By Wendy Brown, Fort Bliss Bugle Managing Editor:
(El Paso, Texas, Aug. 17, 2017)
Dave Gutierrez, author of a book about Company E, 2nd Battalion, 141st Regiment, 36th Division, during World War II, announced at a lecture at the El Paso Museum of History Aug. 10 that he plans to make a documentary about the Mexican-American unit that included many Soldiers from El Paso.
“The reason why I was very passionate about this is that I wanted to make sure that these men were not forgotten,” Gutierrez told an audience of about 35 that included Alex Rivas of El Paso, who served in Co. E. “Outside of El Paso, Texas, you don’t hear of their story. El Paso has done a pretty good job of making sure people remember the men of Company E, but I want to take that a little further.”
Gutierrez initially set out to write a biography about his cousin, Ramon Gutierrez, who received a Silver Star for his heroic actions while taking out a machine gun nest in Italy, but found his research ballooned when he started contacting family members of other Co. E Soldiers. He published his book, “Patriots from the Barrio” in 2014 and held a book signing that year with a room full of Co. E family members in the rotunda at Capt. John L. Chapin High School, which is named after the company’s commander. El Paso also has a monument to the Soldiers at 4321 Delta Dr.
The men of Co. E are well known in El Paso for their distinguished fighting throughout multiple campaigns in North Africa, Italy and Southern France, and also for their fateful mission at the Rapido River in Italy. Army leaders ordered the company to cross the river Jan. 20, 1944, but the Germans had it heavily defended, and many men, including Chapin, died during the crossing.
At the history museum, Gutierrez gave a lecture about the unit that included photos and stories about the Soldiers. Rivas sat in the front row and nodded approvingly when he saw the photos of his fellow Soldiers up on a big screen.
While Gutierrez’s cousin was from Del Rio, Texas, members of the segregated unit came from Mexican-American barrios in other Texas locations as well, including El Paso. Before shipping off to fight in Europe, the unit was among the first to receive a new kind of training called Ranger training at Camp Edwards, Mass. Gutierrez told stories about several of the men, including his cousin.
During the unit’s landing at Salerno, Italy, Sept. 9, 1943, Ramon Gutierrez decided to charge a machine gun nest that was wounding and killing many men.
“During his approach towards the machine gun nest, he was hit in the arm and he lost his (Browning Automatic Rifle). He continued to charge the machine gun nest without a weapon. He silenced the machine gun nest with a hand grenade and then jumped into the foxhole and killed the last German soldier in hand-to-hand combat,” Gutierrez said.
Gutierrez also told how Gabriel Navarrete took the test to go to Officer Candidate School three times, and although he passed the written test each time, he was told at least once he didn’t pass the oral portion because of his accent, and was told all three times he couldn’t go to the school. After his brave service at Salerno, however, Navarrete received a battlefield commission and became an officer.
He also talked about Raphael Torres, who took on German tanks with his Springfield rifle and was puzzled when he found them actually retreating. He fought off three tanks this way, adding grenades into the mix. Later, he was so badly wounded after an artillery shell landed near him that many men passed him by, thinking he was dead. He lived to be 93.
Another Soldier, Manuel Rivera, received a slight wound, but somehow, his family received a telegram saying he had died. It took three days to clear up the confusion.
Gutierrez also told the audience about Rivas, who was one of only two enlisted men Army leaders had chosen to teach officers about demolitions.
“Here we have Alex Rivas from El Paso, Texas, from the barrios of El Paso, Texas, training U.S. Army officers in demolitions,” Gutierrez said.
After the lecture, Rivas said he enjoyed the show a lot. His son, Albert Rivas, said it brought back memories for him too, since he grew up knowing several of the men.
“There were a lot of pictures I’d never seen before of people that I’ve known for a long time,” Albert Rivas said. “I mean, our parents used to be friends. They had a Company E club … (and) all these people, we grew up hearing the stories, and it’s kind of neat to see some of the pictures. I’ve never seen them in uniform.”
For more information, see “Dave Nachito Gutierrez, Author” on Facebook.