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'A country that wrote them off' | Researchers say history books omit Mexican American soldiers' contribution to Allies' WWII victory

"Mexican Americans, they would list them as Caucasian. But on the back of their draft cards, they’d list their [complexion]. They would list them as ruddy and dark."

PORT ARTHUR, Texas — Mexican American soldiers fought for the U.S. during World War II, but three researchers are stating that the country did not fight for them.

Graduate student Tishia Hubert, history teacher Joseph Akers, and Lamar University student C.J. Delgado, are attempting to rewrite a history that they said wrote these brave soldiers out. Their muse is 98-year-old Sgt. Patrick Aguilar, the longest living Mexican American World War II veteran in the Southeast Texas area.

Joseph Akers is a U.S. history teacher at Beaumont United High School. He has studied Mexican American history in Southeast Texas for years. Akers said Mexicans were treated poorly and worked more difficult and dangerous jobs than white Americans, but for lower pay.  

“Like any growing industry, it’s dangerous work, and Mexican Americans took on that challenge,” Akers said. “Without the Mexican American community, the oil industry in Southeast Texas, particularly in the Beaumont, Port Arthur, and Port Neches area, would not be what it is today.”

When it came to war, Tishia Hubert said the mistreatment toward the underrepresented population continued.

“Mexican Americans, they would list them as Caucasian,” Hubert said. “But on the back of their draft cards, they’d list their [complexion], and I found that very disheartening. They would list them as ruddy and dark.”

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The researchers said they began to realize that the Mexican American contribution to the Allied powers winning World War II had, “missed the history books.” They began research in hopes to rewrite a history that wrote the soldiers out.

“I came across this picture at Tyrell library, and this is of Sgt. Patrick Aguilar when he was drafted into World War II, and this is what started my journey on the oral history for him,” Hubert said.

This prompted Hubert to write her master’s thesis on Sgt. Aguilar’s service in World War II.  

“In Tyrell library, all they really have is this picture and info from his shadow box,” Hubert said. “I would like to add to that, so that there’s that living history documented. He [Aguilar] is the last living Mexican American who has served in World War II.”

Hubert hopes to get her work on Sgt. Aguilar published.

“That will help with the historiography, especially here for Southeast Texas, to help get that information out there, to help put that footprint down of Mexican Americans who served in World War II,” Hubert said.

Joseph Akers plans to develop a curriculum using Sgt. Aguilar’s story to piece together the Mexican American experience.

“I feel that we can now legitimately tell that whole story, from a community history, local history, and a family history,” Akers said. 

Aguilar served in the Ninth Air Force. His story begins in San Antonio, where he was born in a boxcar on St. Patrick’s Day in 1923.

“Trains, where they bring cars in. That’s where we lived in,” Sgt. Aguilar said.

Sgt. Aguilar’s parents migrated from San Luis Potosi, Mexico where a revolution was taking place. The revolution brought many Mexicans to Southeast Texas for a better life and better job opportunities in a booming oil industry.

“At that time, my dad and his friend came down looking for work, and it wasn’t easy, because they had to go into this tank," Sgt. Aguilar said. "They had to go through one end, and go out the other, and it was hot. They had to dig that coal up, and throw it out the other end."

After the attack on Pearl Harbor, then 18-year-old Patrick Aguilar was drafted into the U.S. Army Air Forces on Oct. 8, 1942.

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Aguilar's mother, Melquiadez Aguilar, walked on her knees to the Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Port Arthur. She went there to pray that all of her sons would return home safely from the war.

“They wanted 20 gunners and about an hour later they cancelled it, and I said, ‘Well, I will go wherever they send me,’” Sgt. Aguilar said.

Aguilar was trained as a radio operator. He was transported to England and earned a ribbon as a rifle sharpshooter and carbine expert.

The veteran was one of the two Mexican Americans in his squadron. He said he never felt any discrimination from his comrades.

“We all got along and everything, and when they formed the unit, nothing was ever mentioned, nothing like that,” Sgt. Aguilar said. “We go to town together. Everybody had a different job.”

That camaraderie was needed in Cherbourg, where the Ninth Air Force was tasked to build an airfield and set up command near the peninsula’s west side. Sgt. Aguilar delivered support services to aid squadron’s across Europe.

“A little of everything,” Sgt. Aguilar said. "All kinds of tools for tanks to fix trucks some ammunition. We had a few cases of ammunition and all the parts to fix the trucks and tanks.”

The veteran had to remain on high alert from German bombardments

“We’d get out of the tents and get into the underground cave for protection, and one time, they had two or three big guns,” Sgt. Aguilar said. “They came and set them up there, and we were at the edge of the water, and all of a sudden three of them went off because a plane was coming by, and we just said, ‘What the heck is going on,' but we knew where to get out.’”

After the Allies successfully took back the port city of Cherbourg and Normandy, Sgt. Aguilar cleaned up the death. The Ninth Air Force moved to Reims, France to continue their war efforts.

“I said, ‘You know somethings going on,’” Sgt. Aguilar said. “I see military German Army men. They just got done passing through here. Maybe they came to surrender or something, so right away, one of my officers got off the phone, and after a while, they came to tell me, yeah, they came to surrender.”

After the war ended, there was no parade for Mexican American troops, and no women waiting to kiss Mexican American soldiers. It was a quiet walk home from the bus stop.

“And nothing, I mean people weren’t there to welcome you home,” Sgt. Aguilar said. “You just come and be walking down the street. You got home. We were lucky. Five brothers and we all made it home.”

Aguilar simply got back to a life in Port Arthur.

Sgt. Aguilar worked as a laborer at Gulf Oil Refinery. He later went back to serve during the Korean War, where he obtained the rank of staff sergeant. 

He got out after a year to take care of his growing family. Recently, Mayor Thurman Bartie signed a proclamation honoring Nov. 25 as Sgt. Patrick Aguilar Day.

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