Unlike blacks and Japanese, Hispanics served in integrated units in World War II. Fourteen Hispanics earned the Medal of Honor for their bravery during the war, yet many Hispanic soldiers returned home to face continuing discrimination and mistreatment. The refusal of a Three Rivers, Texas, funeral parlor to allow the use of its chapel for the burial of Pvt. Felix Longoria's remains, which were returned to his family after the war in 1949, launched a major civil rights push by Mexican Americans. Sen. Lyndon Johnson arranged for Pvt. Longoria to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery, and the incident became a focal point in the demand by Mexican Americans for equal rights.
I wonder what my father would think about the controversy over "The War." He died 29 years ago this week and is buried at the Santa Fe National Cemetery, like thousands of others who served their country. Looking out over the sea of white crosses, it's impossible to know what ethnic group the men and women buried there belonged to, and only the occasional Star of David symbolizes any difference in religion.
My father never mentioned any ethnic tension when he talked about the war. I don't ever remember him referring to anyone's ancestry. I imagine he viewed the men he served with not as Irish or Italian or Polish, but as fellow Americans. Would he have watched "The War" through an ethnic prism? Somehow I doubt it. I think he would have seen the stories Ken Burns has tried to tell as his own, even if the soldiers and sailors were named Gray, Phillips, Ciarlo, Satow and Leopold.
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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