Operation Dragoon (US Army Photo)
El Paso’s famed Company E, the only all Mexican American U.S. Army unit in WWII, participated in the Allied Landing in Southern France 75 years ago today.
Throughout the years Company E’s exploits in WWII have been documented in El Paso by the iconic El Paso journalist Joe Olvera. Alfredo Lugo produced a short documentary in the early 80’s about some of the men in Company E. Outside of El Paso many didn’t realize there was all Mexican American WWII unit.
When I first set out to write my Cousin Ramon Gutierrez’s story I found out through research that he had served with the historic Texas National Guard unit out of El Paso, Company E, 141st Infantry, 36th Division.
The focus of the story shifted from telling one man’s story to the entire unit’s story. In 2014, I first self-published my book ‘Patriots from the Barrio.’
In 2017 Hollywood Actor/Producer Wilmer Valderrama obtained the film rights to Patriots from the Barrio and is looking to produce a TV series based on the true story.
One of the first families I was able to connect with was that of Alex Carrillo who served in the Weapons Platoon of Company E. His children Alex Carrillo Jr, Patricia Reza, and Linda Graham were all very supportive from day one for me to be able to tell their true story.
In a span of five years of research I was able to connect with over sixty different families of the men that served in the unique and historic Company E.
Company E became the first American unit to oppose Hitler’s Nazi forces on the European continent when they spearheaded the Allied landing at Salerno, Italy. The Company would fight their way up the Italian country towards Rome battling at Mt. Rotondo, San Pietro and the disaster at the Rapido River Crossing.
In a span of forty-eight hours the 36th Division would lose over two thousand men in attempt to cross the Rapido River in January of 1944. Company continued to fight at Monte Cassino and made the landing at Anzio to battle at Velletri before entering Rome in June of 1944.
Alex Carrillo was born in El Paso on July 18 1917, he lost his mother at a young age. His father Antonio worked in Ysleta and Alex grew up with Aunt Francisca in El Paso.
While at Bowie High School, Alex was on the boxing team and was one of the leading boxer’s in the 141st Infantry when the unit held boxing matches against each other while training.
Santiago Jaramillo was born in El Paso on May 21 1919 and grew up near the Franklin Irrigation canal where he
learned to swim.
The family gave Santiago the nickname “Chago”, but everyone in Company E called him Jimmy.
His younger brother Luis C. Jaramillo had been serving as an aviation machinist in the U.S. Navy aboard a carrier, he had joined the Navy at seventeen years of age. Luis was tragically killed while serving in the Pacific on December 8 1942, he was only twenty years old.
Both Alex and Santiago were serving in the weapons platoon as mortar men. They arrived in North Africa in April of 1943 where they continued to train. On September 9, 1943 the 36th Division had spearheaded the landing at Salerno where both men played a vital part in moving Company E towards their objectives.
During the Rapido River Crossing, both Santiago and Alex were surrounded by German forces and were captured on the German side of the river. One German soldier was left to watch over the two men while the rest of the enemy soldiers continued to look for more Americans.
A shot rang out and the German soldier dropped his weapon.
Jaramillo quickly jumped at the weapon on the ground and wrestled it away from the German. Jaramillo shot the German soldier dead and both Carrillo and Jaramillo made it back towards the river.
The Germans were still firing at anything that moved across the river and both men from El Paso remained hidden.
As they heard German forces approaching they removed their boots and made their way across the river to be able to swim faster. The enemy continued to fire at them as they made it across the river. One Hundred and fifty-four men of Company E crossed the Rapido River on January 22, 1944.
Carrillo and Jaramillo were part of only twenty seven men of Company E that would return back across the river to the American side. During the battle for Cassino Jaramillo was wounded in both his legs when the German Army fired artillery on their position on February 19, 1944.
Both Carrillo and Jaramillo made the landing at Anzio with Company E on May 25 1944 and fought through the battle of Velletri. When Rome fell, the 36th Division was the first unit to march through the Eternal City on June 4, 1944.
At D-Day June 6th, (the allied landing at Normandy France) the original plan had called for landings at Normandy and southern France. Due to lack of resources the landing at Southern France was cancelled and all resources were concentrated on the Normandy beaches.
With the Allies pushing forward from Normandy, they continued with the plan to make another landing in southern France, calling it Operation Dragoon. Company E and the 36th Division took part in the landings on August 15, 1944.
The 141st Infantry had been decimated during the Italian Campaign. After the unit started taking casualties in WWII they were no longer an all Mexican American fighting unit. Very few of the original Texas National Guardsmen from El Paso were left still fighting after entering Rome.
Alex Carrillo and Santiago Jaramillo were two of the men still fighting with Company E and made the historic landings during Operation Dragoon 75 years ago today.
Against many odds, both Carrillo and Jaramillo from El Paso had landed in North Africa, Salerno, Anzio, and Southern France with Company E during WWII. They continued to fight in France and into Germany before being rotated back to the states.
Both men married and raised their families in El Paso.
For years very little was spoken about the war unless the men were together. Santiago Jaramillo worked many years as an electrician at
Fort Bliss. He passed away in August of 1988 at the age of 69. Alex Carrillo married Lucy Barcena and together raised their family. His granddaughter Anna Carrillo just graduated from UTEP this past May.
Alex Carrillo passed away in October of 1998 at the age of 80.
It is important to keep sharing their story. In our time where many are questioning the Mexican American contributions to this nation, here is the story of just two Mexican American families that have sacrificed much in service to their country.
They were both Patriots from the Barrio.
That tradition has continued with the following generations that continue to serve this country in multiple capacities.
As Latino Americans we must continue to record and document our history, no one is going to do it for us.
Author: Dave Gutierrez
Gutierrez is a Speaker, Writer and author of the book “Patriots from the Barrio” the true story of El Paso’s famed Company E in WWII.
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