Basque Fact of the Week: Fashion Designer Paco Rabanne

Despite its relatively small size, the Basque Country seems to produce a disproportionate number of leaders and innovators. A prime example is the world of fashion, where two world-renowned designers – Cristóbal Balenciaga and Paco Rabanne – got their start. Rabanne, who’s mother worked for Balenciaga, viewed himself as a disciple of the more senior designer. However, Rabanne pushed even further beyond the boundaries of fashion – a revolutionary who brought new materials to his designs.

Paco Rabanne with two models. Photo from Architectural Digest.
  • Paco Rabanne, as he was known professionally, was born Francisco Rabaneda Cuervo on February 18, 1934 in Pasaia, Gipuzkoa. Pasaia is a small town just outside of Donostia. Rabanne’s father, Francisco Rabaneda Postigo, was a military officer from Andalusia while his mother, María Luisa Cuervo Fernandez, was a seamstress from Santander. Both were involved in the Communist party. His father became commander of the Communist battalion, Larrañaga, in the Basque army, fighting against Franco’s forces. He was captured and executed on July 15, 1937.
  • Rabanne’s mother became chief seamstress at the House of Balenciaga in Donostia. When Bilbo fell, Cuervo took her family to Barcelona, and when that city fell in 1939, she fled, with hundreds of thousands of others, to France. After years of hardship, in 1952 the family made their way to Paris. There, Rabanne entered l’École Nationale des Beaux-Arts to study architecture.
  • While studying, he designed accessories for some of the biggest fashion names of the time: Balenciaga, Courrèges, Pierre Cardin, and Givenchy. Under Balenciaga and inspired by his architect colleagues, Rabanne began experimenting with using metal and plastic in fashion.  He “went from architecture to fashion, making a synthesis of the two.”
  • In 1965, he launched his own brand and presented his first collection a year later. In his fashion designs, he pushed far beyond the conventional. Indeed, he want to go “as far as is reasonable for one’s time and not indulge in the morbid pleasure of the known things, which I view as decay… To be fixed in a concept is to become a living corpse.”
  • Amongst other notable achievements, Rabanne designed several of the costumes in the movie Barbarella. In addition to fashion, he had a line of fragrances, exhibited drawings, and wrote a book.
  • Rabanne was also known for his eccentricities. He claimed he was 75,000 years old and had lived many previous lives. He made several predictions based on visions, including that the space station Mir would crash into Paris.
  • Rabanne died on February 3, 2023, at the age of 88.

Primary sources: “Basque Fashion in Exile: Creativity and Innovation, from Balenciaga to Rabanne” by Miren Arzalluz, in The International Legacy of Lehendakari Jose A. Aguirre’s Government, edited by Xabier Irujo and Mari Jose Olaziregi; Paco Rabanne, Wikipedia.

A Bit of Basque Miscellany

Today, I’m sharing a number of interesting items that have been sent to me over the last… well, I don’t dare say, as some of these have been sitting in my inbox for far too long. I hope you enjoy these!

  • The musical group Amaterra released a video for their song Izan ala ez izan – To be or not to be. A simple question, but what about the answer? Everyone will find their own.
  • hartea is Joseba Lekuona‘s site for his unique art which combines stone and gastronomy. Using stones from the Basque Country and beyond, he creates what he calls “Conceptual Tableware,” with the goal of “elevating gastronomy to the realm of artistic experience… After extracting marble and stone from the bowels of our mountains, I turn them into exclusively designed gastronomic supports.” Simply outstanding.

  • Mutriku is a small town on the Basque coast between Bilbo and Donostia. As I’ve written before, it is home to some of the most striking flysch in the world. Mutriku now has another claim to fame – it is using the waves that batter the coast to power the town. As described in this BBC article, 16 turbines extract energy from those waves, enough to power some 250 homes.
  • partekatu is an online Euskara course. Currently in Spanish, I’ve been told they plan to have an English version in the future. In addition to references for grammar and the like, they also have articles on Basque culture. And there are a number of online lessons to get you going.
  • Continuing with Euskara, the townhall of Lazkao has published a PDF that contains translations of many Basque phrases into eight different languages, including English. Phrases are organized by topics such as transportation and family.

  • This one is a little dated – I got the original email back in 2016… sometimes the inbox gets clogged… 🙁 Anyways, Bakarne Atxukarro, Izaskun Zubialde, and Asun Egurza have written tales for children based on Basque mythology and in 2016 their stories were published in English (in addition to the previous versions in Basque, Spanish, and French). The book, Basque Mythology: Stories for Kids, can be found on Amazon where you can “look inside” for a sample story.
  • is a website for the Basque diaspora. In addition to their digital magazine, they have an extensive digital collection with photographs of “the social and cultural life of the Basque communities abroad. It holds 41.988 pictures describing the dairy activities of the Basque diaspora.”

Basque Fact of the Week: The Joaldunak

The Basque Country has several very distinctive festivals. I’ve written about La Tamborrada and the fiesta of San Juan, but perhaps one of the most unique fiestas involves the Joaldunak. Dressed in sheepskins and tall pointy hats with massive cowbells hung on their backs, these men, and now women, march between the towns of Zubieta and Ituren in Nafarroa. Other revelers dress in outlandish costumes, representing the evil spirits they all want to drive away.

The Joaldunak from Ituren. Photo from Wikipedia.
  • The Joaldunak are part of festivities that take place in the north of Nafarroa, primarily the towns of Ituren and Zubieta, at the end of January. Their costumes feature cowbells that hang at their waist and these bells give the Joaldunak their name. The Basque word for cowbell – in general, as there is a separate word pulunpa for the largest cowbell that they actually – is joarea. Thus, the Joaldunak are those that have the joarea, or cowbells. They represent sheep and there is a sheepherder that also accompanies them, leading another costumed man playing the role of a bear who is used to scare off the wolves. Others dress up as demons and other evil spirits, leading to a pretty wild celebration.
  • The Joaldunak introduce the coming carnival, the origins of which have been lost. They march from Zubieta to Ituren, a nearly-two mile trek. They walk in step so that the bells are synched, in a rhythm matching their march. Half way, the Joaldunak of Zubieta are met by those from Ituren and they complete the march to the Ituren plaza, where some 50-60 Joaldunak meet for a communal lunch. The Joaldunak are said to protect cattle, drive away bad spirits, and ensure a good harvest. Cowbells are one way that Basques have warded off dangerous animals and spirits that would harm their cattle.
  • We don’t have a lot of information about what the Joaldunak were before the Spanish Civil War. In Ituren, in addition to their two cowbells, the Joaldunak would wear a black cloth covering their face under a long conical hat called a ttuntturro. The ttunturro was decorated with colorful ribbons. The tip held a rooster feather. The Joaldunak wore sheepskins. The Joaldunak from Ituren would go as a group while in other places, such as Zubieta, they were isolated characters in the celebrations. In some places, they would beg at the houses of their neighborhood.
  • After the Spanish Civil War, carnivals such as those featuring the Joaldunak were banned, but Ituren and Zubieta continued their festivities despite the ban. They were able to continue, in part, by compromising and removing the cloth that covered their faces.
  • In the 1960s, the celebrations around the Joaldunak evolved. Before that, cowbells were expensive and there weren’t typically more than maybe a dozen Joaldunak at the carnivals. Young people found new cowbells and the groups became bigger. Tourists started coming and the celebrations gained attention. Things became a bit more formalized – the details of the costume became more standard and the timing of the Joaldunak’s participation in the festivities also became more precise.
  • Sometimes, the Joaldunak are confused with the Zanpantzar, which are effigies that are burned during the festivals, representing all of the evil that is being burned away. The Zanpantzar is viewed as a villain and, in some places, is tried and condemned for his evil ways and blasphemous language. Sometimes, the word Zanpantzar is also used to refer to the carnival itself.
  • Historically, the Joaldunak were men, but recently women have also begun participating and dressing as Joaldunak.

Primary sources: Ortzadar Folklore Taldea. Karlos Irujo Asurmendi. Zanpantzar. Auñamendi Encyclopedia. Available at:; Joaldun, Wikipedia; Joaldun, Wikipedia (Basque); The Joaldunak from Head to Toe, Smithsonian Folklife Festival

The Adventures of Maite and Kepa: Part 141

It was a few days later. Maite and Kepa were strolling along La Concha in Donostia. The sun glistened off of the water in the bay, which slowly lapped at the beach. People were spread out everywhere. Kids were splashing in the water while their parents sat back under umbrellas, watching them. More than a few people were sunbathing and Kepa’s eyes kept wandering to the topless women scattered here and there on the beach.

The Adventures of Maite and Kepa 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!

“Why don’t we go to the beach more often?” he asked absentmindedly.

Maite elbowed him in the ribs. 

“Ow!” exclaimed Kepa in mock pain. “What was that for?”

“You get distracted too easily,” she chuckled. “As I was saying, what did you think of those apartments?”

“Right, sorry,” replied Kepa. “Well, I liked the one in the Parte Vieja; it would be cool to live there. But it was a bit run down and I do wonder if it would be hard to study there.”

Maite nodded. “Bai, I think it would always be pretty loud there. What about the one in Egia?”

Kepa shrugged. “It was fine, but nothing special. There was nothing wrong with it, but I just didn’t find the neighborhood all that interesting.”

Maite sighed. “I agree. And the one closer to the university was a bit more expensive than I hoped. It would be hard to afford that one.”

“Well,” said Kepa, “unless I get a good job.”

“I don’t want you to have to pay for everything.”

Kepa winked at her. “One day, when you are a famous scientist, you’ll be the one paying for everything.”

“Ha!” Maite burst out laughing. “You don’t really have any idea of how this science thing works, do you?”

“What do you mean?” asked Kepa.

“It’s long hours. And the pay isn’t great.”

“So why are you doing this again?” asked Kepa, jokingly.

“For the fame and the glory,” replied Maite with a wink.

“I guess we’ll just have to live off of that,” said Kepa with a smile.

“Well, you can’t eat fame nor glory,” said Maite before pausing. She was staring across the bay at the small island that arose out of the water. She sighed as she pointed at the peak.

Kepa looked and saw a bright pinpoint of light flickering on the top. 

“Time to get back to work,” he said.

If you get this post via email, the return-to address goes no where, so please write if you want to get in touch with me.

Fighting Basques: Alfonso Garde Marcilla, Memoirs of a Prisoner of War in World War II

Portrait of Alfonso Justo Garde Marcilla at age 18 in his United States Army Air Force uniform (Courtesy of the Garde Marcilla family).

This article original appeared in Spanish at

Interrogated in Budapest

“Alfonso Garde, Corporal, 3835273.” Those were the only words that came out of his mouth in response to the demands of his interrogator. Under the Geneva Convention, a prisoner of war only had to provide his name, rank, and serial number. “Alfonso Garde, Corporal, 3835273.” The enthusiasm with which he had enlisted in the Air Force a year earlier at Fort Bliss, Texas, flew through his head. His dream was to be a pilot. He had been called up three months after his 18th birthday. “Like most 18-year-old men at that time, I could hardly wait to put on the uniform,” Alfonso confessed in his memoirs written 40 years after his captivity during World War II [1].

At the interrogation center in Budapest, Hungary, where he had been taken after his capture, he recalled the last time he was able to see his loved ones at the family ranch in Vaughn, New Mexico. It was early July, 1944. Alfonso and the rest of his crewmates had been granted three days leave. During his short visit, he told his siblings, but not his parents, that he was going to be sent to the European front. “I saw no need for them to worry,” Alfonso wrote [2]. It was perhaps premonitory. In fact, it would not be until January, 1945, when the US War Department made public that Alfonso was a prisoner of war in Germany, six months having already elapsed since the beginning of his captivity.

His Plane, Shot Down

“We had been forewarned that prisoner war interrogations could be very rough,” Alfonso recounted. “We were spared by the fact that the war had taken a turn in favor of the Allies. The interrogation finally arrived – it consisted of them telling us more about ourselves than we ourselves knew […] The interrogation room walls were lined up with information on all our units” [3]. It was there that he learned of the death of six of his ten fellow crew members of the B-24, along with the photographer who flew with them to record the results of the bombing. Alfonso had been uninjured, but the two waist gunners had suffered burns to the face and arms while the upper turret gunner had a head wound.

Budapest, a city that, like the rest of the country, had been occupied by German troops in March, 1944, was neither the beginning nor the end of Alfonso’s odyssey. So let’s go to the beginning of the story.

Photo of a soldier entering a B-24 ball turret (Air Ministry Second World War Official Collection, CI 1028).

To the European Front

After passing through Fort Bliss in August, 1943, the young Basque-American recruit was sent to the Aerial Gunnery School in Harlingen, Texas, where he was trained as a ball turret gunner – a spherical turret made of plexiglass perched on the belly of a B-24 Liberator heavy bomber with room for one person manning two .50-caliber Browning machine guns. His dream of becoming a pilot had come to an end.

Alfonso Garde (front row second from left) poses with his crew in front of their B-24 “Patsy Ann” possibly in Bangor, Maine, before their flight to Europe (Courtesy Garde Marcilla family).

In April, 1944, Alfonso and the rest of the crew were posted to Pueblo, Colorado, for combat training. Returning from their brief three-day leave, they flew to Bangor, Maine, in mid-July, where they picked up their new B-24 bomber, which they named “Patsy Ann,” after the pilot’s girlfriend. They left the US in their “Patsy Ann” on July 21, 1944, via the Azores Islands and North Africa, reaching their final destination in Foggia, southeastern Italy, on August 8, 1944. There they joined the 724 Squadron of the 451st Bombardment Group based at the Castelluccio Airfield, an agricultural area located 14 kilometers from Foggia.

Ring-side Seat to the Allied Invasion

Despite the fact that they lacked two weeks of training, their first mission took place the day after their arrival on Italian soil. The war could not wait. Their objective was to prepare for the Allied invasion of southern France, which took place on August 15, 1944, and which they witnessed, as Alfonso described, “What a ring-side seat! We saw our battleships pounding the enemy installations as hundreds of barges and boats discharged our troops unto the beaches” [4].

Image of Alfonso Garde’s B-24 “Hard to Get”, shot down in Austrian skies on August 23, 1944 (451st Bombardment Group.)

Tragically, on August 23, 1944, Alfonso’s aircraft was hit by enemy planes and finally shot down when his group of bombers, made up of 25 planes, tried to destroy the Markersdorf Airfield, 65 kilometers from Vienna, to prevent the Luftwaffe from using it. The 451st Group lost 9 aircraft on that mission and earned the coveted Presidential Unit Citation. The German fighters had made an appearance under the cover of clouds and the B-24s were very vulnerable to the power of the 20mm cannons of the Focke Wulf Fw 190s. Garde’s plane – “Hard to Get,” piloted by Lieutenant James H. Powers – had been hit on the left wing and plunged uncontrollably towards the ground. The other bombers in the squadron counted up to eight parachutes, but six crew members, including the pilot, would not survive the incident: Lieutenants Ray F. Chisholm, Sidney Samet and Merle E. Vanderhorst and Corporals Franklin D. Atwood and Leonard L. Wagner [5].

Show Down and Captured

This is how Alfonso remembers the demolition of his plane and the fortune of getting out alive:

“Abandon the ship!” The pilot screamed. Time was of essence—we were flying at 20,000 feet and I no longer had an oxygen mask. The whole rear end of the plane had been blown away. The only other possible escape was through the bomb bay, which was still loaded with hundreds of small fragmentary bombs. Before the doors were completely open, I jumped. The bombs were also released, so the bombs and I came out together. All I remember is that I pulled the handle of my parachute. I passed out for the lack of oxygen. My ‘ride’ must have lasted about 30 minutes [6].

The inevitable impact against the ground was softened by the treetops that caught the parachute. “As I pondered how to get the tangled parachute down from the tree, I heard two distinct clicks behind me. I turned around to see two rifles aimed at my head. Behind the guns were a middle-aged Austrian farmer and a young man. Would they pull the trigger?” [7]. The two men drove Alfonso to their farm, an hour’s walk away. He was hoping they would help him escape or hide from the authorities. However, all hope was dashed when they went to look for a soldier who escorted him to the town jail. At dusk he was joined by his crewmates.

Later they were taken to a nearby city where there were a large number of airmen who, like them, had also been shot down. “We were then loaded into boxcars like animals for our next destination, which turned out to be Budapest, Hungary – the interrogation center” [8]. Their arrival in the city was not well received. The city had been heavily bombarded the previous days, and the citizens were crying out for revenge. The transfer from the train station to the prison was in open trucks. In their wake, stones were thrown at them. “The only thing that saved us was the fact that the trucks kept moving and the Germans guards placed themselves between us and the civilians,” Alfonso wrote with some relief [9].

The Stalag Luft IV Prisoner of War Camp

After two weeks in Budapest, Alfonso and his companions, along with many other airmen, were sent to the Stalag Luft IV prison camp, in Gross-Tychow, Pomerania (now Tychowo, Poland), which was administered by the German Air Force for Allied aircrews.

This map shows a selection of prison camps in Europe, among which stands out “Stalag Luft IV” where Alfonso Garde was held (“Guest of the Third Reich. Americans POWs in Europe.” The National WWII Museum.)

“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.

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 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.

More than 120,000 Americans were taken prisoners of war during the bellicose conflict. Most of them, some 94,000, spent their captivity in the almost hundred camps built by the Nazi regime throughout their country and the occupied territory in Europe.

The journey to Stalag Luft IV took four days, passing through bombed-out Berlin, on a crowded freight train. “We could sit,” Alfonso related, “but we couldn’t lie down. There were no bathroom facilities, and, after a couple of days, it was hell to be in those cars” [10]. The prison camp consisted of four compounds – three for Americans and one for the British – for a total of 10,000 airmen.

Five Months in the Prison Camp

By Alfonso’s account, the German authorities respected the Geneva Convention, so there was no forced labor. However, the shortage of food was a serious problem. “We survived because the American Red Cross food parcels. Life in camp was not bad as long as we behaved. Since we were not forced to work, we had much time to kill. Life was dull, but at least we were ‘safe’. This went on for some five months. This situation was to suddenly change. The Russians began their offensive towards the west. The Germans had no intentions of letting the Russians liberate 10,000 American [and British] airmen” [11].

Faced with the continuous advance of the Soviet Army on the Eastern Front, Germany decided to evacuate the prisoners to the heart of the Third Reich. It is estimated that between January and April, 1945, 80,000 Allied prisoners were forced to walk west in the middle of one of the bloodiest winters of the war, without food or adequate clothing, and afflicted by disease. These forced marches were known as “the Black March” or “the Death March.” About 3,500 Allied soldiers perished as a result of them.

The Death March

On February 6, 1945, some 8,000 prisoners from Stalag Luft IV, including Alfonso, set out on a march of more than 800 kilometers – 500 miles – on foot, during which hundreds of soldiers died. The memory of that time remained very vivid in Alfonso’s mind for the rest of his life.

Early one morning we were informed we would be evacuating the camp. The next three months were to be three months of pure hell. We left camp with the cloths we were wearing, a blanket, and whatever we could carry on our backs. Our problems began almost immediately. The bitter cold brought much influenza and illness. We battle frostbite, fever, and pneumonia. Before long we were infested with body lice. Hunger was the worst part. Because of drinking impure water, dysentery ran rampant among the prisoners. I became quite ill but survived only because I was literally carried for a week by some of my befriended ‘cell’ mates. We walked from daylight to darkness when we would drop from exhaustion and hunger. For substance we had little to eat but boiled potatoes, kohlrabies picked up along the way and loaves of black brot (bread), which had to be divided twenty ways. We survived day-to-day from meager handouts given to us by civilians along the road. I traded my watch for a loaf of bread and a piece of sausage. My class ring went for a dozen boiled eggs [12].

The American and British troops continued their advance towards German territory from the west. “The sound of war and the rumble of tanks were more evident every day. What a sight to behold as the British tanks appeared over the horizon! The day was May 2, 1945 – the happiest day of our lives after 250 days of captivity,” Alfonso exclaimed in his writings [13]. Five days before he had turned 20 years old. Left to their own devices, the prisoners of Stalag Luft IV began their last march towards the British zone. Alfonso’s tragic odyssey was coming to an end. Germany finally surrendered to the Allies on May 8, 1945. By the middle of that month, all surviving American prisoners were under Allied control. Evacuated to the French port of Le Havre, he boarded a troop transport ship for the United States. Alfonso arrived at the Port of New York on June 12, 1945. Thirty-two years earlier, his father, Mauricio Garde Echandi, a native of Urzainki, Nafarroa, had followed the same path, at only 19 years of age.

Back to Vaughn

Alfonso was discharged with honors on October 17, 1945, in Roswell, New Mexico, with the rank of sergeant. He was awarded the Bronze Star for the campaigns in Central Europe, the Rhineland, Northern France, Southern France, and for the Balkan Air Combat. He received the ribbons for the Theater of Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. He in turn received the Air Medal (awarded in October 1944 during his captivity) and the Presidential Unit Citation.

Alfonso Garde upon his return to the family home in Vaughn, Guadalupe County, New Mexico, after his release and subsequent evacuation (Courtesy Garde Marcilla family).

Upon his return, his parents and siblings were waiting for him at the family home in Vaughn. His mother, Emilia Marcilla Anaut, from Nafarroa and born in Isaba in 1901, had arrived in the US with her father in 1916. Her father tragically died in a snow storm while tending a flock of sheep in the 1920s. More than one hundred residents of Roncalese town of Isaba emigrated to New Mexico during the first two decades of the 20th century. Most of them worked in the agricultural and livestock sector.

Emilia and Mauricio married around 1919, establishing their residence in Vaughn, where Mauricio operated a sheep ranch. The distance that separates the hometowns of Emilia and Mauritius is less than 4 kilometers. Paradoxically, they met thousands of kilometers from their native Roncal Valley. During their marriage they had eight children, all of them born in Vaughn: Mariana (1920-1943), Jesusa “Susie” (1921-2011), Mauricio Jr. (1923-2003), Alfonso Justo, Inez (1927-1998), Emilia ( 1928-1975), Elena “Helen” (1930), and Raymond (1940).

Portrait of the wedding of Mauricio Garde Echandi and Emilia Marcilla Anaut, both from the Roncal Valley in Nafarroa, held in Vaughn, New Mexico, around 1919 (Courtesy of the Garde Marcilla family).

Mauricio Jr. was also called up for duty after graduating from the Vaughn Institute. During the war he served as a Military Police in the Army. All the children of Emilia and Mauricio graduated from college, which facilitated their entry into the middle class. The socioeconomic rise of the first Basque generation born in the country was evident.

Photograph of the Garde Marcilla family taken in June 1963 during Raymond’s graduation from New Mexico State University. From left to right (front row): Mauricio Jr., Mauricio Sr., Emilia, and Raymond. From left to right (second row): Inez, Helen, Susie, and Alfonso (Courtesy of the Garde Marcilla family).

In 1949, Alfonso married Delia Dávila and they had three children. He retired in 1981, after having developed a brilliant career in the world of education. In the 1950s he was superintendent of the Vaughn schools, and until the mid-1960s he was superintendent of the Belen, New Mexico, schools. He later worked for a year for the New Mexico State Department of Education in Santa Fe, and from 1968, Alfonso carried out his professional work as director of transportation and district business manager for Belen schools.

As his daughter Sarah told us, “My father never spoke about his experience at war. He would only announce the anniversary date of when he was shot down! My dad was typical of The Greatest Generation!” [14]. Alfonso last reviewed his memoirs in 1990. “After reflecting for forty years on my unusual adventure, I have decided to put my thoughts in writing,” Alfonso wrote. “Why? I really don´t know. It was not a feeling of guilt or shame for having been captured. It was probably more a feeling of sorrow for my crew mates who did not return, as well as the thousands of young men that gave it their all” [15].

Alfonso Garde Marcilla passed away at the age of 66, on February 17, 1992 in Albuquerque, New Mexico. May this article serve as a small tribute to Alfonso’s companions who lost their lives 78 years ago.

[1-4, 6-15] Garde, Alfonso. (August 1984, revised August 1990). “Reflections 40 Years Later”. P. 3, 4, 9, 5-6, 6-7, 7, 9, 10, 10-11, 12, and 2.
[5] Report of the mission on Markersdorf (Austria) of August 23, 1944 in nº 9 of the bulletin of former members of the 451st Bombardment Group (
[14] Interview by the authors with Sarah Garde (January and February 2023).

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:

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Basque Fact of the Week: The “Basque Spitfire” Yolande Betbeze, Miss America 1951

Sometimes during my foraging of the Internet for interesting stories about Basque culture, I come across a cool tidbit like this week’s fact about Yolande Betbeze. Almost all references to her note her Basque ancestry. However, this is a case where I can’t really confirm her Basque heritage – it seems that her first immigrant ancestor came from nearby, but not necessarily from, the Basque Country. Regardless, given how ubiquitous the references to her Basque background are, I’m moving forward with writing about her.

Portrait of Miss America contestant Yolande Betbeze surrounded by her music, taken by Dick DeMarsico and found on Alabama News Center.
  • Yolande Margaret Betbeze was born on November 28, 1928, in Mobile, Alabama. Her parents, William and Ethel (nee Meyer) Betbeze, owned slaughterhouses – William was known as “Alabama’s Barbecue King.” William’s family is often noted as being of Basque descent, from Iparralde. Yolande often referred to her Basque ancestry – hence the nickname the “Basque spitfire.” It seems that it was her great-great grandfather, Jean Betbeze, that immigrated to the United States. Jean was from Chelle-Debat, Hautes-Pyrénées. Certainly close to the Basque Country, but I can’t tell if he was actually Basque…
  • Betbeze grew up in a strict Catholic household and attended a convent school before attending Spring Hill College in Mobile. She became an accomplished soprano and, as one way to get scholarship monies to continue her musical education, she entered her first beauty pageant, winning “Miss Torch” in 1949. She then entered the Miss Alabama contest as, in her own words, “one way to escape the South.” She was crowned Miss Alabama in 1950 and represented the state in the 1951 Miss America contest.
  • Betbeze wasn’t the standard Miss America contestant for the time. Most of the women were blond and fair-skinned – her darker complexion and hair stood out. Once, she found “hairy sits here” scrawled on her dressing mirror. However, her striking beauty and her amazing performance of the “Caro nome” aria from Verdi’s “Rigoletto” led her to be crowned Miss America 1951.
  • Her rebellious spirit immediately came through. One of the Miss America sponsors, Catalina bathing suits, pulled out as a sponsor of the competition when Betbeze refused to sign a contract demanding she parade around in a swimsuit – “I’m a singer, not a pin-up” she told them. Catalina went on to create the Miss USA and Miss Universe pageants as a result of Betbeze’s actions. Betbeze ushered in a new era of the Miss America pageant, in which scholarship, talent, and intellect were valued as much, if not more, than pure beauty.
  • Betbeze’s activism didn’t stop there, as she participated in the NAACP, CORE (Congress of Racial Equality), and SANE (The Committee for a SANE Nuclear Policy). She protested the executions of convicted spies Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. She became a fund raiser for the Democratic Party and at one time considered running for office herself. She also became an opera singer and co-founded an off-Broadway theater.
  • In 1954, she married movie mogul Matthew Fox, who died 10 years later. They had lived in New York where Betbeze studied philosophy at the New School for Social Research. Betbeze never married again, but she had a long relationship with Cherif Guellal, an Algerian businessman and diplomat who helped Algeria gain independence and served as an ambassador for Algeria.
  • Betbeze died on February 22, 2016, in Washington DC, where she had moved after Fox’s death, living in a house previously owned by Jacqueline Kennedy.

Primary sources: Yolande Fox, Wikipedia; Yolande Betbeze Fox, 87, a Miss America who rebelled, Boston Globe; On this day in Alabama history: Yolande Betbeze Fox was born, Alabama News Center; Yolande Betbeze, Encyclopedia of Alabama; Yolande Betbeze, el «volcán vasco» nacido en Alabama, 7k

Resolution Honoring Basque WWII Veterans on the House Floor in Austin, TX

Press release by Sancho de Beurko Association (

The Texas House of Representatives, namely Rafael Anchia (HD 103), will present a resolution honoring Basque WWII Veterans on the House Floor at the State Capitol in Austin, TX on Wednesday, March 1, 2023. This will be the first resolution to honor Basque and Basque American WWII veterans in the history of the Nation. 

On March 2nd, the events will continue at the Terrazas Branch of the Austin Public Library with the “Immigrants in World War II. Basques in Texas,” exhibition being displayed beginning at noon, followed by a panel discussion.  The discussion, beginning at 1pm, chaired by Rep. Anchia will include panelists Dr. Maggie Rivas-Rodriguez, Director of the Voces Oral History Center, University of Texas at Austin, and Dr. Pedro. J. Oiarzabal, leading researcher at the Sancho the Beurko’s Association “Fighting Basques: Memory of WWII.” Dr. Rivas-Rodriguez will address the contributions of Latinos to WWII, while Dr. Oiarzabal will talk about the Basque WWII veterans in the US. Family members, relatives, and friends of the honored Basque veterans will attend the event and representing NABO will be Marie Petracek, NABO Treasurer.

The event has been made possible by Rafael Anchía, Texas House of Representatives (HD 103), the North American Basque Organizations, Voces Oral History Center (University of Texas at Austin), the Sancho de Beurko Association, and the Basque Educational Organization.

The Adventures of Maite and Kepa: Part 140

The next morning, Kepa awoke and turned, watching Maite sleep peacefully next to him. Her dark curls splayed out across her pillow and her lips were slightly parted as she breathed. As he watched her, a wave of happiness overcame him. He felt like the luckiest man alive. 

The Adventures of Maite and Kepa 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!

He lay there for a few moments, just watching, until Maite stirred. She opened one eye and glanced his direction. 

“Hmm,” she mumbled. “How long have you been staring at me?”

“I’m not staring,” Kepa protested. “Just… watching.”

“Ok, then,” smirked Maite as she turned on her side to look at Kepa. “How long have you been watching me?”

Kepa blushed. “Only a few mintues…” 

“A few minutes, and you just laid there?” Maite’s smirk turned into a grin as she scooted over, throwing her arms around Kepa and pulled him to her lips. “You restrained yourself from this?”

When Kepa and Maite finally made their way downstairs, they found Mari Carmen in the kitchen, coffee on the stove and breakfast on the table. She looked up as they entered. Raising an eyebrow, but with a smile, she said “Egun on” when she saw Maite.

“Egun on, Mari Carmen,” replied Maite, giving her a small peck on the cheek.

“How was dinner last night?” asked Mari Carmen as she placed two cups of coffee on the small table that filled the kitchen.

“It was awesome!” exclaimed Kepa. “Koldo is turning into a master chef.”

Maite nodded. “I agree. I was more than pleasantly surprised.”

“Koldo’s always been good at whatever he sets his mind to,” replied Mari Carmen. “He just has a problem focusing on what he wants to do. He has too many things he is interested in.”

Maite looked at Kepa, silently pushing him. Kepa sighed.

“Ama, speaking of focusing on what to do,” he began before pausing. “Ah!” he exclaimed, exasperated. “I didn’t think this would be so hard.”

“Zer?” replied Mari Carmen. “That you are moving to Donostia with Maite?”

Maite and Kepa looked at each other in shock before looking back at Mari Carmen.

“Nola jakin zenuen?” Kepa asked in disbelief. “How did you know?”

Mari Carmen chuckled. “It’s a small town. The ladies like to… talk”

There was an awkward pause as Mari Carmen, returning to her routine, let them digest the situation. 

“Well…” began Kepa.

“Well, what?” asked Mari Carmen, innocently.

“Well, what do you think?” he blurted.

Mari Carmen sighed as she put down her dish towel. She came over to sit at the table across from Kepa and Maite.

“Look,” she said, “I can’t say I won’t miss you. This baserri is already too big for the two of us, and by myself…” She looked around, as if to survey the whole building – the foyer and the barn, the upstairs, the loft. “But, I knew this day would come, that you would need to strike out on your own, build your own life. I do hope you come to visit often – Donostia isn’t so far away – and maybe one day you will come back here with your family.” She shrugged. “Who knows. In any case, I’m happy for you.” She looked over at Maite and smiled before returning her attention to Kepa. “I can’t imagine anyone better for you.”

Kepa stood up and walked around the table, embracing his mother, a tear running down his face. “Eskerrik asko, ama. Maite zaitut.”

“Bai,” replied Mari Carmen, tears also welling in her eyes. “Maite zaitut ere bai.”

If you get this post via email, the return-to address goes no where, so please write if you want to get in touch with me.

Basque Fact of the Week: Donostia, the Capital of Gipuzkoa, Part 2: Early History

Today, Donostia is a thriving metropolitan city that is a draw for tourists from around the world. Picturesque beaches and an awesome food scene are just a few of the things that make Donostia a must visit. But, with any such city, these modern trappings hide a long history, one which often saw Donostia in the crossfire of conflict that resulted in, more than once, the near-destruction of the city.

A panorama of Donostia I took back in 2009.
  • The first documented reference to Donostia-San Sebastián, referred to as Sanctum Sebastianum, was in 934 by the monastery of San Millán de la Cogolla. In 1014, the king Sancho el Mayor of Nafarroa gave the monastery Sancti Sebastiani to the monastery at Leire. The Basque name of the city is a compound of done ‘saint, holy’ and the name of the saint Sebastian. Thus, Done Sebastiani evolved to Donostia. Donostia, as a name, appears in poems by Perez de Lazarraga in 1567.
  • Donostia as a formal town was founded some time around 1180. The actual date has been lost to history, but it seems clear that it was Sancho VI the Wise of Nafarroa who granted the privilege of founding a town. Donostia was the first village founded in what would ultimately become the province of Gipuzkoa.
  • In 1200, the town was conquered by Castilla, cutting Nafarroa off from the sea. However, in 1265, Nafarroa was given permission to use the port. Somehow, the city avoided the War of the Bands that ravaged much of Gipuzkoa and, in fact, Donostia only officially became part of the province in 1459.
  • Throughout its history, Donostia has been ravaged by fires. In the Middle Ages, fires occurred in 1278, 1338, 1361, 1397, 1433, 1483, 1489, 1496, and 1512. However, of these, it was the fire of 1489 that was particularly devastating. On January 8 of that year, the town essentially burnt to the ground. The town took advantage of the destruction by rebuilding with stone instead of timber. Another catastrophe took place on December 14, 1575: when lightning struck the powder magazine located near the top of the La Mota castle, 25 barrels of gunpowder blew up, falling on the city and causing a series of explosions and fires – literally raining destruction. The same thing happened again in 1688, again causing widespread damage to the city.
  • Starting in the 16th century, when the border between what would become France and Spain began to harden, Donostia saw greater strategic importance. Being the biggest city close to the border, it became known as the “Key to France.” This is in addition to the commercial importance the city already enjoyed. Indeed, Donostia had the royal privilege of being the port where half of the merchandise brought into Gipuzkoa had to be unloaded. The strategic location of Donostia meant that many kings and queens passed through and often stayed in the city, adding to its reputation.
  • In 1512, the city found itself in the middle of fighting between Nafarroa and its ally France against the forces of Ferdinand the Catholic. The French, after burning several nearby towns, besieged the city. With the help of reinforcements from Ferdinand and later Bizkaia and Gipuzkoa, the city expelled the French. However, the rest of the 16th century saw further hardship. Many sailors from Donostia and the surrounding towns had died in battle, reducing the number of experienced seamen that could fish cod and hunt whales. And, in 1597, the whole region was ravaged by plague, further harming the economic situation of the city and province.
  • The city fell into French hands not once, but twice, in the ensuing years. First, in 1719, the French Duke of Berwick took the city, which the French held for two years. Again in 1808, Napoleonic forces captured the city. Only a few years later, in 1813, British and Portuguese forces besieged the city to remove the French occupiers, but they had little concern for the inhabitants of the city and it again was burnt to the ground. La Tamborrada commemorates the city’s resistance against Napoleon.
  • Donostia became the permanent capital of Gipuzkoa in 1854. Before that, it had rotated between Donostia, Tolosa, Azpeitia, and Azkoitia, depending on where the Junta – the governing council – met. In the first half of the 1800s, Tolosa became the capital of the province before Donostia was named the permanent capital.

Primary sources: Barrena Osoro, Elena [et al.]. Donostia / San Sebastián. Historia. Auñamendi Encyclopedia. Available at:; Auñamendi Entziklopedia. Donostia / San Sebastián. Auñamendi Encyclopedia . Available at:; San Sebastián, Wikipedia

The Adventures of Maite and Kepa: Part 139

“Koldo,” said Kepa as he took a sip of his patxaran, “that was indeed the best steak I have ever had. Zorionak!”

Koldo beamed as the table erupted in applause. 

The Adventures of Maite and Kepa 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!

“Mil esker,” he replied. “I’m glad you enjoyed it.”

“Shall we head to the plaza, then?” asked Maite. 

“I’ve got to clean up, but I can meet you all in a little bit,” replied Koldo.

“I’ll help,” added Kepa. “We’ll be there soon.” He blew Maite a kiss.

Kepa started gathering the dishes and taking them to the sink as Maite and the others left.

“So,” began Koldo as he filled the sink with water. “You and Maite? How serious are you?”

Kepa blushed. “Serious enough, I guess. We are thinking of moving in together if she goes to school in Donostia.”

Koldo smiled. “I’d always hoped you two would get together.”

“Oh? Why is that?”

“I don’t know,” shrugged Koldo. “You complement each other. She is so rational, so level-headed, and you are…”

“What, irrational and flighty?” interjected Kepa, laughing.

Koldo smiled. “Ez, ez. More of a risk taker, someone who dreams about the impossible. I always thought you could help lift Maite up as she does her work.”

Kepa nodded. “I can see that. Inspire her, in some way.” His lips tightened into a small frown. “I don’t think I’ll ever be able to talk science with her, though. I worry she will get bored with me.”

Koldo shook his head. “She’ll have loads of people to talk science with. I wouldn’t worry about that. What she will need is someone to talk about other things with. To distract her from all of that science stuff. To keep her grounded in the every day world.”

“I thought I was going to inspire her!” exclaimed Kepa, half jokingly.

“Bai, bai,” nodded Koldo, “but you also need to give her a lifeline to every day life.” He paused as he passed a dish to Kepa to dry. “You have a hard job.”

Kepa laughed. “I hope I can handle it. I’d hate to get fired.”

“Just do what you are doing, I think you’ll be fine.”

“What about you?” asked Kepa, shifting the focus away from him. “Anyone special I should know about?”

“Ez,” replied Koldo emphatically. “I’ve got my music and my cooking. I don’t have time for anything, or anyone, else.”

“Not even someone from the band?” asked Kepa. “I always imagined that band mates were especially close.”

Koldo laughed. “Ez. We all have great chemistry. I don’t want to mess that up by getting romantic with any of them. That’s when things start to fall apart. Or egos. Egos are also bad for bands. No, I want to give the music and the cooking a real chance. Maybe after they have run their course, I’ll consider settling down. But until then…” Koldo threw his head back, his long hair flipping over his head as he did an air guitar solo. 

Kepa couldn’t help but laugh. “Let’s go find the others,” he said as he put the last dish in the cabinet. “Unless you’ve sworn off txikiteo too!”

Koldo laughed again. “Inoiz ez! Never!”

If you get this post via email, the return-to address goes no where, so please write if you want to get in touch with me.

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