Retired Orange County judge documents the overlooked stories of Mexican Americans who served in World War II
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. Frederick, 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. Several dignitaries, 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,” Frederick 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.
“We are probably one of the oldest Mexican American families in Orange County,” said Frederick, 72, now of Villa Park.
Alfred 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 as a Rosie the Riveter working at Douglas Aircraft in Long Beach.
When he returned home from the war, Alfred heard about the Mendez v. Westminster 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 said. “My dad said, ‘This isn’t right after serving my country.’”
Two of Alfred’s brothers, three of his brothers-in-law and 23 of his cousins served in the war.
Alfred organized Veterans and Citizens of Placentia to lobby the school district, which desegregated in 1949.
Alfred was elected to the Placentia City Council in 1958, becoming one of the county’s first Mexican American council members.
Partly because of his father’s efforts, Frederick attended desegregated schools. He attained a law degree from UCLA in 1971, practicing law and eventually becoming a judge in 2002.
While the law remained his profession, Frederick decided he needed to make an impact like his father. Along with Linda, 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 parachuters and military vehicles. Gray Davis, who eventually became governor, and other politicians of the day, attended the events. Eventually that spiraled into publishing books, a documentary and a website, which is managed by the Orange County Department of Education.
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 on 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:
- 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 An
- 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.
To learn more about the historical contributions of Mexican American soldiers from Orange County, visit aplh.webs.com/.
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