By RENE TORRES
Special to the NEWS
In March of 1944, Women’s Army Corps (WAC) officials came to the Valley to conduct a recruiting campaign for a specific squadron to be composed of Latin-American girls and woman for the U.S. Army’s Air WAC.
Captain John V. Deuel, of the Army Air Forces (AAF), who had visited every Spanish-speaking country in the world, was leading the drive to sign-up as many Latinas as possible. Similar recruitment efforts had been conducted in Laredo and San Antonio.
Government leaders announced that this special squad of girls, once formed, would be known as the “Benito Juarez Squadron,” in honor of Mexico’s great patriot.
Captain Deuel, recognizing the spirit and gallantry of the Latin-American soldier, declared, “Of the thousands of gallant men who fought the last days of Bataan, many were boys with Latin-American backgrounds — from New Mexico and Texas — and the glory of their valor, is the glory of the Americas.”
He went on to say, “These men of the Americas are writing a saga in blood and heroism which will live as long as the world itself, and now the AAF is forming a squadron of Latin-American women to get behind their men and help hasten victory.”
In conjunction with the recruiting effort, Brownsville staged a Benito Juarez celebration with a parade that started from the Elizabeth Street gates of Fort Brown and breaking-up at the Benito Juarez Hall, located between Fourth and Fifth Streets on Jefferson.
Included in the procession were the HAAF Band from Harlingen, the 137th band from Fort Brown, units of WAC and the WASP (Women Air Service Pilots), Companies “A” and “B” of the Texas State Guard, military representatives from Mexico and U.S. and members of several local Latin-American societies.
A special guest of the program was movie star, Sabu; who, at the time, was training in Harlingen. The Hollywood celebrity had appeared in such great films as, “Elephant Boy” and “The Thief of Bagdad.” His appearance attracted a large crowd to this city’s Benito Juarez Hall, where he entertained the locals with his wit and a song from the movie, “The Thief of Bagdad.”
Although many VIP’s took the podium at the hall — it was Lisandro Pena of the “Brownsville Herald,” who captured the audience’s attention when he read the poem written by Amado Nervo, “La Raza de Bronce.” The poem was written in 1902 in honor of Benito Juarez, but on this evening — Nervo’s words brought stillness to a once festive crowd.
Pena highlighted the celebration by challenging Latin-American girls to join the WAC and do as good a job as the Latin-American boys were doing on the battlefront.
The hall was jammed to capacity and those not inside — heard the talks by public address system. Radio Station KEEW aired the program.
Local girls could sign-up by visiting the recruiting booth placed at the city’s Post Office. It is not known how many Valley girls took the oath, but enough Latinas joined up from throughout the state that the squadron was introduced to the public in a formal ceremony in San Antonio.
Latinas take the army oath…
The “Yank,” the Army Weekly, wrote, “A group of women of Latin-American extraction took the army oath before more than 6,000 persons in San Antonio’s municipal auditorium. With this, the 1945 group became the second section of the Benito Juarez Air-WAC squadron.”
It was a glorious evening, as the two-hour program included Latin-American songs, dances, music and a presentation of a small flag (streamer) to the new squadron by the Secretary of State of Nuevo Leon.
Pfc. Mercedes Ledesma, whose husband was killed in action in Italy, received the flag, which the “Bee-Jay” Squadron carried with them to basic training at Fort Oglethorpe, GA.
“The Weekly,” went on to declare that the highlight of the evening was when an honor guard from the first Latin-American WAC squadron, and the new war-women marched into the auditorium to be sworn in and to hear the words of greeting from Col. Oveta Culp Hobby and Mrs. Dwight Eisenhower.
An Army official announced that many of the new WACS, after completing their initial training, would return to the South Texas area for duty assignments. But there were some requesting to be assigned to Army air fields in other parts of country.