Francisco Chapa Alvarado was living in northern Mexico in 1943 when he received a draft notice from his native U.S. Alvarado, who had moved to Mexico with his young family a few years earlier, came home and took up arms.
His 75-year-old son, Felix Alvarado, wonders why his father returned.
“He did not have to come back,” Alvarado said in a telephone interview from his Fort Worth home this week. “Once in a while, I say he was either the bravest man in the world – a real hero – or he was a complete fool. It took a lot of courage to decide that you were going to go to war, 'cause he knew he was going off to war.”
The Great Depression
Alvarado had been heavily impacted by the Great Depression. Born in Texas, he was a farmer when he was inducted into the Army on Nov. 26, 1943, according to military records. With no education and few skills, Alvarado had few ways to support his wife, Bonifacia Ortiz Rodriguez, and their growing family.
The years before he entered the military were harsh for the Alvarados. During the Depression, unemployment was as high as 25 percent and even higher for minorities. Mexicans and Mexican-Americans faced hostility throughout the country. Several government relief programs and jobs were restricted to U.S. citizens – and some Mexican-Americans had no proof of citizenship.
In the 1930s, about 1 million Mexicans and Mexican-Americans were deported in what was called a "repatriation." An estimated 60 percent of American citizens of Mexican descent were also swept up.
While the U.S. government was pushing away Mexicans and Americans of Mexican descent, the Mexican government was looking for people to colonize northern Mexico. The government announced a new program in 1938: It would give people land and food and help them build a house.
Bonificia Ortiz Rodriguez told her son Felix in an interview before she passed away 20 years ago that the couple and their two young sons traveled to the Mexican Consulate’s office in Houston and signed up for the program.
“It was a repatriation,” Rodriguez said in the recorded interview. “Not that they were running us out. It was a repatriation for people who wanted land in Mexico.”
But it wasn’t actually a repatriation; the couple and their two children were born in Texas.
The Alvarados jumped at the chance and drove to Mexico with their two small sons. They were placed in a collective outside of Matamoros.
“They were sold this bill of goods,” Felix Alvarado said. “'Life is going to be good; life is going to be great.' It wasn’t.”
A Draft Notice
The land was undeveloped and it would require clearing before any house could be built. The couple pitched a tent, and Bonifacia Rodriguez cooked in the open air.
“We didn’t have anything – anything – and your father started to make a house,” she said. “And then the baby died.”
Bonifacia Rodriguez said in the interview that 18-month-old Antonio couldn’t adapt to the climate. The couple took him to a doctor in Matamoros, but it was too late. He was buried in a crate under a tree. There was no cemetery nearby.
Determined to return to the U.S., Bonifacia left with her other child, 3-year-old Silvestre. Her husband stayed behind. Back in Orange Grove, 35 miles outside of Corpus Christi, she received a letter from the U.S. government in 1943.
“He was in Mexico when my mother got the draft notice for him,” Felix Alvarado said. “And she sent it to Mexico, and when he got it over there, he decided he was going to come back and fight for his country.”
A Military Family
Alvarado was assigned to Company A, 358th regiment, 90th Infantry Division. He was in the second wave of the Normandy invasion and captured almost immediately, spending 10 months as a prisoner of war.
“He said one time a German guard was looking at him, just kept staring at him," Felix Alvarado said. The guard introduced himself as a German Mexican who was in Germany at the start of the war. "When he tried to come back to Mexico, they said, ‘No, no, no, no. You’re gonna stay right here and fight.’ So he was a guard there.”
After Russian soldiers liberated the POWs, Alvarado returned home. He and Bonifacia would have 12 children – eight sons and four daughters – who survived into adulthood. Of those, all but one served in the military. Felix Alvarado served in the Air Force.
Francisco Alvarado died in 1988, but his children keep their parents' memory alive.
“These are stories I never want to forget,” he said. “So I go over them in my mind – and I don’t embellish them. This is what my father said. If he said 10 words, I repeat 10 words.”