By Ramón Rentería / Special to the El Paso Times
Samuel Ortega and Arnulfo Hernández Jr. will use El Paso as the launching pad for a Texas tour promoting their recently published book “The Men of Company E: Toughest Chicano Soldiers of World War II.”
Ortega, a writer from Sacramento, Calif., was visiting El Paso in 2013 doing research for a book on Mexican Revolution leader Francisco “Pancho” Villa.
Hernández, a Sacramento lawyer with roots in El Paso’s Segundo Barrio, accompanied Ortega, intending to attend annual homecoming festivities at Bowie High School.
While doing research, they ran into El Paso community activists Santos “Super” Sanchez and Javier Diaz. They were trying to relocate a memorial to the men of Company E from its present location at a park on Delta Street.
The memorial is dedicated to an infantry rifle company of mostly El Paso soldiers who eventually became known for their sacrifices and heroism during the Italian Campaign of World War II.
Ortega and Hernández eventually interviewed six survivors of Company E for the book project. The authors also credit El Paso historian Freddy Morales and documentary filmmaker Alfred Lugo for supplying valuable information and documents.
The authors suggest that their recently published book has “all the elements of a hard-hitting story, discrimination, bravery under fire and patriotism.”
The book is peppered with personal stories, including the inspiring story of Lt. Gabriel Navarrete, the El Paso soldier who was wounded multiple times during World War II and rose to command Company E after its commander, Capt. John Chapin of El Paso, was killed in action.
Hernández said in a recent interview that several activities will spin off from the book, including a fundraising dinner in November to help send Bowie students to a national history competition.
“This book has been on ice for some time. It had some false starts, but now it’s ready,” Hernández said.
Hector Chavez, owner of the Taco Real Restaurant, applauded Hernández for showering attention on El Paso’s military heroes.
“He came from so far to do the work that many of us who live here haven’t done,” Chavez said.
In the book’s foreword, Eddie Morin, a Vietnam veteran and author of “Valor and Discord,” suggests that it is fitting that the story of the men of Company E started taking shape in El Paso, “a city that has been emblematic of the racism and hardships which the Mexican-American community has endured for many years.”
“The story of the ‘Toughest Chicano Soldiers in World War II’ is told with clarity and great photos,” he writes. “The reader is made aware of the callousness of military orders and the attendant misfortunes of war. It provides a stark examination of the valor and honor of these brave soldiers.”
What: Samuel Ortega and Arnulfo Hernández Jr. will introduce and sign copies of “The Men of Company E: The Toughest Chicano Soldiers of World War II.” A panel discussion will include community activist Santos “Super” Sanchez.
When: 2:30-5 p.m. today
Where: Main Library, 501 N. Oregon.
What else: The event starts a book tour. The authors also will promote the book in Fort Davis, Austin and San Antonio.