SE Texas plays host to one of US' oldest Mexican-American service members

On Sunday, Patricia Munoz will bring her father, Patrick Silva Aguilar, to Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church in Port Arthur for a reception to honor his service in World War II and as one of the oldest surviving Mexican-Americans who served his country.

Aguilar is 98.

Time, of course, has clouded his memory and dulled his hearing, but he can still see the medals he earned mounted in a presentation box. He can still see the photos of himself wearing a sergeant’s uniform in the U.S. Army Air Forces, serving "somewhere in England," as Army censors required soldiers to say in letters home.

After D-Day on June 6, 1944, it was somewhere in France and as the war wore on, somewhere in Germany.

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A reception for Patrick Silva Aguilar will be held at 12:30 p.m. Sunday at Our Lady of Guadalupe banquet hall, 3648 S/Sgt Lucian Adams Drive, 61st St., Port Arthur.

Call the Lamar University History Department at (409) 880-8511 to reserve. The reception is open to the public.

It is sponsored by Lamar and the Center for History and Culture of Southeast Texas and the Upper Gulf Coast.

This event grew from an oral history project conducted by two Lamar graduate students, Tishia Hubert and Joseph Akers. They are writing a scholarly article placing Aguilar and his service in the context of the local Mexican-American community. As veterans themselves, Hubert and Akers wanted to honor Mr. Aguilar's contribution to history and raise awareness of our local Latino/a community.

The Aguilar reception will provide students, veterans and members of the public the chance to thank a World War II veteran for his service. This act will serve to create a chain of living history linking generations together.

Aguilar's older brothers and neighborhood friends were in the service as well.

His mother Melquiadez prayed for their safe return and did so in her culture's traditional manner — by "walking" on her knees from her home to the old church of Our Lady of Guadalupe on 15th Street in Port Arthur. Her devotion and faith were repaid as all her sons came home safely.

It wasn't a grand homecoming for Patrick, not like the celebratory crowds in Times Square with the iconic photo of the sailor jubilantly kissing a nurse.

It was just Patrick touching ground at a bus stop by himself, walking a couple of blocks to his home in Port Arthur — no bands playing, no parade. Just safe at home.

Tishia L. Hubert, a candidate for a master's degree in history at Lamar University, managed to compile these details over the course of a year's research and through interviews with Patrick Silva Aguilar to put together a thesis about the former soldier and the Mexican-American experience in wartime.

Hubert, herself a Navy veteran who served as an operations specialist 2nd Class — the new rating for what was once called radarman, delved into as much oral history of the Aguilars as she could to tell Patrick's story.

She plans to continue her education at Lamar University and dive into researching women who served in World War II.

In her paper, Hubert explained why she chose to focus on Aguilar.

"While there is some history that does honor the most famous Mexican-American who served in World War II from this area -- (Medal of Honor recipient) Staff Sergeant Lucian Adams (whose family the Aguilars knew) -- it does little else to discuss the contribution that other Mexican-Americans have made.

"Little history is written about their service, and this research will focus on an oral history of one local man named Patrick Silva Aguilar, who served from 1942 until 1945. This oral history is meant to cover the whole of history that is missing and honor these men and women who served this country.

"This paper explores Mexican-American history in Southeast Texas through oral testimony provided by Sergeant Patrick Silva Aguilar. It documents his personal experiences in Southeast Texas and his service in World War II," Hubert wrote in her draft report shared with The Enterprise.

Aguilar was born in San Antonio on March 17, 1923 after his parents, Miguel and Melquiadez emigrated from Mexico in 1916 — attracted by the promise of work and to escape the revolution-wracked country.

The family migrated to Port Arthur around 1930, where Miguel found work as a bricklayer at one of the refineries. They settled into their busy lives in the neighborhood, or "barrio," that grew up around their church, Our Lady of Guadalupe, which was founded to serve Mexican-American families.

After the attack on Pearl Harbor thrust the United States into the world war, Patrick and his older brothers found themselves in the Army. Patrick was the only one to be sent into the U.S. Army Air Forces as that service expanded from the former Army Air Corps to comprise 2.4 million men.

Patrick was sent into the 9th Air Force to become a radio operator whose job it was to ensure supplies got to where they were needed. While he wasn't aboard a bomber, his service placed him in danger many times as he followed the front lines across France and into Germany and victory on May 7, 1945, three years after joining.

As any professional soldier knows, it's not solely the fighting man who gets the job done. The fighting man needs supplies — from boots to helmets to belts of ammunition to food and fuel. Logistics win wars, professional soldiers like to say.

War, also, demands sacrifice and Aguilar's boyhood friend, Gonzalo Orta, who joined the same week as Aguilar did, served on a bomber. He did not come home.

When Patrick Aguilar finally reached home in Port Arthur later in 1945, he went to work as a laborer at the Gulf Oil refinery where his father had worked.

A family friend and neighbor worked as a laborer at the Texas Refining Co. — later, Texaco. His daughter Petra grew up alongside Patrick.

When she graduated from Thomas Jefferson High School in 1947, she and Patrick married and started their own family.

Petra worked at Amelia's Drapery Shop behind the La Suprema restaurant in Nederland as they pursued the American dream in the optimistic post-war world.

Patrick was recalled to service during the Korean conflict in 1951, but he did not have to leave the country. He exited service as a staff sergeant in what is now the U.S. Air Force — succeeding the U.S. Army Air Forces of World War II.

Hubert wrote that Patrick and Petra were active in their church and in their local League of United Latin American Citizens.

Patrick was always involved with his Veterans of Foreign Wars chapter.

Patrick and Petra had three children together — Patricia, Mary, and Glenn, and were married for 68 years until Petra’s death in 2015.

He retired from Gulf Oil Refinery with more than 38 years of service as an insulator.

Hubert wrote that Patrick's son Glenn had said his father never gave the impression he was treated any differently at his job because he was of Mexican heritage.

Aguilar, in comments he made to Hubert, compared it with his experience in the service.

"Men form a camaraderie like no other because they know that one day, they may have to save each other lives," she wrote.

"We all had a job to do," he told her. "And we worked well together and got along."

Dan Wallach is a freelance writer.