By Reason of Their Service

Trinie Sanchez and Earl Johnson

 
    
Juan Ramirez (1836-1917) and wife Jacinta (1856-1934) were the parents of four daughters, Ygnacia, Seferina, Cavetana and Maria, and two sons, Panfilo and Crespin. Ygnacia (1887-1936) married Jouquin Barrientez (1883-1946) on January 5, 1905. They had five daughters, Lillie, Francisca, Juaquina, Benita and Dominga, and three sons, Santos, Crecenta and Juan.

    Jouquin Barrientez was a proud figure in Mulberry. He had worked with Texas Rangers in South Texas, then on the railroads in North Texas. His horse’s saddle had an unusually high, rounded back, and he kept a pack of hounds that came running when he mounted and blew his horn. On October 31, 1932, in the suit of J. W. Palmore vs. Fred Lyday, “Joaquin Barintz, on the Palmore place” was summoned. Jouquin and Ygnacia were buried at Mulberry near her parents.


photos: Jouquin and Ygnacia Barrentez...

    and Jouquin on his horse

      

     The Mexican families that came to Mulberry had “cut cedar” and worked as ranch hands on the way north. One group told of forced confinement and escape. Leandra Sanchez whose 100th birthday was celebrated in Savoy on April 6, 1991 remembered that she was already a young lady—“not a little girl”—when she crossed the Rio Grande at Laredo with her father, Cristobal (1870-1938), and stepmother, Paulita (1855-1948). As a young man Cristobal had gone into the mountains of Mexico to work on the large haciendas, but he was paid little. So he would take a knife and look for wild fruit and honey. Alone on one occasion he broke his leg and had to improvise a splint and crutch. Years later he felt the tip of a bone fragment and pulled out a splinter.

    Cristobal and Paulita (pictured right), their
son Juan (1895-1953), and Leandra left the town of Cerritos, not far from San Luis Potosi in central Mexico, where Leandra and Juan were born.  Juan was born Nicholas Castro; to “avoid complications” he, and later Cristobal too, changed the family surname to Sanchez. They left Ysabel Ortiz (1882-1932), Paulita’s son by another marriage, behind. Cristobal carried the family’s belongings “on his shoulders” and they walked. With Paulita, Leandra and Juan in Texas, somewhere near Fort Worth, Cristobal went back or sent to Mexico for Ysabel and his son, Augustine (1907-91).
    Juan (pictured left) was working for the railroad near Fort Worth when he married Rosa Perez (1899-1988).  Rosa’s father had been a baker in Mexico. At age seven she was in San Antonio, Texas, with her mother and a brother. Two years later her mother died, and she was afraid of her brother’s wife. She married at sixteen but had no children until she was twenty, as agreed with her brother.

    When work on the railroads slacked off around Denison, the Sanchez’ heard that farm work and “woodcutting” were available at Mulberry. They didn’t stay long and moved on briefly into Oklahoma and were there at the time of the cyclone. Leandra remembered well that the year was 1919. They came back soon afterwards to see the “fallen-down houses” and crowds of curious sightseers....


     The first child of Juan and Rosa Sanchez, Pauline, was
born in Mulberry on June 22, 1919. “By the time I was able to work,” she said, “we already had ten in the family.” Of six girls and five boys, all but one were born in Mulberry. They were (after Pauline) Trinidad “Trini” (1921), Salamon (1923), Grace (1925), Johnny (1927), Agnes (1930), Mary Francis (1932), Rita (1935), Robert (1935), Alfonso “Buddy” (1939) and Irene (1942).

          

        photo:  Leandra Sanchez, with Rosa’s first child, Pauline,

                      and Augustine Ortiz, son of Ysabel

       

    Juan might find work elsewhere (with the railroad again in Denison), but Rosa always came back to Mulberry where Cristobal and Paulita remained, when her time came. Juan taught Pauline to read and write Spanish while they were in Mulberry, but before she started to school—“my mother thought it was too far for me to walk to school in Mulberry”—he moved the family back to Denison where Pauline attended a Catholic school. Eventually, however, all the Sanchez children attended school at Mulberry.  

    Pauline’s daughter Lydia, “born and raised in the south end of Dearborn, [Michigan], in the shadow of the massive Ford Rouge factory complex ... is working on a book about her grandmother, Paula ... based on the many stories relayed throughout the years.”


    The Free Press [2016] asked readers to share the stories of beloved women in their families, the women who left a mark on generations to come ... we share the story of ... a Mexican immigrant who trumpeted the importance and power of the vote. This story [is] by Michigan native Lydia Rodriguez Marco.


    My maternal great-grandmother, Paula Castro Ortiz Sanchez, born in Veracruz, Mexico, in 1852, was a curandera, a folk healer.

    Six decades later, she was brought to Texas by her son, Juan, and practiced her birthright among the farm families.

    My mother was the oldest of Juan and Rosa’s 11 children and I was her oldest child, so I always heard stories from my mother, aunts and uncles and, only recently, decided I should chronicle the many accounts, so the younger generations know about the hardships she and the family faced but more importantly, about Paula’s sense of self-worth.

    I recount the information in story form, as that’s how I heard it, and this is only one of them but it exemplifies how a tiny, illiterate, peasant woman knew in the depths of her soul, that she mattered.

    In Mexico, Paula, a widow with a young son, worked in the kitchen of a large hacienda. During early afternoon chores, as Paula sat before a large bowl of corn dough, using two fingers to pat small balls of masa into hors d’oeuvres-size tiny tortillas, uniformed soldiers barged into the kitchen.  All were stern-faced, thin young men, wearing the light gray uniforms of the Rurales, the unofficial police of the dictator, Porfirio Diaz or El Presidente, as he liked to be called. They carried rifles that they immediately pointed at the women, who flinched and gasped loudly in unison.

    The women were forced into the courtyard, past armed soldiers and were directed toward a spreading oak, where a broad-shouldered man with slick black hair and luxuriant moustache, sat at a heavy wooden table. A stack of papers lay in front of him, and behind him, stood the owner of the hacienda, hands behind his back, looking every bit the aristocrat.

    It was time for the farce, at that time, known as an election, and the workers were compelled to cast a ballot.  When Paula reached the desk, the man whipped out a sheet of paper, where the square next to the name of Porfirio Diaz had already been checked off. He handed her an ink pen and pounded his finger, where she was to sign her name.

    Her face burned in shame that these arrogant men could see that she was unable to write her name and she hurried the pen, not caring that she left black blobs along both lines of the X. The official didn’t bother asking her name, as it didn’t matter. In a couple days, he would be happy to report back to El Presidente that the vote of the peasants in the country was unanimous, as usual.

    Decades later, whenever presidential elections were held in the United States, my mother, Paulina, always recounted her grandmother’s ultimate indignity. Without fail, the story started with “One day, grandma was in the kitchen of a hacienda, using her fingers to pat masa into small appetizer-size tortillas, when soldiers barged into the room ….”.

    And every time, my mother ended with, “Even after all those years, every time she told us about it, her body shook with anger.”

    The first time I heard it, we were walking hand in hand, toward the polls at Salina School in Dearborn, a half block away. I’m not sure I initially understood the significance of the story but after Mom was given the ballot, she took me inside the small booth, pulled the cord to close the curtains and something magical took place; the intimate space became hallowed ground and the deliberate act of voting, a reverential act.

    I understood my great-grandmother’s pain and humiliation, and it continues to amaze me, that, Paula, a tiny illiterate peasant woman, as low as one could be in the social order of her country, knew, in her bones, that forcing an individual to vote for someone, much less, a tyrant, was a sacrilege.

The Sanchez Family in Mulberry

(1925-26)


        ...lived on the Bramlett place, and Leandra made tamales for “los Halles.” “What special food did you have?” (Chuckle) “For poor people a special meal would be frijoles!” Leandra got a Singer sewing machine in 1925. Pauline’s mother used it too. She’d trade the peddler a chicken for “material.” Leandra “didn’t have a husband,” she said, but two children were Marianita “Maryann,” born 1927 or ‘28, and Guadeloupe in ‘32. They were baptized in a Catholic church. “In those days there wasn’t a church in Mulberry.”

    Actually (in 1925) there had been a “big tent revival.”
The Spanish-speaking preacher’s name was Vidaure;

he went to all the Mexican families asking them to come. Many did, and Pauline’s future husband, Adolfo Rodriguez, was baptized in the river. His mother was

a sister of Ygnacia, who married Jouquin Barrientez. When Ygnacia Barrientez “died at her home on the Palmore place at Mulberry [obituary] she was nearly fifty years of age...a member of the First Methodist Church of Mulberry for several years, a good citizen and devout Christian...funeral services...at the Methodist church at Mulberry....” Pauline and the

other Sanchez children also attended the Holiness church in Mulberry because they “liked the music.”


                                   photo:  Juan and Rosa Sanchez,

                                            with their fifth child, Johnny (1927)


        At Leandra’s 100th birthday party someone said, “They lived poor but didn’t realize it because of the happiness they knew in good families.” Pauline added, “We were poor, but we never went hungry. There wasn’t always meat, but at hog-killing time we had cracklings; the meat was salted and preserved in bags.” At Christmas some families still broke open the “pienyata” and made a Nativity.

        The Sanchez’ moved to the Connelly farm in ‘33, and Jewel Gay heard it told: “The farmhands would line up every morning to greet Mr. Connelly. But he’d respond, ‘What do you mean saying Good morning? I spoke to you on Monday.’ He was a Canadian.” Grand-

father Cristobal kept rabbits on the Connelly place. They made dens and the children (especially Trini) were fascinated by the “little white rabbits running around in the moonlight.”

   

    Four rooms, 16 x 16, the “Red House” was Gladys’ “ideal” home by ‘35. She’d entered it first when Isabel Ortiz died to “pay respect.” Later in same room, she woke alone on stormy nights to hear the clang of distant dinner bells, like the one on the Hall place. Her neighbors were “watching the clouds,” sounding an alarm.


     photo: Clayton Hall at “the Red House” (1936)               


  

    Between 1938 and ‘42 Juan and Rosa Sanchez and their children made several trips between Mulberry and Wisconsin to work in the sugar beet fields. Juan had heard in Dallas that a truck would come through the country to pick up workers who wanted to go. Most didn’t have as many children as the Sanchez’ did, but it wasn’t a problem. The trip was “like vacation. We’d never seen black and white cows before.” But because she was “the oldest,” Pauline had to assume more


responsibility. The annual return to Mulberry was for the sake of the children’s education; thinking of Juan, Pauline said, “He would have been so proud of his grand children.”


    Trini Sanchez did not return to Mulberry with the family in 1941, because of his electrical engineering course. Pauline heard about Pearl Harbor on the radio at the Yellow House. The family went back to Wisconsin in ‘42. Trini entered the army in September and went first to Camp Livingston in Louisiana. The family came back to Texas at Christmas and Trine was with them. In 1943 Juan got “defense industry” work in Detroit. Trini came again to Mulberry on furlough in June, but his father had already left. After three months, Juan returned and moved the family to Michigan, leaving Mulberry for the last time. Trini went overseas to South Wales and England, for assault training in October; he wrote to Pauline on the 22nd:


      

   

...for me I am well too, “Thanks to God.” I am somewhere in the British Isles. We are getting passes soon so we can go to town and see what it is like, because as yet we haven’t been away from camp. Everything here is different, but we have to get use to it. Even on the money we will have a little trouble at first. We are having our money changed to the type money here. As yet, I haven’t got the package but I am hoping I’ll get it soon. I would like to have more, either candy, cookies or any kind of cake. We are staying near a castle built some time in eleven hundreds. We are hoping to go inside and have a look at it. I saw the nice garden and a nice swimming pool too. Well, I can’t think of any more to write so I’ll close. Do not worry about me cause I am getting along alright. Regards to mother, dad & family and you. As always, the best. Brother.



        Trini Sanchez’ unit, the 109th Regiment in the 28th Infantry Division, entered France on July 27, 1944. Their first battle was St. Lo:


They hit the beach at Omaha,

Crossed the hedges row by row,

Where the Jerry learned to hate and fear

  The Keystone’s ruddy glow.



    After the liberation of Paris, Trini paraded past the Arc de Triomphe, down the Champs Elysees, to the Place de la Concorde:


A Victory March in Paris,

Ever forward with the dawn,

Through Belgium, France and Luxembourg

The Twenty-Eighth ‘rolled on’.


He was in the Battle of Colmar—


From Aachen, south to Alsace,

Where they fought at Colmar’s fall...


—another town liberated; the wounded thought Trini was dead. Not so! For the Battle of the Bulge, he was in Headquarters Battalion, with engineering support (demolition). On November 29 Trini wrote to Pauline:


    Dear Sis, Received one of your most welcome letters today.... I am fine too, “Thanks to God.” ...Today I got a letter from Margie. Remember her? She [has] still been writing, ever since I came in service. She is getting to be pretty nice too.... No I haven’t received any of the packages yet, that is not lately....


There are towns they’ll long remember—

Vossenack, Schmidt and Kommersheid,

And the break-through in December

When they slowed the German tide.


    Then Trini—Pfc Trinidad Sanchez, ASN 36266351, Hq Co, 3d Bn, 109th—got “Special Orders.” It was January 28, 1945. Eleven other American servicemen got the same:

SPECIAL ORDERS NUMBER 17


The following listed EM are detailed for duty as members of the firing squad to execute the sentence of death by shooting imposed by a General Court-Martial upon Pvt. Eddie D. Slovik 36896415 Co “G” 109th. EM will report for duty to the Director of the Execution at the Office of the Provost Marshal, this hq, at time specified by the Director of the Execution...By command of Major Gen Cota.


    The execution took place at 10:00 a.m. on January 31, 1945. That day in Mulberry Vera wrote in her diary, “About ten o’clock today Mr. Neathery decided to go home, or back to Farmersville. Lelia took him to the bus as he wanted to leave on the 1:15 ... I cleaned house in the afternoon.”


    On the day of Leandra’s funeral mass (1994), Trini Sanchez sat with cousin Johnny and started to speak about Private Slovik. He used words from the book. “He was not a coward...the priest said...he just walked away....” I was out in the field...captain said, “Here are your orders....” Slovik said, “...let me run from the truck; shoot me while I’m running....” The priest said, “He will die tomorrow, and you, the day after.” Another priest, that morning at the funeral, spoke the same. But Trini went on to other battles and, on a long drive with Pauline, told her: After all  the fire and noise there was only silence. The Germans were all dead; all the men on our side were dead; then a voice was speaking another language. Only Trini survived.


    Years later, Private Slovik’s body was brought back for burial in Detroit, and Trini said, “I could have been there if I’d known.” Pauline explained, “He’s buried only a few graves over from our father and mother.”        


    Chapter 1 of William Bradford Huie’s book,

The Execution of Private Slovik (1954), begins:

“On a red-and-gold autumn afternoon in 1953

I drove northeast from Paris....”  It ends:


    Now, as I stood there at the grave, in the dishonored plot reserved for criminals, the story was finished. The manuscript, checked and rechecked by the army, by Antoinette Slovik, by almost everyone mentioned in it, had been delivered to the publishers.

    “Well, Eddie,” I mused, “I guess that’s about it. You remember that little priest, Father Cummings, who prayed for you while you stood there waiting for the volley? He told me that you are now a Conscious Being out there Somewhere. If you are, then you know that I’ve dug you up. I’ve done my best to recreate you as you were.... One of the chaps in your firing squad said to me: ‘You know I’ve often wondered about that guy we shot—what’d you say his name was? I never saw him except that morning when he stood there in the snow with that GI blanket around his shoulders and we killed him. I wondered what that little bastard was like? How he came to foul up and catch that rap?’ ...And General Cota said to me in his office in Philadelphia: ‘That execution was the roughest fifteen minutes of my life. I stood there and faced the man, witnessed his death; it was my duty. But of course I never knew him, except what the record showed.’

    “Now, Eddie, they can all know you—everybody from the privates in the firing squad up to the President... If you are that Conscious Being, you can know them.... And quite a few thoughtful Americans, in whose name you were shot to death, can now sit in judgment on Private Slovik—and on the United States.”


Trini Sanchez and Johnny Hall, that day in my grandmother’s kitchen,


went on to remember Earl Johnson and laugh about the morning he burned down the school’s little shed for coal. He’d arrived early, as usual, couldn’t get in, built a “little fire” to keep warm. Loyd Venable remembered they called him “Earl the Squirrel” because he was always climbing trees, although at school it was forbidden. When the boys saw Mr. Delashaw’s car (he was the principal) getting close, they’d warned Earl, but “...there’d be leaves and twigs all over the ground. Earl was always the prankster, a dare-devil. He bought a Model A and drove it fast, burned it up, flying on the road at night, without lights. His training to be a paratrooper involved drops from tall towers. Maybe Earl wouldn’t have volunteered for that, if he’d known. ‘The first jump was terrible,’ he said.”



    1944 June 6: (BDF) “Extra” Invasion Opens. Paratroopers Form
First Wave of Invading Troops. Supreme Headquarters of Allied Expeditionary Forces, Somewhere in Great Britain. Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower...announced early today that Allied forces had begun landing on the northern coast of France...the opening of the greatest military operation in the world’s history, one that is expected to liberate millions of oppressed residents of Europe.... The first Allied troops to land on the European continent were Allied paratroopers....

    August 13: (BDF) Earl Johnson Is Killed In France On Invasion Day. Pfc. Earl Johnson, 22, paratrooper of the Mulberry community was killed in action in France on D-day, letters received by his sister, Mrs. Vera Kelly, of Bonham, from his parents, Mr. and Mrs. B. O. Johnson, who now reside at National City, Calif, relate.

    Pfc. Johnson, who was born in the Mulberry community, entered the service October 13, 1942 [September 29] and received his training at Fort Blanding, Fla., Camp McCoy, N.C., and Ft. Benning, Ga., going overseas in December, 1943, being stationed in England until D-Day.

    Pfc. Johnson was among the first paratroopers to land in France on D-Day.

    Survivors are his parents, five sisters...two brothers.


    Born in Mulberry September 15, 1921, Clifford Earl Johnson, ASN 38280202, received the Purple Heart for service in the 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division, United States Army. His body was buried in Normandy, St. Laurent, France, at the American Cemetery and Memorial.

    Father: Alha Burnette Johnson (1884-1964) was born in Paducah, Kentucky. He married Minerva Ann Dabbs (1893-1969) of Missouri on December 31, 1908. They were living in California when the telegram came.

According to his sister Vera: “It seems he was killed in the air.... I never heard anything else.” On furlough in Mulberry Earl said he knew when he “made that jump [in training] there was no turning back.”


    “Gladys put up a poster board at church with all the young men’s names: a blue star when they entered service; a red star when they went overseas; a gold star if they died.”




   




















(right) Gary Hall (2014) visits the American Cemetery in Normandy, France, and pours a cup of Mulberry earth on

Earl Johnson’s grave   



One could say I had no business being there. Trini Sanchez was talking to cousin Johnny in Johnny’s home, not mine. But I’d heard “Slovik, Private Slovik” and could not let go. Then I read the book. Lydia Rodriguez Marko, Pauline’s daughter, “the oldest of the [Sanchez] grandchildren,” wrote from Michigan:


       I asked my Uncle Trini about the execution of Private Slovik. He said it wasn’t an uppermost memory of the war. His most profound memory was the Battle of the Bulge, in which 1/3 of his company was killed. He said when the men questioned, ‘Why are we going to kill one of us?’ they were told, ‘If you disobey a direct order, you could be executed.’ Besides, the men felt the fact that Slovik was caught wearing a Canadian uniform was an American betrayal. My Uncle Trini is a religious family man. Two of his sons served in Vietnam. Their religion prevents them from carrying weapons (even to save their own lives) so they became Medics, the ones with the huge red X on their bodies. Despite the fact that they were prime targets as they descended ladders suspended from hovering helicopters, they all returned safe and sound.