North Scott Press
January 22, 2014
One of the remarkable stories of heroism in all of the United States is right here in our own back yard, but I didn't know it until a friend, Gary Sosniecki, gave me the book, "Hero Street USA," two years ago.
I initially dismissed it as "one more thing to read" and didn't get around to it until months later, but once I started, I couldn't put the book down. Then last week, Linda and I and 500 Quad Citians in a standing- room-only crowd at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Silvis were present for the premiere showing of a new documentary, "Letters Home to Hero Street."
To say that the audience for this premiere was deeply touched would be putting it mildly. There were few dry eyes when the 30-minute program reached its ultimate and inevitable ending. Though we all knew that Pfc. Frank Sandoval would die from enemy fire in the mountains of Burma while building a road to supply the Chinese, whose supply routes were cut off by the Japanese near the end of World War II, the documentary – told through gut-wrenching letters he wrote home to his mother in Silvis – touched viewers to the core.
Frank Sandoval was one of eight men from one two-block section of Second Street in that Illinois Quad-City town that was dubbed "Little Mexico," who died in combat in World War II and the Korean War. Eighty men from three dozen homes on this one street volunteered to fight for their country in those two wars. The eight casualties were more from a single neighborhood than anywhere in the USA.
It took decades before the uncommon sacrifice was noticed, but in 1971, Second Street was officially renamed "Hero Street," and in 1989, monuments were erected in a small park [Hero Street Memorial Park]. These sites are less than a half-hour drive from Eldridge, and anyone who wishes to truly understand the multi-cultural heritage of our area and the sacrifices that secured our freedoms should visit them at least once.
"Letters Home to Hero Street," which debuted on WQPT Friday night, scratches the surface.
Director Kelly Rundle and producers Tammy Rundle (Fourth Wall Films) and Lora Adams (WQPT-PBS) said they would like to have made a feature length film to tell the stories of all eight fallen soldiers, but the budget (funded mostly with a grant from the Illinois Arts Council) wouldn't allow that. But they were extremely pleased that the letters of one soldier – Frank Sandoval – painted an accurate picture. Indeed.
Family members, including Frank's brother, and descendants of the fallen were present for Thursday's premiere. In discussion that followed the showing, they thanked the local actors and actresses – who were present – and said it told the story well.
The rest of the story
The rest of the story, which Hollywood should take a look at, begins during the Mexican revolution from 1910-20. This was documented by "Hero Street USA" author Marc Wilson of Hampton, Ill., who is the owner of Town News of Moline, a company that hosts websites for many newspapers, including The NSP.
Wilson's book describes the conditions of the Mexican peasants under dictator Porfiro Diaz as "miserable, hopeless and cheap." Ninety-five percent of the women were illiterate. There was mass starvation. Disability and disease were rampant. "Little was left but despair and gorging green flies, ashes of death and the suffering of the living."
During this time, 3,000 families owned half of Mexico's land, and 17 individuals owned one fifth. More than 40 percent of the land, mines and oil were owned by Americans, and other foreign nationals owned 24 percent.
Reformer Francisco Madero took over the government but was escorted out of the capital and shot in the back of the head at point-blank range in a coup that was planned by the U.S. Ambassador Henry Wilson, who, the book says, boasted of it! The ambassador was later fired by U.S. President Woodrow Wilson, but pandemonium ensued throughout Mexico and peasants were caught in the crossfire. "Fear reigned when soldiers passed through towns."
Between 1910 and 1920 one out of 15 Mexicans lost their lives and a million fled to the U.S., which had a worker shortage because of World War I. The U.S. Department of Labor exempted Mexicans from the Immigration Act of 1917 and recruiters went to Mexico to find workers to keep the American economy going.
Eduviges and Angelina Sandoval – Frank's parents – joined the exodus in 1917 when Eduviges was hired by the Chicago, Rock Island, and Pacific Railroad. "Starving, grieving and clad in rags" they crossed the border to Laraedo en route to the Silvis rail yard where they found themselves living in box cars and working long hours in severe heat and cold for little pay. Eventually they moved to houses on Second Street (now "Hero Street") with dirt floors, no indoor plumbing and no electricity. They were met with hostility from racist groups like the KKK.
This is the background that makes the "Hero Street" story so compelling. These families persevered against all odds and the sons eagerly joined the U.S. armed forces to prove their loyalty to America. Marc Wilson's book details the tragic but heroic stories of the eight who died: Tony Pompa, brothers Frank and Joseph Sandoval, Willie Sandoval, Claro Solis, Peter Masias, Joseph Gomez and Johnny Muñoz.
Shamefully, the discrimination continued after the war when the survivors were denied membership in the Silvis post of the VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars). They instead chartered their own VFW post and, as justice is served, it survived and the one that denied them didn't.
"Letters Home to Hero Street" helps keep this important story alive and deserves the appreciation of all involved. It will be shown again on WQAD, Channel 8, on a date to soon be announced, and is well worth a half hour of our time.
To stream the film via VIMEO for $2.00, click HERE.