyes, Placentia

Lt. Alfred Rivas, Santa Ana

Sgt. Fred Rivas, Santa Ana

Pfc. Moses H. Sandoval, Buena Park

Sgt. 1st Class James Selaya, Anaheim

Tech. Sgt. Jose T. Sepulveda, Orange

Pvt. Joe Soto, Anaheim

Pfc. Joe M. Torres, Santa Ana

Sgt. 2nd Class Donald Eugene Ynigues, Tustin

Pvt. Florencio R. Valenzuela, Fullerton

Pfc. Joe Vasquez, Westminster

Pvt. Manuel Vasquez, Santa Ana

Pfc. Margarito Vasquez, Santa Ana

Pfc. Daniel T. Attencio, Santa Ana

Pvt. Daniel Becerra, Santa Ana

Pfc. Nicholas R. Castro, La Habra

Pvt. Diego S. Figueroa, Santa Ana

Pvt. Arnold F. Garcia, Santa Ana

Pvt. Domingo R. Garcia, Atwood

Pfc. Augustine A. Herrera, Placentia

Tech. Sgt. Rubin M. Lechuga, Santa Ana

Pfc. Jack A. Lopez, Orange

Pvt. Louis S. Lopez, La Habra

Pfc. Ramon J. Medina, Westminster

Sgt. Eduardo C. Molina, Orange

Pvt. Louis M. Moreno, Jr., Garden Grove

Pvt. Pete D. Morones, Santa Ana

Tech. 5th Grade George L. Ortiz, Santa Ana

2nd Lt. Gilbert W. Planchon, Santa Ana

Pfc. Adalberto Rodriguez, Santa Ana

Pfc. Clemente R. Rodriguez, Placentia

Pfc. Victor G. Saragosa, Costa Mesa

Pvt. Ramon G. Savala, Anaheim

Pvt. Nicasio C. Sifuentes, Westminster


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