As America honors the 75th anniversary of the allied landings in France during WWII, I found myself thinking about the young Mexican Americans that we will never hear about that made the historic landing. June 6, 1944 is one of those days that everyone has heard or read about. As time has passed we have learned about a few of the men who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country that day. As I combed through several D-Day online databases, one of the names that glared at me was Frutoso Chavez of Reeves County.
Frutoso Chavez was born on Jan. 21, 1922, in Pecos. His father, Eurbano Chavez, was making $5 a week as farm laborer to support a family of 12. Frutoso’s mother Isabel would sell raspas, (snow cones) and tamales in the neighborhood to help out. Through all his work, Eurbano Chavez owned his own property on East Mesquite Street in Pecos. When the carnival circus came to town once a year, Eurbano would rent out his empty lot to them.
Frutoso married Juana Fierro and together had a son that they named Jesus “Jesse” Chavez born in July of 1943. With America in the middle of WWII, Frutoso and his brother Meliton were both serving in the U.S. military. Frutoso was serving in the U.S. Army with Company E 116th Infantry Regiment of the 29th Infantry Division. The 116th Infantry regiment is today the seventh oldest U.S. Army unit dating back to 1742, its motto reads: Ever Forward.
Frutoso’s Company E was aboard the attack transport USS Thomas Jefferson APA-30 that was anchored at the Portland Harbor in Weymouth south England. On June 5, it left the port and sailed across the English Channel with the D-Day invasion force. The 116th Infantry was to be one of the first units to land at the designated Easy Green portion of Omaha Beach.
At 0330, the 116th Regiment started loading on to the landing crafts that would put them on the beach.
At 0500, the navy and air bombardment started hitting German forces on the beach. The very first boats to hit the beach took heavy casualties. Company E landing crafts found themselves landing off course and ended up on the beach with the 16th Infantry of the 1st Division.
One of Company E’s landing crafts took a direct artillery hit from the enemy and killed three of the soldiers immediately and wounded several others. The blast had ripped open the landing door and the enemy poured in machine gun fire sending the rest of the men over the side of the landing craft.
Capt. Laurence Madill, the commanding officer of Company E, had made it on to the beach and found one of his mortar men without ammunition. Capt. Madill ran around to find ammo for the mortar. On his return with ammo, he was knocked down by enemy fire and would die from his wounds the next day.
Frutoso Chavez, Army serial number 38215609 of Reeves County, Texas, was listed as killed in action on Omaha Beach June 6, 1944.
More than 2,500 U.S. soldiers were lost (killed, wounded, or missing) on Omaha Beach alone. Those that were killed were temporarily buried near Omaha Beach. White crosses marked the graves. Attached to the crosses were the soldier’s dog tags to identify them later when a permanent burial place was found. After the war, the Chavez family wanted their son home. He was laid to rest at the Santa Rosa Cemetery in Pecos.
Over the last few weeks, I learned about a Pecos soldier who participated in one of the biggest military operations in history. The 75th anniversary will bring many stories about D-Day, yet the stories of Mexican Americans who were there that fought and died on the Normandy beaches of France are too few. When they listed the dead of U.S. soldiers on the beaches of Normandy, they were not classified as white, black, or Mexican American; they were simply Americans.
In April of 2018, the Battle of Normandy Facebook page posted a photo of a dog tag found in the temporary cemetery near Omaha Beach. It was the dog tag of Frutoso Chavez, serial number 38215609.
Frutoso Chavez gave his very life in defense of his country and he should not be forgotten. His brother Meliton survived WWII and died in San Jose, Calif., in 2001. Frutoso’s son Jesse never got the opportunity to know his father; his wife Juana later re-married.
Dave Gutierrez is a writer and author of the book “Patriots from the Barrio,” the true story of Company E 141st Infantry: the only all Mexican American Army unit in WWII. Visit his website at authordavegutierrez.com.