The transforming experiences of African-Americans and Japanese-Americans during World War II have been well documented. They speak to issues of civil rights, self-determination, and racial integration of the U.S. Armed Forces. Moreover, after the war, access to education and fair housing were among the benefits sought and in some measure attained because of their wartime achievements. For Latinos and Mexican-Americans in particular, there are few programs that present stories of the heroism and sacrifices made on behalf of the ideals of freedom and valor.
Veterans from all branches of our armed forces from Texas, Arizona, and California share their stories in this documentary. Among them is Silvestre Herrera, a Latino soldier awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for injuries suffered in battle, B-25 bomber pilot Gilbert Orrantia, and D-Day veteran John D. Luna. Also featured are women who participated in the war effort, such as Henrietta Lopez Rivas, who used her excellent bilingual skills to work at the local Civil Defense office and later as a mechanic at Kelly Air Base in San Antonio. The story of Rosa Ramirez Guerrero, who devoted her time as an entertainer for troops stationed in El Paso, is also presented.
Additionally, the program highlights key experts and historians, including Dr. Maggie Rivas-Rodriguez of the University of Texas at Austin, who with her staff, have interviewed hundreds of World War II veterans to ensure their contributions will not be forgotten.
About the Producer
Valentía: Mexican Americans in World War II was produced by Corita Gravitt, who has three decades of experience in video production in both commercial and public television. She was executive producer of California’s Heartland, and produces host segments and packages for America’s Heartland, the national agriculture public television series. Ms. Gravitt also produced Braceros: Strong Arms to Aid the USA, an original KVIE documentary focusing on the successful Latino guest worker program that helped feed America during WWII and afterwards.
Notes From the Producer
In the more than twenty years I’ve been producing television programming I have never been engaged in a project as touching nor as emotional as Valentía. While I had cursory knowledge of the role that Mexican-Americans played in World War II, I did not realize the enormous impact that their service played.
I spoke with veterans and family members whose memories of the war are, for the most part, still fresh and often raw. The youngest man we met is 79 while the oldest is 93. They come from small towns in Texas, Arizona, and California. Upon returning from Europe or the Pacific, most led quiet, unassuming lives, trying but unable to forget the horrors of war including the loss of kin and friends.
It is estimated that out of a Mexican-American population of less than three million, more than half a million Mexican Americans contributed to the war effort, whether on the battlefield or on the home front. What many Americans don’t realize—and it came as a surprise to me—is that as a percentage of the population, more Mexican-Americans were awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor in World War II than any other group.
As the daughter of a combat Marine World War II veteran, I was deeply humbled and felt privileged to meet these men, women, and their families and to be able in some small way to tell their stories of service, sacrifice, and valor.