Company E’s New Memorial Raises Questions About Who’s Included
A young soldier on the battlefield pulls his comrade by the shoulder straps with his left hand, his right gripping his rifle tightly. Two other soldiers lying on the ground nearby watch the enemy while another rises and points the troops forward.
The scene is depicted in “The Treacherous Crossing,” a new memorial honoring the men of E Company that will be officially unveiled downtown on June 30.
Company E was the Army’s first and only unit made up entirely of Mexican-Americans—the vast majority from south of El Paso. During World War II, the company was on the front lines of the Battle of the Rapido River in Italy. Most were killed by German troops.
Today, the families of some members of Company E are fighting over the town over whose names should be inscribed on the memorial.
Points of contention include whether the memorial should only feature the names of members of Company E who were deployed in Italy and in the Battle of the Rapido River, and whether the names should replicate those inscribed at another memorial in south-central El Paso.
Ben Fyffe, the city’s general manager of cultural affairs and recreation, said 223 names will be inscribed on the new monument – although not all of them will be definitively set by the unveiling. It now has 174 names permanently registered.
“We had specific criteria for the names for this project and the artist worked with accredited military historians to develop the piece,” Fyffe told El Paso Matters. “In the end, (the downtown memorial) will have many more names than the original.”
Fyffe said the city is making sure all names on the Delta Park memorial are included in the new Downtown. But due to some supply chain challenges in obtaining brass and other materials, some names will be temporarily placed on the monument for the ceremony. Fyffe said he couldn’t say how long it would take to add all the names.
The unveiling of “The Treacherous Crossing,” a 14-by-8-foot statue by frontier artist Julio Sanchez de Alba, is scheduled for 9 a.m. Thursday, June 30 at Cleveland Square Park, 510 N. Santa Fe St. The piece was originally going to be called “The Insurmountable Task,” but the artist wanted a more specific name for the piece, Fyffe said.
The city planned to unveil the monument on June 2 but postponed the event, posting on social media that “the decision to postpone was made after community feedback from family members who were unable to attend” .
Retired educator Norma De La Rosa is among those distraught that the names of loved ones were not included in the list of 174 names originally planned for the monument.
His grandfather, 1st Sgt. Lorenzo M. Luna, trained members of Company E at Camp Bowie in Brownwood, Texas. Luna joined the Texas National Guard in 1931 at the age of 31, said his son, Martin Luna.
“By the time they were called up during the war, he was in his 40s and someone decided my dad was too old and had too many kids to serve,” said Martin Luna, himself a Corps veteran. Marines who served in Korea. War.
It is unknown if 1st Sgt. Luna left voluntarily or was retired from the army. As Company E headed for Europe, he rejoined the service and was assigned to another unit which fought in New Guinea as part of the Pacific Theatre. Back home in El Paso, he worked with a lumber company and the U.S. Postal Service before he died in 1994 at age 94.
“We don’t want to diminish the service of others, but we also want to make sure the original members of E-Society are properly honored,” De La Rosa said. “It’s not that they didn’t choose to go to Italy, but that the army sent them somewhere else.”
First Sergeant. Luna’s name is inscribed on the memorial in Delta Park but will only be inscribed superficially on the statue in Cleveland Square before it is permanently added.
“After World War II, these guys proved they were as American as anyone else and many died serving this country,” Martin Luna said.
E Company Memorials
This first memorial, “Men of Company E,” also by Sanchez de Alba, was unveiled at Delta Park in south-central El Paso in 2008. On one side, the memorial depicts members of the company E trying to cross the Rapido River. The other side lists the names of 142 members of the El Paso society.
Many argued that the play needed more exposure, and at one point city officials offered to move it downtown.
This city chose instead to commission a second monument as a public art component of the Center for Mexican American Culture currently under construction adjacent to Cleveland Square.
Fyffe said the city and the artist have spoken with the families on several occasions in an effort to honor E society.
“Having us have a second memorial shows the city’s commitment to honoring this very deserving unit,” he said.
The new $615,000 monument is funded by the Public Art Program which allocates 2% of capital project costs to public art as well as a $35,000 donation from the nonprofit Community En Action.
“Public art celebrates what makes El Paso unique, what makes our history and our heritage important,” Fyffe said.
Some Company E family members say the city should have done a better job in the beginning to be more inclusive.
“Family members have been sadly neglected, waited unnecessarily and suffered emotional turmoil throughout this entire project,” said Marc A. Salazar, whose E-Society member father Gabriel M. Salazar is named after him. inscribed in both monuments. in a June 21 email to city officials shared with El Paso Matters.
“My father would have liked to have all their names put on the monument,” Salazar said in a phone interview. “He would have wanted everyone to be honoured. They were a brotherhood.
Gabriel Salazar worked for the US Postal Service for many years after his military service. He died in 2003 at the age of 82.
Alberto Rivas, whose father Ajejandro Rivas served in E Company, said he understands military rosters are constantly changing and how pinning down an era and group to honor can be a difficult task.
Still, he said he wished there had been more weight given to the contribution of families.
“I think to be very narrow about who gets included is kind of dismissive of some people,” he said, adding that he was happy to hear the city would be adding more names, including that of his father.
Alejandro Rivas, whose name is included in the Delta sculpture but was not meant to be included in the novella, worked with refrigerator door and clothing companies after his military service. He died in 2019 at the age of 97.
“There was such camaraderie between them. They knew each other before joining, trained together, served together and formed a Company E Club when they got home,” said Alberto Rivas.
The insurmountable task
Company E was formed in 1923 as a small unit of the Texas National Guard comprising all Mexican-Americans primarily from the Segundo Barrio of El Paso. The company became part of the 2nd Battalion, 141st Regiment, 36th Infantry Division.
In 1941, the 36th Division was sent to Camp Bowie, a new installation in Brownwood, Texas, where the men of Company E were led by Luna – De La Rosa’s grandfather – and Captain John L. Chapin .
Under Chapin, Company E was sent to Europe in 1943 to help liberate Rome from the Germans.
Company E suffered many casualties in various attacks and deaths from disease. Along the way, the men were replaced by troops—not all of whom were Mexican-American—bringing the unit to around 160 enlisted men, according to various historical reports cited by Jorge Rodriguez in his 2010 dissertation at the University of Texas at El Paso, “A History of Company E of El Paso in World War II.
In January 1944, in what some historians have called an insurmountable task and one of the most controversial battles of World War II, the company was ordered to cross the Rapido River in southern Italy into Nazi territory. .
The river – up to 50 feet wide and 15 feet deep – was defended by one of the toughest German units in Italy, the 15th Panzergrenadier Division.
In two days, German forces killed 2,000 American soldiers as they attempted to cross the river, the majority of them from Company E.
Fyffe said that’s why “The Treacherous Crossing” will include the names of some E Company members who weren’t necessarily from El Paso or Mexican American but “who nevertheless made the same sacrifice. “.
Band of brothers
After World War II, Company E was designated as the new unit of the Corpus Christi National Guard.
“No other attempt was ever made by the Texas National Guard to create a unit similar to Company E,” Rodriguez said in his master’s thesis in history.
“It seemed that it was no longer necessary to do so since so many Mexican-Americans had served honorably in integrated units in all branches of the military. Thus, Company E will forever be remembered in history as the first and only distinctly Mexican-American unit to serve in the United States Army and the military in general.