Bill Lansford, 90, a Latino Marine and Army veteran who sought to bring honor to the contributions of other Latinos who served in the nation’s wars, died May 22 at his Playa del Rey home. The cause was complications of prostate cancer, his wife Ruth said.
Lansford, who was raised in East Los Angeles by his Mexican-born mother, was a major force behind efforts to construct a monument at El Pueblo de Los Angeles for Latino recipients of the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest military award.
Although that effort has slowed amid questions over the monument’s planned placement in the city’s historic core, Ruth Lansford said she and others were continuing to seek donations for the project’s $750,000 cost. Along with a memorial wall honoring all Medal of Honor recipients, dedicated in 2009, organizers still hope to erect a sculpture paying tribute to the award’s 40 Latino recipients, she said.
Bill Lansford was also one of two Latino veterans included in filmmaker Ken Burns’ 2007 documentary series “The War,” about World War II, after complaints by Latinos that their wartime contributions had been overlooked. Lansford spoke about the battle for Guadalcanal, in particular his time with an elite Marine commando unit known as Carlson’s Raiders, which went behind enemy lines in 1942 to harass a larger Japanese force.
William Douglas Lansford was born July 13, 1922, in East Los Angeles, the son of Rosalina Melendez, an actress, and Frank Alva Stone, a Los Angeles police officer. His parents were divorced before he was born. (The name Lansford came from a misspelling on his birth certificate of Lunsford, another name used by his father, Ruth Lansford said.)
He dropped out of high school at 16 and joined the Marine Corps at 18. He was stationed in Iceland, then in the Pacific theater during World War II. Several years later, he joined the Army and served during the Korean War.
He became a successful writer for television series such as “Starsky & Hutch,” “Fantasy Island” and “Ironside,” and also wrote several books, including a biography of Pancho Villa that was adapted into the 1968 film “Villa Rides,” starring Yul Brynner.