The Inspiring True Story of a Segregated Unit Whose Exploits Underscore the Forgotten Latino Contribution to the Allied Victory in World War II
As a child, Dave Gutierrez hung on every word his father recalled about his cousin Ramon, “El Sancudo” (the mosquito), and his service in World War II, where he earned a Silver Star, three Purple Hearts, and escaped from the Germans twice. Later, Dave decided to find out more about his father’s cousin, and in the course of his research, he discovered that Ramon Gutierrez was a member of Company E, 141st Infantry, a part of the 36th “Texas” Division that was comprised entirely of Mexican Americans—the only such unit in the entire U.S. Army. The division landed at Salerno, Italy, in 1943, among first American soldiers to set foot in Europe. In the ensuing months, Company E and the rest of the 36th would battle their way up the mountainous Italian peninsula against some of Nazi Germany’s best troops. In addition to the merciless rain, mud, and jagged peaks, swift cold rivers crisscrossed the region, including the Rapido, where Company E would face its greatest challenge. In an infamous episode, the 36th Division was ordered to cross the Rapido despite reports that the opposite bank was heavily defended. In the ensuing debacle, the division was ripped apart, and Company E sustained appalling casualties. The company rebounded and made the storied landings at Anzio and ultimately invaded southern France for a final push into Germany. The men of Company E distinguished themselves as rugged fighters capable of warring amid the rubble of destroyed villages and in the devastated countryside.