Versatile journalist and author Harrison (The Power of Business en Español: 7 Fundamental Keys to Unlocking the Potential of the Spanish-Language Hispanic Market, 2007, etc.) explores the moving microcosm of pride and patriotism within a Mexican-American Illinois railroad community.
A small, nondescript block of Silvis, Ill., gave more young men to fight and die in World War II and the Korean War than any other “similarly sized stretch” in the United States—22 families sent a total of 57 soldiers, eight of whom died. Harrison is a lively, thorough writer who has done his homework; he provides a well-researched account of the history of the town and its memorable personalities as they moved through the Depression, World War II and beyond. Fleeing the instability of their homeland during the decade of the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920), the early immigrants to Silvis were lured by the promise of work in the burgeoning American railroad, where they were offered low-paid but mostly steady work. The Quad Cities was an important hub, and the Mexican families were allowed at first to live around the railroad yard, in abandoned boxcars, before moving to Second Street, where they built modest homes and a solid, self-sufficient community. Though bigotry was rampant, the community took up America’s sense of urgency after the attack on Pearl Harbor, answering the call for workers in the Rock Island Arsenal and young conscripts in the Army. Harrison follows the fates of soldiers, including the three Sandovals, one who toiled in Burma, the other in France, and the other in Tunisia and Sicily; Claro Soliz, who was launched into France as part of Operation Cobra; and Tony Pompa, who perished in the skies over the Alps. The Western Union man delivering his grim message would be a familiar sight on Second Street.
Harrison deftly marshals the intricate details of battle, hardship and victory.