Associated Press news executive Wilson looks at a single block in Silvis, Ill., and the families who sacrificed their sons to combat deaths in World War II and Korea.
Little understood in America, the Mexican Revolution accounted for millions of deaths between 1910 and 1920 and the emigration of another million Mexicans to the United States. A sizable community ended up in Silvis, working for the Chicago and Rock Island Railroad, living in boxcars, weathering the Great Depression and enduring numerous violent labor-management disputes. Many of the families later moved to Second Street—an area of town known as Little Mexico—and from this tight-knit pocket of poverty they sent their sons to war. Out of the 78 who served, eight died, likely “the most from any single block in America.” All of the boys were indifferently schooled, most of them boxed a little, all shared a fierce patriotism. Notwithstanding his dogged interviewing, Wilson never quite fleshes out each of these cruelly foreshortened lives. Taken together, however, the stories deal less with individuals and with war than they do with a special community. Wilson successfully ties together the history of the refugee families with the history that their children helped to make in faraway battlefields in Europe and Asia. Little Mexico’s surviving soldiers returned to a country where bigotry and prejudice against Hispanics was still widespread. That prejudice lasted until the late ’60s, when local officials finally agreed that Second Street embodied something quite remarkable, a level of service and sacrifice worthy of the designation “Hero Street.”
An appropriate tribute to the men who died and a fitting appreciation of the neighborhood they so distinguished.