Fighting Basques: Relentless fighters. The Etchemendy-Trounday in World War II

Between them, these three Basque-American brothers had 27 years of military service, a third of them during World War II.

This article originally appeared in its Spanish form in El Diario.

John, Leon, and William Etchemendy (left to right) pose in their University of Nevada Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) uniforms.

In February 1952, the Reno Gazette-Journal proclaimed the Basque-American brothers John, Leon, and William Etchemendy Trounday as “the most decorated group of brothers in Nevada.” Between the three, they had a combined 27 years of military service – a third of them in combat – having participated in the World War II and the Korean War. In total, they received twelve stars representing each military campaign they participated in – from Normandy to Okinawa, passing the 38th Parallel and the Yalu River – six purple hearts, two presidential commendations, and nine other decorations [1]. They had traveled the world, starting from their hometown of Gardnerville in the State of Nevada. However, the origin of their history dates back a few decades earlier to the small towns of Nafarroa Beherea, Arnegi and Ortzaize [2].

Arnegi, on the road that connects Donibane Garazi and Iruñea, currently has a population of less than 240, half of what it had at the beginning of the 20th century. Similarly, Ortzaize, barely 20 kilometers away from Arnegi, with a population today close to 900 people, had double that in 1900. Both towns became two important centers of Basque emigration to the New World.

Jean Etchemendy rides a horse through the Blue Lakes area of the Sierra Nevada, northern California, around 1910. He had been on American soil for only three years. Photo courtesy of Raymond John Uhalde Etchemendy.

Jean Etchemendy Saragueta, born in 1886 in the House of Ixteotenia in Arnegi, arrived in the United States in September, 1907. He was 21 years old. His final destination was Reno, Nevada, where he met his brothers Michel, who had arrived in 1904, and Joanes, who had arrived only months earlier in March, 1907. His sister Marie would also set sail for the United States years later. His father had died in 1900, leaving behind his pregnant wife and his nine children. For four of them, emigration became their only way out.

Jean had completed the journey from Arnegi to Reno in 18 days. It would take him 43 years to retrace those same steps. From the time of his arrival until 1912, he did various traveling jobs between Nevada and California. From 1912 to 1917, Jean worked at a wagon loading yard and stagecoach way station in Wellington, Nevada. During his first brief vacation in San Francisco in 1915 he met his future wife Jeanne Trounday Heguy.

Jeanne, born in 1883 in Ortzaize, arrived in New York in 1905 at the age of 22. She was accompanied by her cousin Marie Grace Trounday. Jeanne followed the path taken by her sisters who had emigrated previously, although their destination had been Argentina. She arrived in the small Californian city of Fresno, where she first worked for the Hotel Bascongado, owned, at that time, by the Basque emigrant Jean Bidegaray.

Jean Etchemendy and Jeanne Trounday were married in 1916 in Fresno. In 1917, they moved to Gardnerville, beginning a fruitful career in the hotel business that lasted 55 years. There they ran the East Fork Hotel, between 1917 and 1921, and the Overland Hotel, as owners, from 1921 to 1972. They had six children: John (1917-1995), twins Leon (1918-1988) and Louie (he died at birth, apparently as a result of the so-called Spanish flu), William (1920-2011), Josephine (1923-2006), and Marie (1927-2018). Jean was also involved in sheep farming in the 1920s and was a sheep wool dealer from 1933 until he was almost 100 years old, being the oldest active dealer in the American West.

Jeanne Trounday poses with her children at the door of the Overland Hotel around 1924. In her arms is her daughter Josephine. From left to right: John, William, and Leon. Photo courtesy of Raymond John Uhalde Etchemendy.

Just a couple of decades after arriving in the country, Jean and his wife had become respected and successful entrepreneurs, instilling in their children the importance of family, work ethic, and the value of education. In fact, all of them would study at the University of Nevada, Reno.

John, Leon, and William all excelled in a variety of sports throughout high school and college, whether it was basketball for John or football for the other two brothers. John had a degree in mining engineering and education, Leon get his in education, and William in Hispanic philology. All three graduated in military science from the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) at the University of Nevada, with a reserve commission as a second lieutenant in the US Army Infantry. As if this weren’t enough, John enrolled in cadet flight school in May 1940 before finishing college, attending among other places the prestigious academy at Randolph Field in San Antonio, Texas, known as the “West Point of the Air.” He graduated in December 1940, receiving the coveted military pilot wings and a second reserve commission as a second lieutenant, this time in the Army Air Corps.

John, Leon, and William Etchemendy (from left to right) as they passed through the University of Nevada, where they participated extensively in various sports and social activities. Yearbook of the University of Nevada, 1939 and 1943.

“Echoes of two wars, 1936-1945” aims to disseminate the stories of those Basques and Navarrese who participated in two of the warfare events that defined the future of much of the 20th century. With this blog, the intention of the Sancho de Beurko Association is to rescue from anonymity the thousands of people who constitute the backbone of the historical memory of the Basque and Navarre communities, on both sides of the Pyrenees, and their diasporas of emigrants and descendants, with a primary emphasis on the United States, during the period from 1936 to 1945.

THE AUTHORS
Guillermo Tabernilla
is a researcher and founder of the Sancho de Beurko Association, a non-profit organization that studies the history of the Basques and Navarrese from both sides of the Pyrenees in the Spanish Civil War and in World War II. He is currently their secretary and community manager. He is also editor of the digital magazine Saibigain. Between 2008 and 2016 he directed the catalog of the “Iron Belt” for the Heritage Directorate of the Basque Government and is, together with Pedro J. Oiarzabal, principal investigator of the Fighting Basques Project, a memory project on the Basques and Navarrese in the Second World War in collaboration with the federation of Basque Organizations of North America.

Pedro J. Oiarzabal is a Doctor in Political Science-Basque Studies, granted by the University of Nevada, Reno (USA). For two decades, his work has focused on research and consulting on public policies (citizenship abroad and return), diasporas and new technologies, and social and historical memory (oral history, migration and exile), with special emphasis on the Basque case. He is the author of more than twenty publications. He has authored the blog “Basque Identity 2.0” by EITB and “Diaspora Bizia” by EuskalKultura.eus. On Twitter @Oiarzabal.

Josu M. Aguirregabiria is a researcher and founder of the Sancho de Beurko Association and is currently its president. A specialist in the Civil War in Álava, he is the author of several publications related to this topic, among which “La batalla de Villarreal de Álava” (2015) y “Seis días de guerra en el frente de Álava. Comienza la ofensiva de Mola” (2018) stand out.

John Michael Etchemendy Trounday, who had already excelled as a pilot extraordinary, was sent to the Army Air Corps Advanced Flight School as an instructor, serving at air bases in Louisiana and Alabama, where he suffered two plane crashes, though he was unharmed in both. Meanwhile the US entered WWII. Subsequently, John was assigned to the Accelerated Service Test Unit at Wright Field, Dayton, Ohio, training new pilots first as commander of the 83rd Teaching Squadron and later as group commander until March 1943. In August he was promoted to the rank of major. In January 1944 while he was piloting the P-40 Warhawk fighter plane, he had his last accident, this time at Mitchel Air Force Base in New York. The plane was totally destroyed. After the war ended, in November 1945, John was appointed group commander and flight director at the Central School of Instructors at Randolph Field. In March 1946, John served as deputy director of the Central School of Instructors and as an assistant training and operations officer, flight safety officer, and assistant commander at Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana. By 1946, John had accumulated more than 2,200 hours of total flight time as a pilot. In June 1946, he was nominated by President Harry S. Truman and consequently named First Lieutenant of the Army, being one of 9,800 chosen from more than 100,000 candidates. Between 1947 and 1949, John assumed command of the 26th Fighter Squadron (one of the first units to fly jet aircraft overseas) of the 51st Fighter-Interceptor Group in Okinawa, Japan, with the mission of defending the airspace of the Ryukyu Islands.

After graduating, Leon Etchemendy Trounday was sent directly to the Army base of Fort Ord, in Monterey Bay, California, and from there to the South Pacific, serving in the 7th Infantry Division. He participated in 17 amphibious landings from Attu and Kiska, Alaska, through the Marshall Islands, to the Philippines. On May 11, 1943, they landed at Attu, where the division lost about 600 soldiers. On January 31, 1944, Leon and his comrades-in-arms landed on the islands of Kwajalein Atoll, participating in the capture of Engebi, part of Eniwetok Atoll, on February 18, 1943. Finally, they took part in the invasion of Leyte, where Leon was seriously injured. The Basque-American native of Nevada, Paul Laxalt, of the Army Medical Corps, helped transport him on a stretcher to the hospital, providing care during his recovery. Leon spent the next 14 months in and out of hospitals. He was discharged with honors in January, 1946. He received a Bronze Star, the Purple Heart, the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign medal with four battle stars, 17 bronze arrowheads corresponding to as many amphibious landings, the Combat Infantryman Badge, a Presidential Commendation, and two Army Commendations Medals. Leon returned to Nevada where he taught in Reno and Sparks until his mobilization due to the Korean War.

Little brother William Etchemendy Trounday was assigned as Rifle Platoon Leader to L Company, 3rd Brigade, 329th Infantry Regiment, 83rd Infantry Division (the “Thunderbolts”). On June 18, 1944, they landed on Omaha Beach. They fought in Normandy, northern France (capturing the fortress of Saint-Malo, in Brittany), the Ardennes, and in the Rhineland. The division went through France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Holland, and Germany. In the Hürtgen Forest, William was wounded in one of the bloodiest battles in US military history with 33,000 casualties, including deaths and injuries. After recovering, he participated in late 1944 in the successful Allied effort that stopped the German counteroffensive in the Battle of the Bulge. In March 1945, the division advanced towards the Rhine river. William was part of the first platoons to reach the river with the aim of crossing the bridge that led to Dusseldorf before it was blown up. However, part of the bridge was dynamited. William fell wounded and was transferred to a hospital in Paris. After a brief convalescence he returned to his unit, which assumed the responsibilities of the occupation and the military government of Austria. He was promoted to captain. For his participation in WWII, he received the Purple Heart with two clusters of oak leaves, a Bronze Star, and four battle stars.

The photo shows the last time the family was fully reunited after the end of WWII. Jeanne would pass away in 1949. From left to right, seated: Josephine, Jean, Jeanne, and Marie. Standing, Leon (with an eye patch from the Battle of Leyte), John, and William. Photo courtesy of Raymond John Uhalde Etchemendy, Gardnerville, 1948.

In 1948, the three brothers were able to reunite with the rest of the family in Gardnerville after the end of WWII. In 1949, Jeanne passed away at the age of 66. Accompanied by his little daughter Marie, Jean visited his relatives in Arnegi for the first time. He continued to manage the Overland Hotel until 1953, when he transferred it to another Basque family. In 1958, he married the Nafarroa Beherean Jeanne Lartirigoyen, returning together to the country where they were born. After the death of his second wife, Jean returned to Arnegi for the last time. He passed away in 1990 in Reno at the age of 103 years and seven months. He was the oldest person in Nevada, and was considered one of the most influential people in the history of Douglas County.

John Michael Etchemendy was appointed an Air Force colonel in 1955. He would later be appointed commander of the Air Force Basic Military Training School at Randolph-Lackland Air Force Base. Photo courtesy of Raymond John Uhalde Etchemendy, 1962.

After WWII and the Korean War, the brothers remained linked to the armed forces. Leon retired from military service in 1968 with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, followed by John in 1971, and William in 1975, both with the rank of Colonel. Between the three they added 84 years of service to their parents’ adopted country, with almost 14 years of combat spanning between the last world war and the Korean War. John, with more than 7,000 flight hours, survived three air accidents and led combat missions in Korea, while Leon fought in WWII where he was seriously wounded, and William fought in both wars, being wounded in battle four times. William is the only one of the brothers who was active during the Vietnam War.

Leon passed away at age 69, John at 78, and William at 90. Both John and William were buried with military honors in Virginia’s Arlington National Cemetery. Marie, the youngest of the family, passed away in 2018, being the last of the first generation of her family born in the United States. Few are the Basque-American families whose children match the spectacular military trajectory of the Etchemendy Trounday. This article serves to honor the memory of all of them.

[1] Reno Gazette-Journal. “Team of Nevada Brothers Compiles Service Records” (February 22, 1952. P. 14).

[2] This article draws on oral history interviews with Jean Etchemendy between 1978 and 1980 by her daughter Josephine and on the stories written by Josephine’s son, Raymond John Uhalde Etchemendy, about his family.

Collaborate with ‘Echoes of two wars, 1936-1945.’

If you want to collaborate with “Echoes of two wars” send us an original article on any aspect of WWII or the Civil War and Basque or Navarre participation to the following email: sanchobeurko@gmail.com

Articles selected for publication will receive a signed copy of “Combatientes Vascos en la Segunda Guerra Mundial.”

Basque Fact of the Week: Akerbeltz

Many of the figures in Basque mythology are shrouded in mystery, their true natures lost to the mists of time. Whatever role they played in the original Basque religion, their character became confused and contorted with the advent of Christianity. The black he-goat – the Akerbeltz – is a prime example. While he was originally viewed as good, a sign of fertility and health, he later became associated with Satan himself and became an iconic part of the Black Sabbaths celebrated by witches.

BasokoArima’s rendition of the Akerbeltz.
  • While later black he-goats became associated with Satan and demonology, before that they were benign creatures with healing powers. Often associated with Mari, who could take the form of a black goat, black goats were prized. In many houses, as a way of avoiding disease in their cattle, people would ensure a black he-goat was part of the flock, raised in the stable.
  • This benevolent akerbeltz was also a symbol of fertility and there is some speculation that he was related to the Greek god Pan. It was also believed that, if the right person cut a black he-goat’s beard, they could summon a hail storm.
  • It wasn’t until the 16th and 17th centuries that the old pre-Christian beliefs began to become so strongly associated with evil, the devil, and demons. Pre-Christian beings such as Akerbeltz were directly associated with Satan and were said to be worshipped by witches and warlocks, at Black Sabbaths that, in Basque, are called Akelarreak. The importance of these gatherings is reflected in the fact that more than fifteen different places are named for the Akelarre — literally the he-goat’s pasture — where these celebrations were said to take place. In reality, it is unclear what happened at these gatherings — to the extent they happened at all — but it is certain that Basques were not worshipping the devil.
  • In descriptions of the Akerbeltz from the akelarres or Black Sabbaths that the witches attended (often extracted from testimony under duress or torture), he is said to have the face of a man and sometimes two faces, one in the front and one on his back. He performs a reverse-mass, in mockery of the Catholic mass. These were said to end in an orgy in which human flesh was served.
  • Akerbeltz as one of the deities the pre-Christian Basques worshipped is documented from pre-Roman times. In the Church of Saint-Aventin, in the Occitanie region of France, there is stone taken from a previous building, and inscribed upon it is the phrase Aherbeltse, which most translate to modern Akerbeltz (though some have connected the first element – aher – to the Basque word harri, or stone). This suggests that Akerbeltz is a very old figure in the Basque pantheon.

Primary sources: Akerbeltz, Wikipedia; Barandiaran Ayerbe, José Miguel de [et al.]. Akerbeltz. Enciclopedia Auñamendi, 2021. Available at: http://aunamendi.eusko-ikaskuntza.eus/es/akerbeltz/ar-7778/

Buber’s Basque Story: Part 49

If you have comments or questions, or have simply been enjoying the story and want to say hello, please drop me a note!

The next morning, Maite quietly opened the door to their room, just in case Kepa was still asleep. She had gotten up early and gone out, not able to sleep next to Kepa any longer.

As she entered the room, the bathroom door opened at the same time. Kepa stepped out as he dried his hair with his towel, his body otherwise naked. Maite’s eyes wandered down for a moment before she caught herself and looked at Kepa in the eyes. 

“I got you some coffee,” she said, holding out a cup as Kepa wrapped the towel around his waist. 

“Mil esker,” he said as he took it from her. 

“I also got some pastries,” she said as she walked into the room, grabbed a tray, and placed the tray and the pastries on the bed. She sat down on one corner.

Buber’s Basque Story is a weekly serial. While it is a work of fiction, it has elements from both my own experiences and stories I’ve heard from various people. The characters, while in some cases inspired by real people, aren’t directly modeled on anyone in particular. I expect there will be inconsistencies and factual errors. I don’t know where it is going, and I’ll probably forget where it’s been. Why am I doing this? To give me an excuse and a deadline for some creative writing and because I thought people might enjoy it. Gozatu!

Kepa came over and sat on the other corner, taking a sip of his coffee. “Looks good,” he said as she opened the small box of pastries. 

“Kepa,” Maite began. “I’m… I’m sorry. I wasn’t thinking last night. I got caught up in all of the talk about the science going on here, was excited to continue it into the evening, and just thought it would bore you. But, really, I was thinking more about myself and less about you.”

Kepa took another drink of his coffee. “Look, Maite, I know I’m not always going to fit in all aspects of your life. I can’t claim to understand all of this stuff you study. And, to be honest, sometimes I feel a bit insecure about it, that you can’t really talk to me about your research. I’m always afraid that you are going to meet someone else who really understands what you are doing and that has a connection with you that I know I’ll never have.” He paused for a moment, looking down at the cup in his hands. “I am afraid that you’ll find someone better.”

“Ez!” cried Maite. “There is no one better for me than you! I have enough people to talk science with, I don’t need that from you. You and I share so much more. No one could ever replace all of those memories of playing together at your baserri or in the plaza when you came to ama and aita’s taberna. And now, with all of this stuff with the zatiak, you and I have a connection that literally no one else can have. I can’t imagine going on this adventure with anyone else but you.”

“Thank you Maite,” said Kepa as he put his cup aside and took her hand. “And I’m sorry for lashing out last night.”

“No, I know I hurt you. And, really, that’s the last thing I want to do. I’m really sorry.”

“Apology accepted.”

“Now how about one of those pastries?” asked Maite.

“I think they’ll keep for a little while longer,” said Kepa with a smile as he pulled Maite over.

Basque Fact of the Week: Picasso’s Guernica

Tomorrow marks 84 years since the bombing of Gernika, that day during the Spanish Civil War when Hitler’s Air Force, at the behest of Franco, bombed the civilian population of the Basque village on a Monday, market day. It was one of the first aerial bombings of a civilian population, though other Basque towns, notably Durango, had been bombed earlier but without the same press coverage. The bombing and destruction of this sacred Basque town generated wide-spread shock and anger. It also inspired Pablo Picasso to paint his now-iconic masterpiece Guernica.

Image from Wikimedia.
  • When Picasso was first commissioned to paint a mural for the Spanish pavilion in the 1937 World’s Fair, he was at a bit of a loss as to what his subject would be. Something anti-fascist, to be sure, and he played with scenes of Franco eating his horse and fighting a bull. But, it wasn’t until the bombing of Gernika that he found his inspiration. Immediately after the bombing, he was visited by poet Juan Larrea, who urged him to make the bombing the topic of his mural. On May 1, Picasso read the accounts of George Steer, who described the complete destruction of the Basque town. Picasso finally had his subject.
  • Picasso never revealed what symbolism he intended in the elements of the painting, saying “this bull is a bull and this horse is a horse.” Rather, while he didn’t deny there was symbolism, he said it came from the painting, not from something he intended to place in the painting.
  • Guernica was first displayed in July 1937 at the World’s Fair. Initially, it didn’t draw much attention and even received significant criticism for its style (“jerky” and “too compressed for its size” by art critic Clement Greenberg) and its message, criticized by Marxists for not depicting a more hopeful future.
  • However, immediately after, it went on tour, first in Scandinavia and then the United Kingdom, before making its way to the United States. It continued to tour across the US, South America, and Europe until concern for its condition kept it at the Museum of Modern Art in New York until 1981. In 1974, it was vandalized, the words “kill lies all” painted in big red letters on the canvas, a response to the Mỹ Lai massacre in the Vietnam War.
  • Picasso had forbidden the painting from going to Spain until after it was again a republic. The death of Franco and the establishment of the new government eventually led to the painting finding its permanent home in Spain, in Madrid. There have been requests to move the painting to the Basque Country, at least for an exhibition, but the curators argue it is too fragile for such a move.
  • A tapestry of the painting, originally commissioned by Nelson Rockefeller when Picasso refused to sell him the original, has hung at the entrance of the Security Council at the United Nations beginning in 1985, with a break from 2009-2015. It was famously covered in 2003 when Colin Powell was making the case for the war against Iraq. In February 2021, the Rockefeller family took the tapestry back.

Primary source: Guernica (Picasso), Wikipedia

Buber’s Basque Story: Part 48

If you have comments or questions, or have simply been enjoying the story and want to say hello, please drop me a note!

That afternoon, Kepa was opening the door to their hotel room when his phone began to ring. He fumbled with the key, pushing the door open as he grabbed his phone. He smiled as he saw Maite’s image smiling back at him as he answered it.

“Maite!” he exclaimed. “How did it go?”

“It has been great so far!” replied Matie’s voice. “My presentation went really well. There were lots of questions that really showed they were interested in my work. And none that I couldn’t answer. And then I toured a few of the labs and met with some of the professors in the department. They are doing so many cool things here! At lunch, some of the students took me out and we talked about what life was like working and living in Berkeley. So far, it has all been great! I can’t wait to tell you all about it.”

Buber’s Basque Story is a weekly serial. While it is a work of fiction, it has elements from both my own experiences and stories I’ve heard from various people. The characters, while in some cases inspired by real people, aren’t directly modeled on anyone in particular. I expect there will be inconsistencies and factual errors. I don’t know where it is going, and I’ll probably forget where it’s been. Why am I doing this? To give me an excuse and a deadline for some creative writing and because I thought people might enjoy it. Gozatu!

“I’m so glad to hear that!” said Kepa. “Though, I knew you would do well. I always had confidence in you.”

“Thanks Kepa. So, one of the professors asked if I could meet her and her group for dinner, to talk about a possible position in her team.”

“Great! Where should I meet you?”

“Well, it’s all going to be shop talk, with just her and the other students.” She paused a moment. “Do you mind?”

“No, no,” answered Kepa as he slumped on to the bed. “You have fun. I’ll see you when you get back.”

“Mil esker, Kepa! You are the best!” He could almost hear the ‘click’ of her hanging up. 

“Yeah, the best,” he said to himself as he let the bouquet of roses he had been holding fall to the floor.

It was late at night when he finally returned to the hotel room. Maite was sitting up in bed with the light on and a book in her hands.

“Where were you?” she asked. “I was so worried. You weren’t answering your phone.”

“I was… out,” replied Kepa as he stumbled to the bed and almost literally fell on top of it, not bothering to get out of his clothes or brush his teeth. 

“Are you drunk?” asked Maite. 

“I only had a few drinks,” he said as he rolled on to his side, his back to her. “What do you care anyways?”

Maite reached out a tentative hand but then pulled it back. “What’s wrong?” she asked.

“If you didn’t want me around, you could have just said so before I got on that damn plane with you.”

“What? No, of course I want you here…” she began.

“Not today though, huh? I’m not good enough to be around with your fancy new friends.”

“I didn’t mean… I didn’t think…” began Maite. For a moment, the room was quiet. “I’m… I’m sorry, Kepa.”

“Well, I’m tired, Maite. Gabon.”

Almost instantly, Kepa’s snores filled the room, almost drowning out Maite’s quiet sobs.

The Power of Story: An Interview with Begoña Echeverria and Annika Speer

Drs. Begoña Echeverria and Annika Speer will have a showing of their play Picasso Presents Gernika on April 24.

On April 26, 1937, the Basque city of Gernika was bombed. This, and other disastrous events during the Spanish Civil War, led to thousands of Basque children being evacuated from the Basque Country. In their play, Picasso Presents Gernika, Drs. Begoña Echeverria and Annika Speer, both professors at the University of California, Riverside, explore the human toll that the bombing, the war, and the evacuation had, particularly on the children. In this interview, they discuss the origins of the play, why a docudrama was the right way to present this story, and how the collaborative experience keeps evolving in unexpected directions.

Buber’s Basque Page: Begoña and Annika, thank you for taking the time to do this interview. How did your collaboration on Picasso Presents Gernika begin? 

Begoña Echeverria: We were introduced by Bella Merlin, Annika’s colleague at the University of California, Riverside (UCR) Department of Theatre, Film and Digital Production. Bella, who does a wonderful job playing several characters in the staged reading, and I met at a Women’s Faculty Retreat when she first arrived at UCR. Bella and I struck up a friendship and I shared the Picasso Presents Gernika script with her. She suggested I get in touch with Annika about possibly collaborating with me, given Annika’s expertise with docudrama.  

Fortunately, Bella was able to assemble a wonderful cast (including her husband, professional actor Miles Anderson) and some talented UCR undergraduate students she had trained, so I knew that important part was well in hand. I also had kept in touch (as one does) with my former elementary school teacher, Paul Larson, who is a founding member of the Chino Community Theatre. Paul generously offered the use of their theater for the premiere on May 19, 2019, and also agreed to direct.

BBP: What were the most challenging aspects of turning the play into reality?

Begoña Echeverria: Once we had the right team assembled we began to tackle some of the logistics. Because the play is a docudrama, it was important to incorporate primary source material into the text and the performance. Thanks to UC San Diego’s Southworth Spanish Civil War Collection (library.ucsd.edu) and the digital archives of the Association for Basque Children UK (www.basquechildren.org), I had an abundance of posters, pamphlets, photographs, children’s drawings, commemorative stamps, news reels, videos, and the like to choose from. But shifting through them and deciding which ones to use was the most challenging part of the process. And that’s where Annika’s expertise and enthusiasm came in. She helped me think about the primary source material with an eye for visual variety and theatricality. Which images would best serve the story? How could we incorporate the material in a way that drew the audience in, provided historical context, but didn’t upstage the actors? 

Begoña Echeverria is the daughter of Basque immigrants to southern California. A native Basque speaker with a PhD in sociology, she is a Professor at UC Riverside’s Graduate School of Education.  Her research on Basque language, culture and identity has been published in academic journals in education, sociolinguistics, anthropology, history and folklore.  She is also a singer-songwriter with the Basque-American trio, NOKA (www.ilovenoka.com), which has performed over 60 concerts domestically and internationally. Her historical novel, The Hammer of Witches, loosely based on the 1610 burnings of Basque “witches” from the Baztan Valley in northern Spain from which her family hails, was the Historical Novel Society’s Editor’s Choice for May, 2015. Other creative works include her docudrama Picasso Presents Gernika, which  considers the fate of Basque refugees after the bombing of Gernika in 1937, as well as the artistic journey of Picasso’s anti-war masterpiece, Guernica. (A film screening of the play will be streamed on April 24, 7pm).

BBP: Begoña, what was your inspiration for Picasso Presents Gernika? Your play is a docudrama. How did you balance historical documents with the fictionalization of your main characters?

Begoña Echeverria: When I was living in Donostia (San Sebastian) in the early 1990s, I learned that my neighbor’s father – and his brother – were among the children evacuated to England after the bombings. But their mother only asked for the brother to return to Spain, not my friend’s father, and he never knew why. That’s all I know of that story, but over two decades later, it inspired Picasso Presents Gernika. I decided early on to make one of the siblings a sister, as I wanted to explore the idea that war and political oppression often affect the genders differently. I knew from the beginning what those effects on the siblings would be – you have to watch to watch the play to find out! – but I also wanted to show the larger historical context in which this particular story played out. The evacuation of Basque children after the Gernika bombing – 20,000 of them, in all – predated the kindertransport of Jewish children during the Holocaust, but it is not nearly as well known. And, unfortunately, war and political instability continue to have repercussions on children even today. I sought to balance political message with artistry and wanted to avoid being heavy-handed in the delivery. Much of that comes from examining the history of the Guernica mural as well, when the Picasso character narrates how it has been used and seen as a symbol of political protest since its inception.

BBP: Annika, what are the unique advantages of docudramas in conveying a story? How do you balance “truth” from “fiction” in best telling a story?

Annika Speer: Docudrama is a theatrical form that blends primary source material with imaginative fiction. A unique advantage of this format is that in drawing from primary sources, by which I mean material such as news reports, trial transcripts, photographic journalism, etc., the docudrama taps into the lived experience of real people and shapes or contributes to the audience’s understanding of real events. However, docudrama also incorporates fiction, which distinguishes this format from traditional documentary. While some documentary scholars are opposed to docudrama – wanting documentary to be entirely comprised of primary source material – there is a difference between documentary, which may seek to be a journalistic truth-telling account, and docudrama which may seek to be a form of storytelling that allows fiction to show us theatrical truths or imagine the circumstances from alternative angles. And this difference opens up potential from a storytelling perspective. A strict reliance on primary course material ignores the fact that such material is constructed in the first place. Whose stories get told? Whose voices are on the public record? Who is left out? What are the discursive circumstances that shape narratives such as trial transcripts or journalistic interviews? Primary source material doesn’t exist in a vacuum and upholding it as somehow better, or more important, than fiction may be useful in a journalistic context but is potentially short-sighted in a theatrical storytelling context. Because Begoña’s script was tapping into the perspective of women and children, she was thinking about voices who were not necessarily given the same space in constructing the original primary source material. Our production incorporated primary source material through images, radio broadcast, letters, journalism, and then wove that material with the fictional story of Andrea (“woman” in Basque) and Aitor (“testimony”), the two young children being displaced by the war. 

BBP: Question: Annika, as someone who doesn’t have that same personal connection to the Basque culture, what did you find most interesting about Begoña’s play and the story behind it?

Dr. Annika Speer is a Professor of Teaching in the Department of Theatre, Film, and Digital Production at UC Riverside where she runs the public speaking program. She is the Co-Director of the Public Speaking Initiative, a UC-Wide program based out of UC Santa Barbara that prioritizes interdisciplinary training in speech and rhetoric. She prioritizes communication pedagogy through close work with numerous campus programs, providing a large variety of public speaking workshops for the Graduate Student Resource Center, the Chancellor Research Fellows, the Science to Policy Certification Program, and the Social Entrepreneurship Engagement and Development (SEED) Lab, to name but a few. Speer is also supporting faculty of the Medical Health and Humanities Studies (MHHS) program: https://anthropology.ucr.edu/minors/mhhs
In addition to academic work, Speer works as a dramaturgical researcher and script consultant for film, most recently for The Girl on the Train (2016), Men, Women & Children (2014), Walking Stories (2013), and Call Me Crazy: A Five Film (2013). She has directed plays as fundraisers for Women Help Women, Planned Parenthood, and Pacific Pride Foundation with the mission to generate collaborative, creative, and activist oriented theatre. 

Annika Speer: Although I do not share Begoña’s personal connection to Basque identity and culture, I do share a commitment to the power of story. I believe strongly in theatre as a vehicle for social justice and that theatre, film, and other forms of storytelling hold up a mirror to our society, educate us, and increase our empathy. What was powerful for me was both learning the personal story behind the play (about her neighbor’s father) as well as learning more about the history of the events of the bombing of Gernika. I also see the parallels between the treatment of the children and Basque families during the bombing of Gernika and the treatment of children and families on our border in this current political moment. 

BBP: Begoña, I imagine you have thousands of stories you could potentially tell. Why was this the story to tell now? What story will you tell next? 

Begoña Echeverria: Thank you for your confidence in me! I don’t know if I have thousands, but a couple stories come to mind.  I’m currently reworking a draft of my second historical novel, Apparitions, loosely based on the supposed appearance of the Virgin Mary to Basque children in the 1930s. In many ways its themes echo those I explored in The Hammer of Witches (basquebooks.com), a fictionalized version of the 1610 burnings of Basque “witches” from Baztan, the valley in northern Nafarroa where my family lives. In both cases, political instability and religious intolerance upended “traditional” structures of authority that ultimately led to the persecution or death of many innocent people. A few years ago, it came out that Franco and his followers had been stealing babies from his political opponents for decades, telling mothers that their babies had been born dead when they really had been given away to Franco’s supporters to raise as their own. (This is the subject of the award-winning 2019 documentary, The Silence of Others: thesilenceofothers.com). I’ve written a song based on that story, but I feel like that might grow into another play or book. Who knows?

As for why Picasso Presents Gernika was the story to tell now, I don’t really know.  Even though I’d heard my friend’s story about her father in the early 90s, it wasn’t until this century that it occurred to me that it might be a good story to tell – and it was very clear to me that the form it would take would be a play rather than a novel. I don’t have an explanation for that either; it just felt right.

BBP: Annika and Begoña, what does the future hold for Picasso Presents Gernika? Do you have plans for the play to tour? Are there other collaborative efforts you plan to work on together?

Begoña Echeverria: Thanks for asking! UC Riverside is sponsoring a showing on April 24 – the Saturday closest to the anniversary of the bombing of Gernika on April 26, 1937 (link to UCR screening).

We are also scheduled for a screening at New York City’s Euskal Etxea on Saturday, June 5, which will be 84 years and 1 day after the date Picasso completed Guernica. We’re hoping this screening will be in person (see https://www.newyorkbasqueclub.com/ for details). And Annika will be directing a staged reading at the Santa Monica Playhouse on Saturday, November 20—which is the day Franco died in 1975. 

Additionally, we have a book chapter about the process of staging the play coming out in October 2021 in the collection Theatres of War: Contemporary Perspectives (https://www.bloomsbury.com/uk/theatres-of-war-9781350132948/).

We would love to have more screenings or productions, so let one of us know if you’re interested: b.echeverria@ucr.edu or annika.speer@ucr.edu

BBP: What has been the most rewarding part of this experience for each of you?

Annika Speer: For me the process of creativity and collaboration has been most rewarding. When Begoña reached out to me two years ago asking me to read her script, I said yes, but at the time had no idea that we would end up working together on the staged reading, the dramaturgy, a book chapter, and then the film adaptation. It has been a joy to work on this project precisely because it keeps growing and evolving in different ways and our collaboration really functions well because we have shared goals and working styles but bring different skills to the project and process.

Begoña Echeverria: It has also been a pleasure for me to work with Annika on this project. It was actually her idea to turn the footage of the staged reading into a film when the pandemic hit and we were unable to move forward with plans for live staged readings. This gave us the opportunity to integrate archival images into the film that we did not show at the staged reading itself, and that’s where Annika’s expertise in dramaturgy and docudrama really shone. It’s been rewarding to share more of the history of these events this way, in particular some haunting images showing a Basque couple waving goodbye to Gernika as it was bombed, and a mother and her two children crying at their kitchen table.  

For the staged reading, it was also gratifying for me to integrate personal touches into the play. I made a point of integrating personal artifacts into the production: the handkerchief that the mother in the play gives her daughter was my mother’s, the photos Andrea sifts through at the end of the play includes my father’s, and the leaf from the tree the mother gives her children for safe keeping is a tree from the actual tree of Gernika.  It also meant a lot to me that the staged reading premiered in my hometown with most of my family and many fellow members of the Chino Basque Club in the audience.

Basque Fact of the Week: The Makila, the Basque Walking Stick

Basque culture is ubiquitous with numerous unique symbols and iconography — the lauburu, the eguzkilore, the omnipresent font that decorates store fronts, and so much more. One of the most unique Basque symbols is the makila, a walking stick that is, today, ceremonially used to recognize important persons. However, did you know that it can take upwards of twenty years to make a makila? The art and craftsmanship behind the makila are quite outstanding.

Image from Alberdi Makila.
  • A makila serves not only as a walking stick, but also a weapon. The handle, often made of animal horn, can be used as a bludgeoning weapon while it can be held by the handle and be swung at an opponent or dangerous animal. However, buried in the shaft is a small sword or spike that can be revealed by removing the top, creating an effective stabbing weapon. There is some evidence that there used to be codified makila fights and even that Napoleon had a regiment of makilkaris for hand-to-hand combat.
  • The makila is an important cultural symbol for the Basques. It is often given as a form of recognition to dignitaries or other important visitors. A few notable people who have been honored with the gift of a makila include US President Ronald Reagan, Pope John Paul II, the author Bernardo Atxaga, and my father-in-law.
  • A makila can take twenty years to make. The process starts with the artisan finding a tree. While many woods can be used to make a makila, including beech, gorse or argoma wood, juniper, and holly, medlar is the common choice. A branch is carved with designs while it is still alive and part of the tree. The branch is then left alone until it heals and the design becomes part of its surface. After the branches are cut and baked, they are left to age upwards of ten years. This wooden shaft is then adorned with metal casings, usually silver or brass, that are engraved with Basque symbols such as the lauburu.
  • There is a story that, in 1879, a cache of silver coins was discovered, some of which were sold to a local hairdresser who then used them to crown makilas. It turns out those coins were over 2000 years old.
  • The family-owned business Makhila Ainciart Bergara, making makilas since 1780, was a finalist for the 2021 ‘Family is Sustainability‘, awarded by Primum Familiae Vini for “excellence in sustainability, innovation, craftsmanship and the successful transmission of responsibility and commitment from one generation to the next.” Unfortunately, they were not the winner, but their inclusion in the list demonstrates the high esteem the traditional Basque art of the makila has.

Primary sources: Estornés Lasa, Bernardo. MAKILLA. Enciclopedia Auñamendi, 2021. Available at: http://aunamendi.eusko-ikaskuntza.eus/es/makilla/ar-91243/; Makila, Wikipedia; Makilas, el bastón de jefe vasco que se hace a mano y se tarda mas de 15 años en fabricar, Vanity Fair.

Buber’s Basque Story: Part 47

If you have comments or questions, or have simply been enjoying the story and want to say hello, please drop me a note!

As soon as Maite crossed the threshold of the doors, a young woman was there in the lobby to greet her.

 
“Are you Maite?” asked the woman. Her blond hair was pulled back into a ponytail. She wore a white lab coat that covered her clothes. Her blue eyes were framed by small circular lenses. Safety goggles were perched on top of her head.

“Yes,” replied Maite.

Buber’s Basque Story is a weekly serial. While it is a work of fiction, it has elements from both my own experiences and stories I’ve heard from various people. The characters, while in some cases inspired by real people, aren’t directly modeled on anyone in particular. I expect there will be inconsistencies and factual errors. I don’t know where it is going, and I’ll probably forget where it’s been. Why am I doing this? To give me an excuse and a deadline for some creative writing and because I thought people might enjoy it. Gozatu!

“Welcome to the physics department. I’m Amy. I’ve been asked to show you around the department. Please forgive my appearance. I got in early to get some experiments done since I knew I’d be showing you around most of the day.”

“I’m so sorry, I certainly didn’t mean to inconvenience anyone.”

“No, no worries at all,” said Amy as she led Maite through one of the doors on the side of the lobby. “Others did the same for me when I first visited and it’s only right that I continue the tradition.”

As they walked, Amy pointed out a small conference room. “This is where you will be giving your talk,” she said. “And,” she added as they continued down the hallway, “this is where I sit. I share this office with a few other students. If you like, you can stash your bag in here.”

“That’s alright,” replied Maite. “I’d rather keep it with me, in case I need my computer or my notebook.”

“Sounds good.” They continued on. “Here,” said Amy as she pushed open a door, “is the department office. The secretaries will be able to help you with any reimbursements for your expenses and whatnot.”

Maite waived and said hello to the two women who sat behind desks covered in papers as Amy shepherded her past them. “And here is the department chair. He’ll be your first appointment. Oh, I almost forgot to give you this.” Amy handed her a piece of paper with times and names. “Here is your schedule. Your talk is right after your meeting with the chair. After that, I’ll take you to tour some of the labs and then we’ll grab lunch with some of the other students. In the afternoon, you have meetings with some of the other professors. Sound good?”

“Perfect, thank you so much Amy,” replied Maite as Amy knocked on the door. 

They heard a muffled voice from the other side. “Come in!” 

Amy pushed open the door. “Good morning professor. This is Maite.”

“Excellent,” said the man as he stood up from behind his desk and crossed over to shake Maite’s hand. “Thanks Amy, I’ll take her to the seminar when it’s time.”

Amy nodded. “See you soon, Maite,” she said as she closed the door.

The rest of the day was a blur. Maite’s talk, on the electronic properties of quantum materials, was well attended and engaging. She was constantly interrupted with questions, but she felt she defended herself well and that she had answers to most of them. 

Afterwards, the department chair had complimented her on her talk. “Excellent talk, and great work, Maite. I’ve got to dash back to the office, but I hope to talk to you again before the end of your visit.”

Amy then led her to various labs, showing her the equipment they had for interrogating the properties of quantum materials. There were the standard structural probes of transmission electron microscopy, but also more exotic tools including various laser spectroscopy systems and microwave amplifiers. Maite could barely keep all of the information in her head and was glad when it was time for lunch.

Amy and a few other students took Maite to the campus food court. She was able to ask the other students about living and working in Berkeley. The students came from all over the world and had very different views of both the campus and the city, with some loving the eclectic nature of Berkeley the city and others bemoaning the over-population. However, they were all universal in their love of the department and the science they were able to perform.

After lunch, Maite then met with a few of the other professors in the department, those that she felt she had some connection to in terms of research interests. They each explained their research history and the opportunities for students in their respective groups. Maite was again starting to feel overwhelmed with the sheer amount of information that was being funneled to her when, before she knew it, the day was over. She was both exhausted by the long day and excited by all of the amazing possibilities a place like Berkeley offered. 

Basque Fact of the Week: The Sanchos of Pamplona

If there ever was a single political entity that encompassed all of what we now think of as the Basque Country — Euskal Herria with its seven provinces — it was the Kingdom of Nafarroa, originally known as the Kingdom of Pamplona. On the border of what later became France and Spain, it enjoyed great influence and power for its size due to its location, controlling the mountain passes between the future powers. Weaved throughout its history are a series of kings, the Sanchos, that were instrumental in both the kingdom’s rise and eventual break-up. Their stamp on Basque history cannot be overstated, founding the capitals of the Basque provinces of Gipuzkoa and Araba.

The Sancho Kings of Pamplona and Navarra. Images from Wikipedia.
  • Sancho I, born around 860, was the King of Pamplona from 905 to 925. His father, García Jiménez, first established the Jiménez dynasty, though Sancho I was the one who really consolidated power and created a meaningful dynasty, with Muslim sources referring to the dynasty as the Banu Sanjo, or descendants of Sancho. During his reign, Sancho I fought often with the Muslim rulers on his borders, winning some key victories.
  • His grandson, Sancho II, ruled from 970 to 994, the Kingdom of Pamplona being ruled in the intervening years by Sancho I’s brother and son. Sancho II is the first to be called King of Navarre, so described in the donation of a monastery in 987. By virtue of his mother, Andregoto Galíndez, he also became the Count of Aragon. During his reign, the Codex Vigilanus was completed, a compilation of many documents that included the first western representation of Arabic numerals. His reign was also besotted with various military defeats against the Muslim lords to the south and, in an effort to stabilize his kingdom, he married off his daughter Urraca to one of them.
  • Sancho III, also known as Sancho the Great, was born around 992 or so. He was the grandson of Sancho II and ruled from 1004 to 1035. As the Muslim hold on the south began to fragment, Sancho III tried to unify the Christian lands. He expanded his rule, acquiring Castile and León as the consequence of various marriages, fighting, and military victories. At its peak, his rule reached from Galicia to Barcelona. Amongst other things, he also started a Navarran series of currency and was one of the first great patrons of the Way of Saint James. Upon his death, he split his kingdom amongst his sons.
  • Sancho IV, Sancho III’s great grandson, was King of Pamplona from 1054 until 1076, beginning his reign when he was only fourteen years old. Soon after his accession, many of the lords of his kingdom defected to León, ruled by his uncle, Ferdinand I. In 1062, they signed a treaty that established their border, with what is now Bizkaia, Gipuzkoa and Araba under Sancho’s control. Not long after, in 1067, the War of the Three Sanchos pitted Sancho IV against his cousins in Castile and Aragón. Sancho IV was killed in 1076 by his brother Ramón Garcés and sister Ermesinda of Navarre.
  • Sancho V, then also King of Aragón, took over upon Sancho IV’s death. He was Sancho IV’s cousin and Sancho III’s grandson. He ruled Pamplona until his own death in 1094. After a number of military victories, he was defeated by El Cid at the battle of the Battle of Morella and was killed in 1094 while inspecting the walls of a Muslim stronghold.
  • More than 50 years later, after the intervening reigns of Peter I, Alfonso I, and García Ramírez, Sancho VI the Wise ruled, officially changing his title from King of Pamplona to King of Navarra. Born in 1132, he ruled from 1150 until his death in 1194. During his reign, in an effort to solidify authority in the face of Castilian might, he founded the towns of San Sebastián/Donostia and Vitoria-Gasteiz.
  • Sancho VI’s son, Sancho VII the Strong, followed his father as King of Navarra until his own death in 1234. He was the first to establish the now-familiar chains as his blazon. He was also the last member of the Jiménez dynasty. He was a close ally of his brother-in-law Richard I of England. While campaigning in Africa, his kingdom was invaded by Castile and Aragon, a consequence of which was the loss of Araba, Bizkaia and Gipuzkoa to Castile. He died childless in 1234, likely the result of a varicose ulcer in his leg.

Primary sources: Wikipedia; please see the various links in the text above.

Fighting Basques: Antonio Guezuraga Besanguiz. From the Beaches of Algeria in 1942 to Apollo 11

This native of Busturia was NASA’s chief engineer and participated in the mission that took Armstrong and Aldrin to the moon.

This article originally appeared in its Spanish form in El Diario.

Antonio Guezuraga Besanguiz poses in his United States Army uniform in which he served with honor for four long years

How is it possible that a boy from a small town in Bizkaia, with just a few hundred inhabitants, managed to become one of NASA’s chief engineers, helping to put the first man on the surface of the moon? This is the story of Antonio Guezuraga Besanguiz.

Antonio was born on June 10, 1919 in Busturia, on the shores of the Cantabrian Sea. His parents were Lucio Guezuraga Ateca, born on December 13, 1893, in Axpe, a barrio of Busturia, and Estefana Besanguiz Echevarria, born on December 26, 1892, also in Busturia. According to Antonio’s son, Robert Guezuraga Uriarte, “Antonio’s mother took him to Bilbao, put him on a boat whose final destination would be New York and told him that when he arrived he would look for Basques in the city, and they would help him. That’s where he met my mother, María Uriarte.”

“Echoes of two wars, 1936-1945” aims to disseminate the stories of those Basques and Navarrese who participated in two of the warfare events that defined the future of much of the 20th century. With this blog, the intention of the Sancho de Beurko Association is to rescue from anonymity the thousands of people who constitute the backbone of the historical memory of the Basque and Navarre communities, on both sides of the Pyrenees, and their diasporas of emigrants and descendants, with a primary emphasis on the United States, during the period from 1936 to 1945.

THE AUTHORS
Guillermo Tabernilla
is a researcher and founder of the Sancho de Beurko Association, a non-profit organization that studies the history of the Basques and Navarrese from both sides of the Pyrenees in the Spanish Civil War and in World War II. He is currently their secretary and community manager. He is also editor of the digital magazine Saibigain. Between 2008 and 2016 he directed the catalog of the “Iron Belt” for the Heritage Directorate of the Basque Government and is, together with Pedro J. Oiarzabal, principal investigator of the Fighting Basques Project, a memory project on the Basques and Navarrese in the Second World War in collaboration with the federation of Basque Organizations of North America.

Pedro J. Oiarzabal is a Doctor in Political Science-Basque Studies, granted by the University of Nevada, Reno (USA). For two decades, his work has focused on research and consulting on public policies (citizenship abroad and return), diasporas and new technologies, and social and historical memory (oral history, migration and exile), with special emphasis on the Basque case. He is the author of more than twenty publications. He has authored the blog “Basque Identity 2.0” by EITB and “Diaspora Bizia” by EuskalKultura.eus. On Twitter @Oiarzabal.

Josu M. Aguirregabiria is a researcher and founder of the Sancho de Beurko Association and is currently its president. A specialist in the Civil War in Álava, he is the author of several publications related to this topic, among which “La batalla de Villarreal de Álava” (2015) y “Seis días de guerra en el frente de Álava. Comienza la ofensiva de Mola” (2018) stand out.

After traveling to the French port of Le Havre, he arrived in New York on June 29, 1936, on the ship SS Normandie. He was 17 years old. His father had lived in the city of skyscrapers since 1924. More than two weeks later, on July 18, 1936, the military coup against the elected government unleashed a war in Spain that lasted three long years. Antonio’s older brother would die during the war.

His studies as a marine engineer and his incipient career in the Merchant Marine were interrupted by the Second World War (WWII). Although not a US citizen, he was enlisted in the US Army on January 9, 1941, in Jamaica, New York. A few months later, in September, Antonio obtained American citizenship, serving during the war in two infantry regiments corresponding to as many divisions: the 39th (of the 9th Infantry Division “Old Reliables”) and 411th (of the 103rd Infantry Division “Cactus Division”) regiments. His experience during the war was vast and included the North African and European theaters of operations.

Decorations received by Antonio Guezuraga during his participation in World War II. Courtesy of Robert Guezuraga Uriarte

After arriving in Algeria on November 8, 1942, he began a journey that led him to participate in the campaigns of Algeria (being one of the first American fighters to fight on foreign soil) and Tunisia, where his unit acquired a more active role by leading the combat operations covering the advance of the 1st Armored Division, helping to subdue the Germans in North Africa in the aftermath of the war in May 1943. Later he would land in Sicily, where they fiercely fought for eight days for Troina. Transferred to the United Kingdom to prepare for the invasion of France, they arrived in Normandy on D + 4 Day, taking part in the fight for the Contentin Peninsula and fighting fierce battles that would take them to the south of Paris and later to Belgium. From September 19, 1944, his unit was involved in the terrible fighting in the Hurtgen Forest and later in the Battle of the Bulge. They were then sent to the Rhineland, from where they progressed into the interior of Germany. On an undetermined date, at the end of the war in Europe or just afterwards, he joined the 411th Infantry Regiment, which had the great honor of linking up with the North American troops fighting in Italy by crossing the Alps through the passage of the Brennero, linking the two fronts and reaching Vipiteno on May 4, 1945.

Antonio was discharged with honors on August 14, 1945, with the rank of fourth grade technician. His specialty was auto mechanics, for which he received the driver badge, to which he added a mechanic badge, but he would also see action with the infantry, obtaining the prestigious badge that accredited his entry into combat. His decorations included the Good Conduct Medal, the United States Defense Service Medal, the Europe, Africa and the Middle East Service Medal, and the Bronze Star, which was awarded to him in February, 1945. In the words of his son Robert, “Antonio loved America and he served it for more than 50 years.”

After the end of the war, Antonio married María Uriarte Ateca, born in 1920 in Brooklyn, New York, to Basque immigrant parents, Pedro Uriarte, born in Abadiño, Bizkaia, in 1891, and Eulalia Ateca Yspizua, born in Busturia in 1890. They had two children during a brief marriage that ended when Maria passed away after Robert’s birth. The children were sent to Busturia where they grew up in the home of Antonio’s mother, returning to New York in 1957, the year in which Antonio married Eleonora Gregoratti, born in Louisiana to an Austrian father and an Italian mother. Eleonora had served as a nurse for the US Navy in the Pacific during WWII. “She was a great role model for me,” Robert told us.

Antonio returned to maritime life, working, initially, for civil shipping companies. In March, 1947, he joined the US Army Transport System (ATS) based in the Port of New York, moving soldiers and goods to Germany and Italy, progressing rapidly in his engineering career. When the ship the Golden Eagle, on which he worked as a second assistant engineer since 1949, was transferred to the Atlantic area command of the Military Sea Transportation Service (MSTSLANT; later known as the Military Sealift Command) in 1950, Antonio decided to continue being part of the crew, starting a new adventure in his life. He served aboard several US Naval Ships (USNS) between New York and Europe, primarily. On board the USNS Buckner, he received a special mention for his great gifts as chief engineer, a position he had held since 1952.

Antonio Guezuraga’s maritime career spanned from 1947 to 1984, serving in both Korea and Vietnam. Courtesy of Robert Guezuraga Uriarte

He also served on the USNS Vanguard (T-AGM-194; formerly known as USNS Muscle Shoals, T-AGM-19), a missile range instrumentation ship converted in 1965, and transferred to the Military Sealift Service in 1966. Designed to be an offshore missile tracking station, she participated in the Project Apollo test series and in 1969 she continued in these roles. She subsequently participated in the Skylab program and in the US-Soviet Apollo-Soyuz test project.

But undoubtedly the most notable experience was Antonio’s participation in the Apollo space program, with which the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) intended to put a man on the moon. Antonio worked as a NASA chief engineer until 1984.

He was selected as the Marine Employee of the Year by MSTSLANT in 1969. In turn, he was also publicly praised by Michael Collins, Apollo 11 command module pilot, one of three men who went to the moon (July 16-20, 1969), along with Commander Neil Armstrong and lunar module pilot Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin. Collins recognized Antonio’s individual contribution, through his work on the USNS Vanguard, in making that mission a success.

NASA presents the “Silver Snoopy” medal to Antonio Guezuraga in a ceremony that took place in February, 1970. “Silver Snoopy” is one of the NASA symbols that best represents the intention and spirit of space flight. Courtesy by Robert Guezuraga Uriarte

Collins wrote of Antonio, “His contribution was an essential factor in the success of Apollo 11.” Consequently, NASA awarded him the “Silver Snoopy” award for his professional excellence in February, 1970. (Antonio was then a member of the Office of Instrumentation Ships at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland). He also participated in the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project, the first international manned space mission that took place from July 15 to 24, 1975. For his work on this first joint mission in outer space, he also received a special mention from the crews of both the United States and the Soviet Union.

The Apollo-Soyuz team presented Antonio Guezuraga with a certificate and a metal medallion for his contribution to the success of this first international mission in space in 1975. Courtesy of Robert Guezuraga Uriarte

The exceptional accomplishments of the young emigrant who arrived in the country with only 17 years of age is measured by the achievements that Antonio reaped throughout his life. His mother Estefana not only sent him to the New World, but also enabled him to explore the endless opportunities that life offered him, helping to make the dream of walking on the surface of the moon come true. Along with his engineering skills, his social and linguistic skills accompanied him throughout his life, since he not only spoke Basque, but he also knew how to read and write it. According to his son Robert, “he was very proud of that, especially during the time of Franco’s dictatorship in Spain.” Additionally, he was fluent in English, Spanish, Italian, and German. Antonio passed away at the age of 72 on April 10, 1992 in Brevard, Florida. Little did Armstrong imagine (or did he?), when he said that of “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” that in reality he was describing the thousands of steps that in turn took so many other men and women who helped him reach the moon. Among them, a boy from Busturia. One of ours.

Collaborate with ‘Echoes of two wars, 1936-1945.’

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