Basque Fact of the Week: Bromo, the Basque Double Agent of World War II

Double agents are a trope of movies, their uncertain loyalties adding tension and drama to the story. However, they are inspired by real men and women that played sides against one another. During World War II, a Basque man from Bizkaia, José Laradogoitia Menchaca, actually served as a double agent. This “Basque shepherd, swindler and womanizer” started working for the Germans but switched sides, sending the Germans misinformation about Allied activities. Only now, as the United States government declassifies documents related to Laradogoitia, are we learning about his activities and role during the war.

José Laradogoitia with his family in April 1960, in the United States. Photo from El Pais.
  • Laradogoitia was born in Urduliz, a small town just outside of Bilbao. In 1930, when he was just 18 years old, he made his way to the United States, ultimately joining his brother in Idaho. He worked on ranches and as a trucker until 1940 or 1941, when he was tried and deported for passing bad checks.
  • Back in Spain, he was recruited by the German George Lang to spy for the Nazis and their Abwehr service, who had an extensive network in Bilbao. He agreed to work with the Germans to avoid being imprisoned by the Franco regime. He was given the code name “G” for Gernika. He was first assigned, in 1942, to send Allied shipping information from Rio de Janeiro, but in 1943 he was given a new mission, to establish a German radio spy network on the US-Mexico border. His handlers concocted an elaborate scheme where, from Mexico, he would contact his brother Antonio, still living in Cascade, Idaho, to see if he would help him cross the border. If not, Laradogoitia would set up on the Mexican side of the border to establish his network.
  • The Germans viewed Laradogoitia as a perfect vehicle to connect their spy network in Bilbao with Latin America and the United States, as he could speak English and move around in Latin America with relative ease. They taught him ciphers and the use of chemicals to create invisible ink. However, while still living in Brazil, Laradogoitia compromised himself, casually revealing information that only a spy would know. The Basque Government in Exile and the Basque Information Service took advantage of this and presented Laradogoitia to the American government as a double agent. Though the US agencies dithered about whether to work with the Basques, to avoid upsetting Spain, ultimately, on May 22, 1943, Laradogoitia surrendered to American authorities in Philadelphia.
  • While at first his value as a spy was unclear, it was revealed that he had kept information from the Germans that could have jeopardized Operation Torch, the Allied invasion of North Africa. Laradogoitia had known about American movements in that direction, but had refrained from passing that information to his German handlers. Another double agent, the Catalan Joan Pujol Garcia, played an even bigger role in helping Operation Torch succeed.
  • Laradogoitia also revealed that the Germans expected an imminent invasion of Spain by the British, with landing points either in Gibraltar or in the Basque Country, on the beaches between Gorliz and Elantxobe. Lang had a map denoting possible landing sites, one at a deserted beach near Bermeo, that they had fortified. However, Laradogoitia’s information revealed that the German defenses of the Basque Coast were relatively weak. Further, in two exhausting interviews, the FBI learned valuable information from Laradogoitia about the Nazi transatlantic network.
  • Ultimately, Laradogoitia became a double agent, with the code name Bromo (bromine), though he was called Little Joe internally. He settled in New York and created a misinformation network meant to disrupt and confuse the network Lang had created. He posed to the Germans as a naval mechanic who had infiltrated various ship yards.
  • By 1945, however, the game was up. The FBI began arresting some of the men Laradogoitia had recruited as part of his network and even played up in the press how they had been using Laradogoitia to feed the Germans misinformation. Further, Laradogoitia was never the most reliable spy, as he was easily distracted: “He loves women too much and jumps on the smallest petticoat.”
  • In the end, Laradogoitia was well rewarded for his war-time efforts. He was given a ranch in Montana, along with a large fortune, though it seems he lived many of his remaining days in New York and in Florida, where he had a retirement home in Pompano Beach. He died on December 11, 2002. Even though it has been nearly 20 years since his death, may details about his missions with the FBI are still sealed.

Primary sources: De Gernika (G) a Bromo (Little Joe). Nuevos datos sobre el espía vasco José Laradogoitia Menchaca by David Mota Zurdo; The Deceivers: Allied Military Deception in the Second World War by Thaddeus Holt.

Note that, 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.

The Adventures of Maite and Kepa: Part 58

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!

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.

“What the hell was that?” asked Maite as she stared at the door Donny had just gone through.

“My apologies.” The barkeep was suddenly standing over their table, drinks in hand. He was a bear of a man, the dirty apron he wore barely covering his large belly. His bare arms were massive and covered with thick curly hair, in contrast to his head which was bald. He had a jagged scar that crossed across his left check.

“These are on the house,” he said as he placed the drinks on the table in front of Maite and Kepa. “You know, he isn’t a bad kid, but when he gets a few drinks in him, it brings out a meanness.”

“Thank you, er…” said Kepa as he picked up the glass and took a sip. 

“Benjamin Jones. Most just call me Big Ben. Doesn’t help that my ma was from England,” he added with a chuckle

“Well, thank you Big Ben,” said Kepa as he took another sip.

“Who was that guy?” asked Maite.

“Donny McCowen,” answered Ben as he pulled up a chair. “His pa owns one of the bigger cattle outfits around here. They think all of the land belongs to them. They hate the sheep, call them hoofed locusts. And so they tend to hate you herders too.”

“I haven’t even seen a sheep yet!” exclaimed Kepa.

“Doesn’t matter, really. They hate all of you Basques.”

“At least you don’t hate us,” muttered Maite as she took a sip of her own drink.

“I owe my life to a herder. Before all of this–” Ben swept his hand, indicating the bar — “I was a cattleman, fancied myself a cowboy even. I was up in the hills with my horse, when we were surprised by a thunderstorm. My horse got spooked and threw me. I landed hard on the ground, hit my head on a rock.” He pointed to the scar on his cheek. “That’s where I got this. Anyways, a herder found me and took me to his camp. I caught a fever and thought I was going to die, but he took care of me until the next supply run came and was able to bring me to town.” Ben shook his head. “They’re just people, you know, trying to make a life. I don’t know why everyone has to always be fighting.

“Anyways,” said Ben as he stood and put his chair back at another table. “Those drinks aren’t going to serve themselves, and I certainly don’t want those guys serving each other.” He pointed to the group of men at the bar. “Nice talking with you.”

Kepa and Maite lifted their glasses. “Same.”

“So,” said Maite when they were alone again. “What about the zatiak? Have you seen anything?”

“No, nothing, but then I’ve only been to my room and in the dining hall. You?”

Maite shook her head. “No, nothing either. I have a small room with a couple of the other young women. It’s not in there, at least not as far as I’ve seen.” She took another sip. “Do you think De Lancre is with these cowboys?”

Kepa shrugged. “They’re mean enough for him, it seems. But, I haven’t seen any hint of him yet.”

“We’ll have to keep our eye out, for both him and that Donny.”

“Well, I’m heading out in the next day or two, for the hills,” replied Kepa. “I don’t think I’ll find much up there. But it’s the role I have in this bubble. I don’t think I can just ignore it.”

Maite sighed. “I’m just not sure what to do. Last time, it was so obvious. Blas’ suitcase was glowing so brightly.”

Kepa nodded. “I guess they can’t all be that easy.”

“If you call Blas getting roasted alive easy.”

“There is that.”

Maite took a last sip of her drink. “Let’s get going. I have to get up early to feed you guys.”

Kepa nodded as they stood up. “Thanks Ben,” he waved as they headed to the door.

Once outside, they walked down the steps and turned down the walkway, heading back to the boarding house. After only a few steps, however, two figures silhouetted by the moon appeared in front of them.

Basque Fact of the Week: Violence Finds Basque Sheepherders During the Sheep Wars

Note that, 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.

Today, the Basque sheepherder is viewed as an almost romantic figure, epitomizing the hard work of Basque immigrants who came to the United States to find a better life. But, sheep weren’t always seen so positively, and particularly at the end of the 1800s and in the early 1900s, there was almost open warfare between sheep and cattle interests, with the Basque sheepherder, sometimes called “landless and marginal peasants whose activities were detrimental to the public interest,” in the middle of the conflict. More than a few Basque herders lost their lives in feuds between sheep and cattle men.

A herder in the 1930s. Image from Tehachapi News.
  • In February, 1921, while grazing his sheep in Utah, a young Basque sheepherder named Felix Jesui took his band onto land belonging to Oscar Turner’s Lazy Y Ranch. When the foreman of the ranch, Charlie Glass (an interesting man in his own right), confronted Jesui and told him to take his band off the ranch’s land, Jesui drew his gun. Glass was the better marksman and killed Jesui. He immediately turned himself into the sheriff and, after a trial in Moab, was acquitted. He returned to work on the ranch until, sixteen years later, Glass found himself playing poker with a couple of Basque sheepherders, Joe Savorna and Andre Sartan. After the game, they all decided to head to another town for an even bigger game. Glass was found the next morning with a broken neck, after the Basques’ truck flipped, though the two Basques were relatively unscathed. Turns out those Basques were Jesui’s cousins…
  • Such violence had been going on for many years. Back in 1877, in the Rose Valley of Ventura County, California, another Basque herder, Ydelfonson Urtasun, was shot for trespassing on a cattleman’s land. Jesse Jefferson Howard was arrested for Urtasun’s murder, but he was well liked in the area and he was able to escape his cell. He eventually made his way to Arizona where he became a legend for hunting bear.
  • In Arizona, sheep were again at the heart of conflict. The biggest fight, the Pleasant Valley War of 1882-1892, was between two cattle ranching families, the Grahams and the Tewksburys. However, the Tewksburys had begun to branch out into sheep. At one point, they hired a Basque herder (in some accounts he is referred to as Navajo, but nothing more seems to be known about the poor fellow) to move sheep to Pleasant Valley. He was murdered by one Andy Cooper (also known as Andy Blevins), a member of the Graham faction. This murder became a flashpoint in the conflict, leading to a much bigger fight between the two factions.
  • In 1909, near the town of Ten Sleep, Wyoming, a group of herders and their camp were attacked by cattlemen in what became known as the Spring Creek Raid. Three men were killed, two wagons were burned, and somewhere near two dozen sheep were shot. The dead included Basque sheepman Joe Allemand, his partner Joseph Emge, and Allemand’s nephew Jules Lazier. The brazenness of the attack led to the conviction of the cattlemen and an end to the killings in Wyoming’s Sheep Wars. Allemand and Lazier’s French Basque origin prompted a response from the French Embassy, elevating the murders to international attention.

The Adventures of Maite and Kepa: Part 57

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!

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.

Kepa turned to see a big man who must have been in his mid twenties standing at the bar. He was dressed in almost stereotypical cowboy wear. He had on a bright red button down shirt that tucked into denim jeans. Around his waist he wore a holster that housed one revolver that Kepa could see. His boots were polished — Kepa suspected these were his fancy boots he wore when he was out on the town. To top it off, he wore a big cowboy hat on his head.

Kepa turned back to Maite to continue their conversation. But, the man’s voice overwhelmed everything else in the room.

“Boys!” he bellowed, seemingly to the small group of men that had gathered around him. “Did I ever tell you that time I was riding in the hills and I came across a Basque sheepherder? He was a friendly enough chap. He was cooking beans in his pot on the fire and invited me to have a bowl. It had been a long day and I was much obliged. We got talking and, as things often do, the conversation drifted to women. I told him about my many conquests, of all of the young ladies with whom I had made my acquaintance. He got very excited. ‘Me too, me too’ he exclaimed. ‘I know many too.’ I chuckled, but I indulged my host. ‘How many?’ I asked. ‘Oh,’ he said. ‘Let me count. One, two, three…’ It wasn’t long before his snores filled the camp. He had fallen asleep. He was counting sheep!”

The crowd around him burst into laughter.

The man wandered over to Kepa and Maite’s table. He stood behind Maite but looked over her at Kepa. “Hey, didn’t you hear my story?” 

“Yes, I did” replied Kepa.

“Don’t you speak English?”

“A little.”

“Didn’t you think my story was funny?”


“Huh. You know what I think isn’t funny?” The man’s mood suddenly shifted and Kepa could hear the outright hostility in his voice. “I don’t think it’s funny how you damn Basque bastards take your damn sheep everywhere, destroying the land for my cattle. I don’t think it’s funny how you take what’s ours and give it to your damn sheep.”

The man leaned over Maite’s shoulder, his hands on the back of her chair. She could feel his breath on her left cheek. It reeked of beer and whiskey.

“You know what? Maybe I should take something of yours.” His hands shifted to Maite’s shoulders as he looked at Kepa. “What do you think of that?”

“I think you better take your hands off of her.”

“Why? Maybe you are afraid of touching such a pretty little thing, maybe your hands are only used to touching wool. Maybe she wants a real man. Besides,” he added as he glared at Kepa. “What are you going to do about it?”

Kepa shrugged. “Me? I don’t need to do anything.”

Maite’s right hand swung over and hit the man hard, in the throat. He immediately collapsed to the floor, holding his windpipe. 

The man’s friends rushed over, pulling him up to his feet as he still gasped for breath, murder in his eyes. He roared at Kepa but before he could do anything, the man from behind the bar rushed over and got between them.

“Not in my bar, Donny,” said the man. 

Donny glared at the man before shoving his friends aside. “Let’s go,” he barked as he made his way to the door, all the while staring at Kepa and Maite.

Basque Fact of the Week: Mus, the Basque Card Game

A famous saying goes “One Basque, a beret; two Basques, a ball game; three Basques, a choir; four Basques, a challenge to mus.” Such is the importance of the card game mus to Basque culture. All across the world, whenever a group of Basques get together, a game of mus is likely to follow.

Some of my dad’s family playing Mus during a visit to the United States a number of years ago. I liked how the lighting turned out. They were playing outside with make-shift lights hanging from the trees.
  • It is widely accepted that mus is truly Basque in origin. The first mention of mus is in Father Larramendi’s Corografía de Guipúzcoa, written in 1754. Larramendi wrote that the game is as old as cards themselves. Since, in 1334 in Vitoria, there is documentation of statutes that prohibited Knights of the Order of the Band from playing cards (possibly the first mention of playing cards in Europe), there is a large gap in time during which the game could have been first invented.
  • There is one line of thought that suggests a non-Basque origin of the game. Dr. Hugo Schuchardt claimed to have found that a game with the same rules was played in Austria, where it was called “mousse” (cabin boy). He speculated that it could be some card game that passed among sailors, and that the Basques adopted it on their maritime adventures. Of course, the true origins are now lost to time.
  • The name mus is thought to derive from the extensive facial expressions that partners use to communicate what cards they have in their hand. While today, the Basque word musu is most often translated as kiss, it can also mean face or lips. The word mus is thought to come directly from musu, from all of those facial expressions. However, another theory relates it to the Latin musso, meaning to “keep silent,” possibly in contrast to the opening of the game when players “talk.”
  • The rules of mus were first written down by J. Ortiz de Zárate in Pamplona in 1804. You can find the basic rules at various places on the internet, but there are multiple variants of the game. Larramendi differentiated between muszarra and musberri (old mus and new mus). Muszarra is played with eight kings and eight aces while musberri uses only four kings and four aces. Further, while the most common version is played between two teams of two, there are variants in which up to eight can play (played in France) or even just two individuals.
  • Today, there is a World Championship of Mus, which started in 1978. Teams from Basque clubs from all over the world compete to be crowned world champion. The last tournament, played in 2019 in Baiona, was won by a team from Canada: Frank Altuna and Rufino Iribarren.
  • If you want to learn to play mus, you can play online at or on your phone with the UsuMus app. If you know of other places to play digitally, leave a comment!

Primary sources: Auñamendi Entziklopedia. MUS. Enciclopedia Auñamendi, 2021. Available at:; Mus, Wikipedia

The Adventures of Maite and Kepa: Part 56

Kepa began stacking up some of the plates as another woman, dressed in the same uniform of a white blouse and red skirt, came in from the kitchen. He looked up.

“Maite!” he exclaimed. “I wasn’t sure if you were here.”

Maite smiled as she helped clear the tables. “I’m here. Just so damn busy in that kitchen. You are a demanding bunch.”

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!

“What’s going on?” asked Kepa. “What are we doing here?”

Maite shrugged. “I guess there must be another zatia around here, somewhere.”

“But, where? I’m supposed to join the sheep camp in a few days. How are we supposed to look for the zatia if I’m wandering these godforsaken hills?”

“Maybe it’s up there, with the sheep?”

Kepa collapsed into a chair. “I highly doubt that.”

“Well, I doubt it’s in this kitchen, but that’s where I’m stuck for now.” She grabbed a stack of plates. “Let me finish cleaning and then we can talk. I think I saw a bar across the street. Let’s meet there in an hour.”

“Let me help,” said Kepa as he reached for a stack of bowls.

“Ez. I’ve got it. Just find us a table where we can talk in private.”

Kepa nodded as he stood up and went to his room to clean up. 

His room was upstairs. He was sharing it with another recent arrival, who he had yet to meet. He wondered if he even would before he was supposed to head to the hills. His suitcase, which contained all of his worldly possessions, rested on the floor under the bed. He walked down to the communal bathroom and splashed some water into his face. Looking in the mirror, he stared at the face that stared back at him. 

“What have you gotten yourself into this time?”

It wasn’t long before he found himself in the bar. It wasn’t very crowded and he was able to find a small table for two in the corner. Not long after he sat down, Maite came in and joined him. She had changed out of her working uniform. She now wore a simple one-piece sleeveless blue dress that fell past her knees. Her hair was tucked into a tight fitting pillbox hat, her curls peaking out from the edges. As she approached the table where Kepa sat, he stood up. 

“You look amazing!” he gasped as he pulled out a chair for her.

“Why thank you. You don’t look too bad yourself.”

“What would you like?” asked Kepa as he motioned to the bar. 

“A bee’s knees, mesedez.”

Kepa looked at her quizzically as he made his way to the bar and soon returned with a cocktail and a beer.

“I have no idea what that is, but at least the bartender did,” he said with a smile as he handed her the cocktail.

Kepa and Maite chinged glasses. They each took a sip and were starting to talk when they heard a loud voice bellowing in the background.

Basque Fact of the Week: Teodosio, the Knight of Goñi

Many rulers try to legitimatize their power by establishing connections to heroes and legends of the past, sometimes all the way to divine figures. The same has occurred in Basque history. In an effort to connect their lineage to an important mythical figure, the Kings of Nafarroa established a genealogy that connected them to Teodosio de Goñi, a knight who built the Sanctuary of San Miguel that sits in Aralar. However, the story of Teodosio begins with a dark series of events.

Teodosio killing his parents, by Padre Tomas de Burgui. Image from Wikipedia.
  • The story goes that Teodosio, a knight from Goñi, a small town in Nafarroa some 30 kilometers from Pamplona, was called to fight in the war with the Arabs. One day, while in the town of Errotabidea, not far from Goñi, he encounters Satan himself, who is disguised as either a hermit or even a Basajaun. The devil tells him that his wife, Constanza, is having an affair. Enraged, he rushes home only to find two people in his bed. In his rage, he kills them both. He then makes his escape, only to bump in to Constanza in the street as she is returning from church. Realizing that he must have killed his parents, who were living with his wife and who had graciously been given the bigger bed, he flees, seeking absolution.
  • He eventually makes his way to Rome, where the Pope tells him he must wander the region of Aralar, wearing chains until they fall off. Only then will he know God has forgiven him. Alone, he wandered the peaks of Aralar for seven years, until he encountered a dragon that threatened to eat him. In fear, he called out to Saint Michael the Archangel to help him. The angel both killed the dragon and freed Teodosio from his chains. Teodosio then built the sanctuary of San Miguel en Excelsis on that very spot, where he then lived with his wife and which still stands today. In reality, parts of the buildings that comprise the current sanctuary date to the 11th century.
  • Though the story is said to take place in the 700s, it has its origins in the 17th and 18th centuries. While it doesn’t seem that Teodosio was a real person, his legend was promoted as a means to connect royal lineages to a mythical and important figure. He appears in the genealogies of the nobility of the kingdom in the 16th centuries. The legend gained extra popularity when it was featured in the story Amaya o los vascos en el siglo VIII by Francisco Navarro-Villoslada. Published in 1877, it mixed legend and history to tell the story of the first king of Nafarroa.
  • An interesting aside relates to the sanctuary itself. The altarpiece is a masterpiece of Romanesque art, containing crystals that date to the 12th century. The altarpiece was stolen in 1979 by the infamous art thief Eric “the Belgian.” Over the next few years, most of the pieces were recovered and the altarpiece was restored and reinstalled in 1991.

Primary sources: Perales Díaz, José Antonio. Teodosio (o Theodosio) de Goñi. Auñamendi Encyclopedia. Available at:; Theodosius of Goñi – Teodosio de Goñi,; Sanctuary of St. Michael of Aralar, Kingdom of Navarre.

The Adventures of Maite and Kepa: Part 55

Kepa found himself sitting at a long table covered in a bright red table cloth. Spread out in front of him were plates of cooked steak, fried potatoes, and salad. Large bowls were filled to the brim with beans and bread. Carafes of wine were spaced evenly down the length of the table. An older man sat across from him, his gnarled hands picking up one of the carafes. His knuckles were swollen and his fingernails misshapen, some of them almost capping the tips of his fingers. The old man smiled at Kepa as he poured him some wine before filling his own glass.

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!

“Just arrived? Couldn’t wait for dinner?” the old man asked.

Kepa nodded. “Yes, only this morning.” He took a deep breath, inhaling the aromas surrounding him. “It smells wonderful.”

The old man chuckled. “They do a good job here. Almost like ama did back in the baserri.”

A young woman came out of the kitchen, carrying plates. She was dressed in a white blouse and a red skirt that fell past her knees. She set one down in front of the old man while playfully smacking the back of his hand. “You just couldn’t wait, could you?”

The old man smiled. “Wait for what? Your answer to my proposal?”

The young woman just laughed. “You know the answer to that, Juan Jose.” She turned to Kepa. “Ongi etorri to the Noriega. My name is Elena. And you are…?”

“Kepa. I just got here this morning.”

“Don’t let this old man fill your head with any nonsense. I think he must have gone a little txoriburu, spending so much time in the mountains.” She placed a plate and bowl in front of Kepa. 

“If I’m crazy, it’s with love for you,” said the old man with a wink.

“Oy!” exclaimed Elena. “I’m going to have to send the new girl out next time. I shouldn’t keep all of this to myself!” She disappeared into the kitchen as more people wandered into the dining hall and sat at the tables.

“So,” said the old man as he filled his bowl with beans. “When do you head out?”

“What do you mean? I just got here,” replied Kepa through spoonfuls of beans.

“To the hills,” replied Juan Jose. “When do you go out with your first flock?”

Kepa shrugged. “In the next couple of days, I guess. I haven’t met my boss yet. I think that’s supposed to happen tomorrow.”

“Well, I wish you the best of luck. Try to stay sane up there.” A dark look passed over the man’s face. “I’ve known too many that couldn’t take it.”

Kepa nodded. “I know. There was one, an Amerikatarrak, in the baserri next to us. He had spent a few years here. When he came back, he just couldn’t handle it. He kept to himself in the baserri, never went down to town. One day, they found him. He killed himself with a shotgun.”

“I’m sorry to hear that. Too many get sheeped, go crazy in the head. It’s a hard life. You need to take care up there.”

“I will. Thanks.”

As more joined them, the conversation shifted to the upcoming dance and pilota competition. Kepa was glad for the change of topic. As the women shuffled back and forth from the kitchen, he could have sworn he caught a glimpse of Maite, but if she were amongst them, she didn’t come by to say hello.

As the meal wrapped up, some of the men headed to the bar. “You up for a game of mus?” asked Juan Jose. “We have an open seat.”

Kepa shook his head. “Not tonight, thanks. I’m pretty tired from the train ride.”

Juan Jose nodded. “Next time.” He turned to another man who was just getting up. “Geraldo, come on.” The other man sighed as he followed Juan Jose into the bar.

Fighting Basques: Navarrese Marine Federico Clavería, First Correspondent in WWII

In memory of journalists David Beriain and Roberto Fraile, murdered in Burkina Faso.

This article originally appeared in Spanish at

Federico Claveria observes a photograph of himself giving a candy to a boy from Tinian interned in 1944. (Photo from the Department of Defense, US Marine Corps (USMC), 41922 [1], 1969).

On October 22, 1912, 25-year-old young Navarrese Saturnino Clavería Razquin, born in Altsasu in 1886, crossed the border between Mexico and the United States (USA) through the pass between Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas and Laredo, Texas, fleeing the consequences caused by what will later be known as the Mexican Revolution, which began in 1910. Three days later, his wife María Maldonado López, also born in 1886 in Valle de Ignacio Allende, Chihuahua, Mexico, and his children, Federico and Miguel, born in Mexico City in 1908 and 1910, also crossed. It was at the Laredo border crossing when, at just four years old, Federico saw the American flag for the first time, a memory that would follow him for the rest of his life, and that would later regain a new meaning during his participation in the Second World War (WWII). For a few years they resided in Bexar, Texas, then later moved to Huntington Park, in the Californian county of Los Angeles, and from there, finally, to Santa Barbara, California.

Photograph of Federico Claveria in his 1937 US citizenship petition in Los Angeles.

Raised between Texas and California, from the mid-1930s Federico began a fruitful career as a commercial artist for both the RKO Service Corporation and Warner Brothers Pictures in Los Angeles, two of the largest film studios of Hollywood’s golden age. Moved by the patriotic fervor that swept through the United States as a result of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Federico tried to join the Marine Corps, but was rejected because he was not a US citizen. He had applied for citizenship in 1937, but it would not be granted until August 1942. With papers in hand, legend has it that Federico entered the Marine recruiting office believing himself safe from any objection. However, he was rejected during the medical examination. Federico was color blind [2]. However, given Federico’s cinematic past as a camera operator, the recruiting officer granted him a medical exemption. Finally, Federico enlisted in the Marine Corps on October 1, 1942 in Los Angeles. What was the interest of the Marine Corps in cinematography? [3]

Following the Japanese victory over the heroic resistance of the US Marines and civilians during the invasion of Wake Island on December 23, 1941, the Marine Corps felt a moral obligation to witness the service rendered by its men on the front lines and thus ensuring more publicity for the Corps itself.

In early 1942, Marine Corps Brigadier General Robert L. Denig was assigned to organize and direct the first Marine Corps Public Relations Department to report on its soldiers in combat zones. Consequently, reporters and photographers with at least five years of experience were recruited as war correspondents, calling themselves “Denig’s Demons” [4]. As Maslowski notes, “Unlike other armed forces, the Marine Corps had not formally organized photographic units […] Before Tarawa, the Marine’s photography had been unimpressive. Wake Island had been missed entirely, and coverage of the six-month battle for Guadalcanal was sparse. [The Marine documentary] This is Guadalcanal […] did not contain a single truly exceptional ground-combat scene. But by late 1943, the Marines were well organized photographically” [5].

Federico Claveria (right) and his partner Sergeant William C. Fitch surrounded by children in Saipan during a recording in the internment camp established after the capture of the island (The Evening Herald, July 20, 1944).

After completing a six-week period of training as combat troops, Federico, like his colleagues from the Public Relations Department, would eventually be granted the rank of sergeant and would be sent abroad with combat units. Photographers and camera operators like Federico swapped the carbine for 45 caliber pistols. Federico was assigned to the 24th Regiment of the 4th Marine Division, covering three amphibious operations in the Pacific in a period of eight months.

“Before each of his three amphibious operations he asked the ship’s chaplain to say a prayer, not for himself but for his family so that his parents would ‘feel tranquility and peace of mind’ if he died in action. Kwajalein was his first assault […] he went in with the third wave, sea-sick and scared […] Once ashore the nausea ceased and his nerves calmed down. He first filmed subsequent landing waves arriving on the beaches, then turned and photographed the Marines’ advanced” [6].

Together with the 24th regiment, Federico took part in the battles of Kwajalein (January 31-February 3, 1944), Saipan (June 15-July 9, 1944), and Tinian (July 24-August 1, 1944). Another Basque, first-class Marine Lawrence Erburu from California, also happened to be part of the 24th regiment. With the assault on the islands of Roi and Namur in the Kwajalein Atoll, in the Marshall Islands, the Americans managed to penetrate for the first time the outer ring of Japanese defenses in the Pacific. The US lost about 200 men, while only about fifty Japanese out of 3,500 managed to survive.

Fighting continued in the Mariana Islands of Saipan and Tinian. American victories over these islands facilitated entry into Japan’s internal defense sphere. Saipan, also known as the D-Day of the Pacific, was a turning point in the evolution of the war. The Japanese archipelago was finally within range of the US Air Force B-29 bombers. Some 3,400 American soldiers were killed or reported missing in Saipan and some 10,000 were wounded in combat. Among the deceased was the young Erburu, who lost his life at the age of 22. 90% of the Japanese troops perished during the confrontation. On Tinian, Japanese resistance to the invasion was also fierce. While some 320 American soldiers died and about 1,600 were wounded out of a total of 41,000 marines, the total of the Japanese forces, about 8,000, were annihilated. Added to this was the deaths of some 4,000 Japanese civilians, many as a result of suicides, killed by Japanese soldiers themselves, or as a result of battle. After control of the island some 13,000 Japanese civilians were interned in concentration camps.

Federico Claveria, kneeling by a barbed wire fence, offers candy to a Japanese boy in a field on Tinian. By August 10, 1944, some 13,000 Japanese civilians had been held in internment camps on the island. (US Department of Defense, Marine Corps (USMC) photo, 90935).

Among the Marines of Basque origin identified to date who fought in Saipan and Tinian are the veterans of the Second Division Joseph Quintana Urizar, John Sallaberry Berra, Laurence Urizalqui Zalba, and Joseph Leniz.

Later the 24th regiment went to Iwo Jima. However, Federico did not join the expedition as he had been on three operations and newly arrived cameramen had not yet had the opportunity to participate in any missions.

Federico was temporarily assigned to the Headquarters of the 24th Aircraft Group of the First Aircraft Wing of the Marine Corps in the Pacific. Two days after Japan’s surrender, Federico requested to be at the handover ceremony on Wake Island that took place on September 4, 1945, as a symbolic gesture towards those fellow Marines who perished or were imprisoned during the Japanese invasion of the island. He was filming the lowering of the Japanese flag when “I look up and I saw a Japanese soldier saluting his flag coming down and tears were running clear down his checks,” Federico recalls. “That touched me. But then, by the same token, a little while later Old Glory was raised and, boy, tears ran down my cheeks, too. So I could understand that the Jap and I were two human beings in the same boat. He was doing his duty; I was doing mine.” [7]. It had been 33 years since he first saw the American flag.

Ceremony for the raising of the American flag over Wake Island on September 4, 1945. This was the first time that the “Stars and Stripes” flew over Wake Island since its capture by the Japanese on December 23, 1941. (Photo by RO Kepler, USMC, NH 96813 of the US Navy, from Wikipedia-Wake Island).

Federico finally returned to the US in January, 1946. In March he married his girlfriend, the Mexican Bertha Alice Ciriza, and in July he was discharged with honors after almost four years of service. He was part of the first generation of correspondents in the history of the Marine Corps. Approximately 430 Marines served in photographic combat roles in the Pacific during the war. None of the original so-called “Denig’s Demons” are still alive.

In December, 1946, Federico and Bertha founded their first tortilla factory under the name of La Tolteca in Santa Barbara, the city where they made their home. They would subsequently open seven more restaurants over the years in Southern California and in the city of Phoenix, Arizona, becoming a prominent Santa Barbara County business family. The family closed the original restaurant in 2006.

Censorship through the world could see and feel what was happening at the front through the photographs and films of war correspondents, whether civilian or military. WWII was followed by many other conflicts in which the tensions between press freedom and military censorship did not ease, reaching a new and surprising goal with the live broadcast of war actions, particularly after 9/11, such as the US invasion of Afghanistan on October 7, 2001, or the subsequent invasion of Iraq in 2003. War was televised as if it were a Hollywood movie.

“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.

War correspondents became historians in the trenches who found themselves at the right time and place, making a direct record of life as they reported on the daily events and experiences of soldiers on the front lines. Visual images were added to written testimony, with the power to illustrate an entire generation whose sacrifices could not go unnoticed by a society expectant of the results of their dedication. The images taken by war correspondents such as Federico still retain their historical weight and continue to be used with great profusion 75 years after the events, creating a collective photographic memory of the time and of a generation that achieved the final victory against the totalitarianism of that moment. The very world of Historical Recreation is nourished by the images taken by figures like Federico, endowing them with a new meaning and a symbolic power that they lacked at first.

Even with a clear patriotic propagandist component, they made war something more human, making it visible with its tragic consequences on civilian populations, in the devastation of cities or, for example, by bringing the stories of the soldiers killed in combat to the big screen or the front pages of newspapers… The name of Federico Claveria would become part of the great cast of Basque war correspondents, albeit civilians, who preceded him, such as the historic Cecilia García de Guillarte (Tolosa, Gipuzkoa, 1915-1989), who covered the Northern Front of the Spanish Civil War in 1936; or the mythical Manu Leguineche (Arratzu, Bizkaia, 1941-2014, Madrid); or the more recent Jon Sistiaga (Irun, Gipuzkoa, 1967), Mikel Ayestaran (Beasain, Gipuzkoa, 1967) o Ane Irazabal (Arrasate, Gipuzkoa, 1984). This article serves as a sincere tribute to the men and women war correspondents who continue today literally risking their lives to carry out the fundamental work to inform.

In 1985, the Marine Corps Combat Correspondents Association presented Federico with the “Donald L. Dickson Memorial Award,” created for those who have contributed the most to the association. Federico passed away in 1994 at the age of almost 85 in Santa Barbara and was buried with military honors.

[1, 3, 5, 6, 7] Maslowski, Peter. (1993). Armed with cameras. The American military photographers of World War Two. New York: The Free Press. Páginas 175, 237, 222-23, 237-38, y 238-239.

[2] Federico and Bertha Claveria Collection, CEMA 130, Department of Special Collections, University Library, University of California, Santa Barbara. (METER LINK SOBRE “Federico…Collection”).

[4] Frank, Benis M. (1967). Denig’s Demons and how they grew: The story of Marine Corps Combat Correspondents, Photographers and Artists. Marine Corps Combat Correspondents and Photographers Association.

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Basque Fact of the Week: Juan Zumárraga, First Bishop of Mexico

Basques, with their adventurous spirit and ambitions for a better life, were key players in the conquest and history of the Americas. Reminders of that history are everywhere, from the names of towns (Durango, Colorado and the state of Durango in Mexico) to some of the most influential figures in American history, such as Simón Bolívar. One of the most prominent Basques in the history of the Americas was Juan Zumárraga, the first bishop of Mexico. Not only was he a defining religious leader, but he is also the author of one of the oldest letters written in Basque that has reached us to modern day.

Image from Wikipedia.
  • Zumárraga was born in Durango, Bizkaia, in 1468, some 24 years before Columbus first reached what would become the American continents. His parents, Juan López de Zumárraga y Teresa de Láriz y Muncháraz, were both from distinguished families. Not much is known about his childhood, but it seems he always kept a love and fondness for his native land.
  • He was ordained as a Franciscan sometime around 1515, though the details are not clear, not even where his ordination happened. Some time in his mid-fifties, he secluded himself in the Monastery of Abrojo (near Valladolid) to practice a life of isolation. In 1526, he was appointed as guardian of the monastery, a position he held when Carlos V came for one of his vacations.
  • He was soon appointed as an Inquisitorial Delegate to Nafarroa and the Vascongadas — the provinces of Araba, Bizkaia, and Gipuzkoa — recently shaken by the witchcraft phenomenon. In the summer of 1527 he moved to Nafarroa, but was almost immediately called to the Americas, and he embarked for Mexico in August 1527, after being appointed bishop. While his primary task was to organize the diocese of the capital of New Spain, he was also empowered as protector of the Native Americans.
  • During his time as Bishop of Mexico (he was not consecrated until 1533), he faced many hardships, primarily in the struggle between the Spanish colonists and the Native Americans. While he was named their protector, he presided over the Inquisitorial Court until 1543 when he was dismissed due to his harshness with the “idolatrous” Natives. When the “new laws” prohibited, amongst other things, the enslavement of the Natives but would have led to the poverty of the colonists, he was part of the effort that led to a less strict interpretation that possibly avoided a civil war. It thus seems that his role as “protector” was mixed at best.
  • It was also during this time that the visions of Our Lady of Guadalupe occurred. While Zumárraga was approached about the visions and investigated them, and is now associated with the event, it seems that, at the time, he did not believe the visions and did not promote them. However, they led to a huge increase in the number of Native Americans that wanted to be baptized, a situation that Zumárraga navigated.
  • In many of his efforts, he had to confront an established Spanish colonial system that resisted change. All letters leaving New Spain were censored until he was finally able to smuggle a letter out with the help of a fellow Basque, who buried the letter in a cake of wax and submerged the whole thing in a barrel of oil. One of Zumárraga’s letters has received great attention as it is one of the oldest written documents in Basque.
  • Zumárraga was also responsible for introducing the first printing press to the Americas; supporting the development of the Colegio de Santa Cruz de Tlatelolco, the first European school of higher education in the Americas; and establishing several hospitals. He is also credited for making chocolate a popular drink in Europe.

Primary sources: A Basque Historian’s Dilemma by Joxe Mallea-Olaetxe; Juan de Zumárraga, Wikipedia; Estornés Zubizarreta, Idoia. Zumárraga, Juan de. Enciclopedia Auñamendi, 2021. Available at:

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