Many Basque-Americans took part in World War II, serving with distinction in the US Armed Forces. This Veterans Day, in honor of these people, we’d like to share a couple of their stories with you.
Captain Frank D. Carranza, the son of Basque immigrants, conceived of the idea of using Basque code talkers during World War II. Code talkers used their knowledge of lesser-known languages to transmit coded messages in wartime. Carranza had realized that there were approximately 60 Basque-Americans at a US Marines Corps training center with a good knowledge of both Basque and English. Basque was subsequently used–in conjunction with several Native American languages like Navajo–to throw off the Japanese in the Asian Theater. Famously, on August 1, 1942, Admiral Chester Nimitz was informed about the upcoming Operation Apple to remove the Japanese from the Solomon Islands with the words “Sagarra Eragintza zazpi” (Operation Apple at seven). And the Guadalcanal Campaign (Operation Watchtower), the first major offensive by the Allies on Japan, was announced on August 7, 1942, with the words “”Egon arretaz egunari” (Heed the day).
Lieutenant Manuel Aldecoa, the son of Basque immigrants from Mutriku, Gipuzkoa, and Ea, Bizkaia, respectively, served as a pilot with the US Eighth Air Force, whose mission was to support a future invasion of continental Europe from the United Kingdom by means of strategic bombing operations in Western Europe. On November 25, 1943, his unit, the 55th Fighter Group (“the Fightin’ Fifty-Fifth”), carried out an operation over the Hazebrouck-Lille region of Northern France, a key strategic area that included the airbase for the Jagdgruppe 26 (Fighter Group 26), one of the elite German flying units. During the operation, Aldecoa became embroiled in direct combat with Johannes Seifert, a famed Luftwaffe ace and commandant (Gruppenkommandeur) of the Jagdgruppe 26. During the combat, the two planes collided and crashed to the ground near Merville, killing both pilots. On receving the terrible news of his death, Aldecoa’s sister, Maurina, enlisted in the US Secret Services and also served her country with distinction.
Sources and further reading
Xabier García Arguello, “Egon arretaz egunari” (in Basque).
Iratxe Gomez, “The Secret Language.”
Mikel Rodríguez, “Los vascos y la II Guerra Mundial” (in Spanish).
See also (in Spanish) Memoria de los vascos en la Segunda Guerra Mundial. De la brigada Vasca al Batallón Gernika (Pamplona: Pamiela, 2002), by Mikel Rodríguez, for a full account of the multiple ways in which Basques took part in World War II.
And if you’re interested in this topic, check out the account of Joe Eiguren’s wartime experiences in Kashpar: The Saga of Basque Immigrants to North America, in which the author recounts how, as a GI in World War II, he was “eager to meet the Germans, because it was always so strong in my mind what the Legion Condor [sic] had done in the Basque Country” during the Spanish Civil War.
See, too, War, Exile, Justice, and Everyday Life, 1936-1946, edited by Sandra Ott, a broad exploration of how different kinds of wars impacted on the Basque Country and beyond during this crucial period in the twentieth century.