Category: Basques in World War II (page 2 of 2)

A Tale of Basque-Americans in World War II

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).

 

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Lieutenant Manuel Aldecoa

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.

Weekend Workshop for Boise State’s Basque Studies Program

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On October 17-18th, I reconnected with colleagues in Boise and taught a two-day workshop on “War, Occupation, and Justice in Iparralde” with 38 students. Great fun! And on Saturday night the Basque Studies team invited me to join them for dinner at the Basque Center on Boise’s Basque Block. As I watched the local crowd I was so struck by the camaraderie and pride in being Basque American. Special thanks to Nere Lete and John Ysursa for their hospitality and warm welcome!

Basques in the News

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Donibane Garazi, in Iparralde, recently featured in the New York Times travel section, is among the subjects of recent articles appearing in major outlets on the Basques.

Three articles were recently published on Basque topics in American and British online media.

On May 25, as part of H.D. Miller’s Eccentric Culinary History, there was a charming article titled “Basque-American: The Authentic Cuisine of the Intermountain West.”  Actually, this is far more than just a culinary guide, and Miller offers a fine summary of both Basque and Basque-American history, before getting to the all-important focus of the article: food, and in particular specific reports on several Basque restaurants in the American West.

For a wonderfully evocative history of the Basque boardinghouses that were the bases for today’s restaurants, see Home Away from Home: A History of Basque Boardinghouses by Jeronima Echeverria.

 

Meanwhile, on May 30, the Independent included a report by Alasdair Fotheringham on the shooting of a new movie titled Gernika, directed by Koldo Serra. The movie, filmed in English, seeks to portray the events associated with the bombing of Gernika, Bizkaia, in April 1937, and has an international cast.

Click here to read the article.  For more information about the movie, click here.

The Center’s professor Xabier Irujo has written extensively on the bombing of Gernika in Spanish, especially his El Gernika de Richthofen, read more about it (in Spanish) here. In English, readers might be interested in his history of the exile government of Agirre in Expelled from the Motherland. The Spanish Civil War is looked at from a dazzling variety of perspectives in our wide-ranging collection of short stories Our Wars: Short Fiction on Basque Conflicts. There are stories on the Civil War from Bernardo Atxaga, Ramon Saizarbitoria, Iban Zaldua, and Inazio Mujika Iraola!

 

Finally, on June 5, in an article for the Travel Section of the New York Times, Christian L. Wright offered an extensive travel guide to Iparralde or the Northern Basque Country.  According to Wright, “In recent years, a younger generation has emerged, opening design shops, rejiggering the food scene and sprucing up classic red-and-white farmhouses that dot the countryside.”

Read the full article here.

The specific case of identity in the Northern Basque Country, which is touched on in the New York Times piece, is addressed by Igor Ahedo Gurrutxaga in his ambitious survey of changing attitudes during the last two hundred years: The Transformation of National Identity in the Basque Country of France, 1789-2006. On a lighter note, Iparralde is also the subject of Oui Oui Oui of the Pyrenees, our beautiful children’s book by Mary Jean Etcheberry-Morton

Commemorations Mark Basque Participation in Key World War Two Battle

Euskalkultura.com recently reported on a moving recent commemoration of the seventieth anniversary of the Battle of Pointe de Grave, at the mouth of the Gironde Estuary in Western France, and the Basque participation in this battle.

In 1945, during the closing stages of World War II, Basque exiles from the Franco dictatorship making up the Gernika Battalion were instrumental in the Allied victory at the Battle of Point-de-Grave, one of the last outposts of Nazi resistance.

Gernika Battalion marching through Bordeaux

Members of the Gernika Battalion being honored by France in a victory parade

For their part in the battle, the Basques were awarded the Croix de Guerre, the highest French military honor, and were accorded an official reception in Baiona (Bayonne) for their efforts. Charles de Gaulle himself commented: “France will never forget the sacrifice of the Basques for the liberation of their territory.”

Gernika Battalion with De Gaulle

Charles de Gaulle salutes members of the Gernika Battalion holding the ikurriña or Basque flag

The battle and the wider context in which it took place–the dictatorship in Spain that led to many Basques fleeing Hegoalde (the Southern Basque Country) and the Nazi occupation of Iparralde (the Northern Basque Country)–are discussed in the CBS publication Modern Basque History:  Eighteenth Century to the Present, by Cameron Watson.

On the effects of the Spanish Civil War and World War II on Basques from both sides of the Pyrenees, see War, Exile, Justice, and Everyday Life, 1936-1946, edited by Sandra Ott. This work explores the multiple dimensions of the effects of war such as displacement, occupation, and resistance, and demonstrates the extent to which the Basque Country was at the center of European events during this key time in European history.

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