The Adventures of Maite and Kepa: Part 71

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!

Torch in hand, Kepa walked to the sheep wagon. He stood there a moment before opening the door. Inside, he could see the simple bed and the belongings they stored there. He held up the torch.

“Ez!” cried Santi. “No!”

Kepa looked over and saw the older herder nearly in tears as he clutched his shoulder. But Kepa suspected that burning the wagon would be even more painful. All of Santi’s worldly possessions were in that wagon, including all of his photographs of his family from the Basque Country. He couldn’t fathom the loss Santi would feel.

He stole a glance back at Donny, who was watching him intently, his revolver still pointed at Santi. Donny made a nod at the wagon. Kepa threw the torch inside. He watched as the torch flew through the air in a fiery arch and landed on the bed with a soft thud. Almost immediately, the bedding caught fire, the flames licking up the side of the walls. 

Feeling as though he’d just taken a punch to the gut, Kepa mindlessly stumbled back to his chair. Santi just glared at him, the tears streaming down his cheeks. Kepa couldn’t look at him and instead turned to look at the wagon, which was beginning to go up in flames.

“Good boy,” smirked Donny as he watched the flames grow. Turning to the two herders, he asked rhetorically “And now what to do with you two?” His wicked grin made it clear he already had an idea.

Kepa seethed inside. He had never felt so hopeless, so powerless in his life, at least not since that day as a young boy when his aita died. He had never felt so alone and that feeling was resurfacing, flooding back in waves of grief. He trembled as he clenched his fists, his nails biting into his palms. Ashamed to look at Santi and not wanting to show his grief to the bastard sitting across the fire pit, he just stared at his shaking hands. He was surprised to see that the tips of his fingers were starting to glow.

“You,” Donny said to Santi, “you I’m going to let go. You can take one of those horses back to town, tell the other herders what happens when they trespass on cattle land.” He then turned to Kepa. “But you,” he continued, his mouth contorted into the most evil smile Kepa had ever seen, “I think we need to make an example of you. Show the other herders just how serious we are.” Turning back to Santi, he said “I want you to see this, and I want you to tell the others what you saw.”

“Get up,” Donny barked at Kepa, waving his revolver. 

As he stood up, Kepa whispered to Santi in Euskara “Prest egon. Be ready.” Santi just stared at him, a mix of hate and fear in his eyes. Kepa couldn’t help but sigh inside, frustrated that, in the end, he had made an enemy of his partner.

“Over there,” ordered Donny, pointing his gun to the clearing on the other side of the campfire. Kepa walked slowly to the spot Donny pointed to, his hands clutched to his side. When he got there, he turned to look Donny in the eye.

“You’re pretty tough with that gun in your hand. But, we both know how pathetic you are without it,” hissed Kepa, his hatred dripping off of every word.

Donny just shrugged. “You can put on a brave face if you want, but the end is going to be the same. Now get on your knees. I want you to beg for your life.”

Kepa hesitated for a moment. Donny shot at the ground at his feet. 

“I said, on your knees.”

Kepa fell to his knees. 

“Now,” he continued, putting one foot forward, “kiss my boot. Beg for your life.”

Kepa simply glared at the man in front of him before walking slowly forward on his knees toward Donny, the rage building with every step. He kept his hands clenched, but he could feel the warmth building, almost as if his fingertips were on fire. When he got close to Donny’s outstretched foot, he began to bend over, making as if he was going to kiss Donny’s boot. But, at the last second, he thrust his hand up as high as he could. 

“Kiss this,” he said as a blinding flash of light erupted from his hand.

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Basque Fact of the Week: Basque Proverbs

Proverbs capture traditional wisdom and common sense, and every culture has their own set of proverbs. Back in 1994, Jon Aske posted a collection of Basque proverbs he had gathered from a variety of sources. With his permission, I collected them and posted the full list of Esaera Zaharrak on Buber’s Basque Page. These proverbs relate to a range of every day experiences, from friendship and relationships to wealth and health. Some of them are even contradictory, indicating that the best advice depends on the circumstances. Here are some of my favorites.

Lunch with family and friends, taken by Blas Uberuaga.
  • A number of these proverbs relate to the role of religion and priests in the community and people’s lives.

Elizatik hurreanena, paradisutik urrunena.
“Those who are closest to the church are farthest from paradise.”

Jaten duten santuekin, ez dago fidatzerik.
“Don’t trust those who eat with saints.”

Abadearen lapikoa, txikia baina gozoa.
“The priest’s pot is small but his supper is tasty.”

  • Friendship and gathering are of course important to Basque culture and several proverbs reflect on friends.

Adiskide onekin, orduak labur.
“Time flies when you are among friends.”

Adiskidegabeko bizitza, auzogabeko heriotza.
“A life without friends means death without company.”

Guztien adiskide dena, ez da inorena.
“One who is everybody’s friend is nobody’s friend.”

Lagun onak, ondu; gaiztoak, gaiztotu.
“A good friend makes one a better person, a bad friend makes one worse.”

  • Basques are also known for, and take pride in, their industriousness and many proverbs warn of the perils of being lazy.

Alferrak, beti lanez beterik.
“Lazy people are always busy.”

Alferrarendako lanik ez, eta astirik ez.
“The lazy person has no work, but has no time for anything else either.”

Geroa, alferraren leloa.
“‘Later’: The lazy person’s motto.”

  • And, related to that, there is the idea of responsibility:

Bi etxetako txakurra, goseak jan.
“A dog which belongs to two homes dies of hunger.”

Idia adarretik eta gizona hitzetik.
“You should hold oxen by their horns and people to their word.”

Ihaurk egin dezakeana ez utzi besteri egiten.
“Don’t let anyone else do what you can do yourself.”

  • And perhaps my two favorites:

Izena duen guztiak izatea ere badauke.
“Everything with a name exists.”

Izenak ez du egiten izana.
“A name doesn’t make something true.”

The Adventures of Maite and Kepa: Part 70

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!

“What about us?” hissed Kepa, his anger barely contained. Though he had mostly hated his time up in the hills, he had still grown attached to his life there, even to Santi and the sheep if he were honest with himself.

“Don’t you worry,” answered Donny. “I’ve got plans for you. And your girl ain’t here to protect you this time.”

Santi turned toward Kepa with a look of anger. “Zer egin zenuen?” he asked in Euskara. “What did you do?”

“Ezer ez,” hissed Kepa. 

“Now, now,” interrupted Donny with a smile that then turned into a scowl. “You are in America now, and you better be speaking English.”

Donny turned to the other two cowboys. “Jimmy, Bobby, you two watch the perimeter. We don’t want to be interrupted.”

The other two cowboys nodded as one went back toward the horses and the other crossed the camp in the other direction.

“Now, then,” said Donny once the other two were in position. “You can put that thing away,” he added, waving his own revolver at Santi and his shotgun. “I know you ain’t going to use it.”

Santi reluctantly placed his gun on the ground next to his chair.

“Good boy,” smiled Donny. “See, that wasn’t so hard. If you had just listened in the first place, we wouldn’t be in this situation, now would we?”

“You were just going to let us go, were you?” asked Kepa.

“Oh, you’ve figured me out,” laughed Donny. “Of course not. We need to make examples of you damn herders and you two will do as well as any. Better than most,” he added, with a piercing stare at Kepa.

“Fine,” said Kepa. “If this is personal, between you and me, let him go.” He nodded his head toward Santi. “He has nothing to do with you.”

Donny shrugged. “True. But, he’s here with you. You know, guilty by association. And he’s still a damn sheep bastard.” He paused and then chuckled lightly. “You know, I heard that the reason they hired you Basquos to herd the sheep is because you stink so bad, you keep the coyotes away.”

Santi growled, but Kepa put his hand on his partner’s arm, trying to calm him.

Donny grabbed something from his hip and threw it at Kepa, who caught the twirling stick in the air as it came at him. It was a stick with some kind of sticky resin at the end. Kepa looked at Donny. “What is this?”

“A torch.” He waved his revolver almost nonchalantly at the fire. “Light it.”

Kepa stood up and placed the pitch-end of the torch in the flames. Within an instant, the end of the torch was ablaze.

“Now, throw it in your wagon.”

Kepa looked at Donny in shock. “Ez,” he growled. “No.”

Donny shrugged again. Kepa heard the bang and Santi’s scream before he realized what had happened. Santi was holding his shoulder; blood was pouring down the sleeve of his shirt. Kepa nearly dropped the torch to run to Santi’s side when Donny barked at him. “Stop!”

“I heard you Basques were stubborn, but I didn’t think you were so stupid,” he said. “If you don’t want your friend to take another bullet,” he continued, his voice dropping into a menacing snarl, “you’ll throw that torch into the wagon.”

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: Goya’s Basque Connection

Francisco de Goya y Lucientes is one of the most recognized and celebrated painters in the world. A romanticist, he is considered to be one of the greatest portraitists of his time. His paintings often depicted the reality and brutality that surrounded him, a darkness in his style that became particularly prevalent after a sickness left him deaf in 1793. His first surname, Goya, is clearly of Basque origin — the modern spelling is Goia and means “up” or “summit.” Goya is also one of my favorite painters of all time.

A self-portrait Goya made in 1795, from Museo del Prado.
  • Goya was born in 1746 in Fuendetodos, Aragon, though his parents were from Zaragoza, where they returned in 1749. His father, José Benito, was a gilder — someone who decorates surfaces by applying a thin layer of gold — while his grandfather was a notary, who could perform legal actions.
  • Goya’s great-great grandfather, Domingo de Goya y Villamayor (originally Echeandia), was born in Zerain, in the heart of Gipuzkoa, in 1578, in the baserri Mantxolatxiki, which still stands. He was a master builder (maestro de obras) and moved to Aragon, first to Fuentes de Jiloca sometime before 1625 where he was commission to build the tower of the church, and then to Zaragoza where, ultimately, Goya’s father was born. Little is known about Domingo, other than he may have proven his nobility, by virtue of being Basque, in Valladolid in 1578. It seems that, when he moved to Aragon, he changed his maternal surname from Echeandia to Villamayor.
  • Near Zerain, there is a mountain alternatively called Oa, Oamendi, or Arripillaeta which was known for its red sandstone with dark streaks. These stones were prized by stone masons, and it seems that Domingo may have learned his craft from visiting craftsmen. Several young villagers of Zerain became stone masons and craftsmen this way.
  • Whether Goya himself was much aware of his Basque ancestry or not is not obvious. However, it seems that in 1792 he began the process to prove his “vizcainía,” or his Basque origins, with the goal of establishing his nobility and obtaining the privileges and rights it would provide to himself and his son. It seems he did not complete the process of proving his nobility. It’s also possible he was appealing to the nobility of his mother’s family, or both sides, when he made this request.
  • However, Goya certainly included Basque elements into some of his paintings. For example, in his Portrait of the Marchioness of Santa Cruz, the lyre is decorated with a lauburu. He painted some twenty-five portraits of people with Basque origins, though many were important figures of the time and their Basque origins may have been irrelevant to him. He also painted a scene from a witches’ Sabbath, entitled El aquelarre, but that may have been a common phrase at the time and not revealing of any special connection to the Basques. In the end, whether Goya identified with his Basque ancestors is unclear.

Primary sources: Ascendientes vía paterna de Don Francisco de Goya y Lucientes; Labayru Fundazioa; Wikipedia; Museo Del Prado

The Adventures of Maite and Kepa: Part 69

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!

Donny dismounted from his horse and walked forward until his face was illuminated by the last remaining flames of the fire. Santi had his gun at hand the whole time, not directly pointing it at the cowboy, but aiming it in his general direction. Donny seemed not to notice. The other two remained on their horses, but Kepa noticed how their hands stayed at their hips.

“My boys and I,” said Donny as he grabbed a few logs and threw them on the fire, “have been riding all day and could sure use a rest.” He looked up as he sat down next to the fire, the dancing light of the flames giving his face a menacing look. “Besides, this is our land.”

Santi shook his head. “Ez. No. We are sure not to cross in your land.”

Donny shrugged. “I’m not sure what to tell you, then. But, really, all of this land is ours, no matter what the government says.”

“That is not fair!” exclaimed Santi. “We need to live too.”

“You should have stayed in your own country, then” said Donny as he spat in the fire. “This is our country and we make the rules.”

“We don’t want any trouble,” said Kepa. “We will leave first thing in the morning.”

Santi gave him a disgusted glance but then nodded. “Yes, we will leave.”

“In the morning?” laughed Donny. “I’m sorry, but I can’t wait that long. I don’t want to spend the night here making sure you leave. I think you should leave now.”

“But, we can’t guide our horses and the wagon at night,” replied Santi. “And we have to collect the sheep.”

“Oh, are the sheep a problem?” said Donny with a wicked smile. “My boys can help with that.” He raised a hand. The other two men, who were still on their horses, dashed off toward the band of sheep that was huddled nearby, pulling their guns as they went. Soon, the night air was filled with the sounds of gunfire and the bleating of sheep. 

“No!” exclaimed Santi as he started to move toward the band. 

“Sit,” said Donny calmly, his own revolver pointing at the sheepherder. “Don’t make me ask again.”

Santi, pain in his face, reluctantly sat down. 

“You too,” said Donny as he waved his gun at Kepa. “And don’t think I don’t remember you, boy. We have our own score to settle.”

“What did you do?” hissed Santi as Kepa sat next to him at the fire. All Kepa could do was shake his head, his hands clenched in fists to prevent them from shaking as well.

The gun shots continued as Donny stood up and walked over to the coffee pot. He grabbed a cup and poured himself the last of the bitter coffee. Taking a sip, he walked back over to his chair. “Not the worst I’ve tried,” he said as he sat. 

Kepa and Santi simply glared at him, wincing each time they heard another gunshot. Soon, after more shots than Kepa could count, the shooting stopped and the other two cowboys rode back to the camp. As they dismounted and stood behind Donny, all they could hear was the dying cries of more than a few of the sheep.

“The ones we didn’t shoot ran off,” said the cowboy to Donny’s left. 

Donny nodded. “Good enough.” He turned his attention back to Santi and Kepa. “And now, what about you two, eh?”

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: The other Basques of the Battle of Guadalcanal (1942): History Versus Myth

This article originally appeared in Spanish at on July 23, 2021.

Faced with the legend and the myth of Carranza and his group of “Basque code talkers,” the real events of those Americans of Basque origin, Basque of flesh and blood, with Basque names and surnames, have to be vindicated by Basque historiography as the actual subjects who are from our diaspora and from our common history.

Raiders from Colonel Merrill A. Edson’s battalion at the end of the very hard fighting for Tulagi, where the Japanese made five charges on the first night (photo Recreation Group of the Sancho de Beurko Association, GRASB)

Legend tells of how the mythical captain of the United States Army, Ernesto or Frank Carranza, apparently in command of a group of sixty formidable US Marines of Basque origin – all of them the sons of sheepherders from California, Idaho, Montana, Nevada and Oregon – supposedly helped conquer Guadalcanal Island, located in the southwestern Pacific Ocean, in the summer of 1942.

These young men – Basque soldiers trained in broadcasting at the beginning of the Second World War (WWII) – would have carried out tasks as “code talkers” or coders, apparently using Basque as a secret code to transmit military orders, including the landing in Tulagi on August 7, 1942 and thus confuse Japanese listeners.

Decades later, on April 25, 1979, an article signed by Vicente Escudero in the Basque newspaper Deia summarized this epic under the title “110 Basques and 90 Andalusians conquered Guadalcanal in 1942.”

That article not only increased the number of Basques who, according to legend, initially took part in the battle for Guadalcanal; they were also joined by a similar number of Andalusians – we suppose that since the island was baptized as such in 1568 by the expeditionary Pedro Ortega de Valencia, a native of said Sevillian town – and revealed, strictly exclusively, the death of the enigmatic Basque-Mexican Captain Carranza on April 22, 1979 in a fatal hit-and-run in New York.

The main weight of the Guadalcanal Campaign fell on the 1st and 2nd Divisions of the Marine Corps, volunteer soldiers who improvised combat tactics on the ground against a highly motivated enemy that did not give up (GRASB)

However, this legend – as fascinating as it may be – is certainly just that, a legend, a myth. With the exception of the fight that took place between the troops, mostly between American and Japanese troops for the strategic control of Guadalcanal, none of the above story is true.

If you wonder how a leading newspaper like Deia – which was joined by all kinds of publishers, including from academia, and many other media outlets in disseminating and deepening this myth for decades – took for granted the story that young Basque and Andalusian soldiers took Guadalcanal; the military use of codified Basque; the very existence of the supposed Carranza; and to make matters worse, the final notice of his death – they will discover that hoaxes, propaganda, misinformation or “fake news” were not born with Twitter.

The high point of the Raiders’ fighting took place at Edson Ridge (September 12-14, 1942), where they withstood several night attacks that nearly broke through the North American Defensive Perimeter (GRASB)

After dismantling the myth of the “Basque code talkers” a few years ago, and trying to illuminate the reasons for its birth within the framework of the relations between the Basque Government in Exile, of the Lehendakari José Antonio Aguirre, and the Office of Strategic Services of the United States, of Colonel William Donovan, it is only fair that we recognize “the other Basques,” those who did participate in the Guadalcanal Campaign, and who unfortunately were overshadowed and marginalized by the unusual myth of the use of Basque in Guadalcanal [1].

“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.

Who were the real Basques of Guadalcanal?

In this article we reveal the identity of some of these true heroes, unknown until now, that we have been discovering during the progress of the “Fighting Basques” research project. The Historical Recreation Group of the Sancho de Beurko Association has joined the commemoration of the 79th anniversary of Guadalcanal and has given us their help to visualize it.

Among the “Fighting Basques” of the Guadalcanal Campaign, or “Operation Watchtower,” we find people like John Facque Elissalde, John Sallaberry Berra, Henry Etchemendy Hauscarriage, Joseph Quintana Ybáñez, Domingo Amuchastegui Guenaga, John Maitia Urbelz, John Basañez Basteguieta, James Miguelgorry Souhilar, and Joaquin Juanche Muñoz.

All of them were protagonists of “Operation Watchtower,” which lasted for six long and bloody months, from the beginning of the invasion on August 7, 1942 to February 9, 1943, approximate date of the end of the evacuation of the last Japanese troops who resisted on the island.

The Guadalcanal Campaign became the first US amphibious offensive in a new Allied military strategy to dominate the Pacific Theater of Operations. Since December, 1941, the military expansion of the Empire of Japan across the Pacific seemed unstoppable until the Allies conspired to end it. And they did so on the hitherto almost unknown Guadalcanal Island.

In January, 1942, Japanese troops had landed in the Bismarck Archipelago, located between the Solomon Islands and New Guinea. They later occupied Kavieng in New Ireland and Rabaul in New Britain in Papua New Guinea. Rabaul would become Japan’s main military base in the Southwest Pacific.

In March, the Japanese seized Salamaua and Lae in Papua and Bougainville, the largest island in the Solomon archipelago. A couple of months later, the Japanese were in Tulagi where they began the construction of a seaplane base.

Between May and July, the Japanese forces continued their expansion throughout the rest of the Solomon Islands.

On June 8, they landed in Guadalcanal, where a month later they began to build an airstrip near the mouth of the Lunga River.

For the Allies, this posed a fearsome threat against the allied air base of Espiritu Santo, located in the New Hebrides archipelago. This development also endangered the communication routes between the US, Australia, and New Zealand. It was imperative to neutralize it [2].

On August 7, 1942, 8 months after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, US Marines landed at Tulagi, Florida, Tanambogo, Gavutu, and Guadalcanal. After defeating the Tulagi and Guadalcanal garrisons, they took over the port of Tulagi and the Guadalcanal airstrip, which they christened “Henderson Field,” finishing its construction on August 21 [3].

Map of the land battles of the Guadalcanal Campaign. (Weapons and Warfare. History and Hardware of Warfare)

From the coast, the US fleet provided cover support for the initial amphibious assault, which came under heavy enemy air fire. On board the USS President Hayes, an attack transport, was the young Basque-Nevadan, of Nafarroa Beherean parents, John Facque. The mission of the USS President Hayes was to land units of the 2nd Marine Regiment on the northeast side of Guadalcanal.

On the ground, among the marines of the Second Division we identified the Basque-Nevadan Henry Etchemendy. Etchemendy, also of parents from Nafarroa Beherea, served in the 10th Regiment, providing artillery support from the beginning of operations.

The Guadalcanal Campaign had just begun, leading to numerous land and naval battles over the coming months, with significant aerial skirmishes.

From Rabaul, the Japanese launched air strikes against the American forces deployed in Tulagi and Guadalcanal, which were joined by attacks by the destroyers and light cruisers of the Imperial Navy, while supplying their troops on the ground as best they could.

The shortage of food and military materials would be a general trend for both the Allies and the Japanese, although it would be noticed with much greater impact among the Japanese troops.

Map of the naval battles of the Guadalcanal Campaign. (Weapons and Warfare. History and Hardware of Warfare)

The clashes between Japanese and American patrols were constant, while sporadic Japanese attacks of greater magnitude took place, such as the one that occurred between October 23 and 26, 1942, which aimed to recover the airstrip now known as “Henderson Field.”

Among the American reinforcements sent to Guadalcanal during the beginning of autumn, there was, for example, the light cruiser USS Boise. On board we find Joseph Quintana – born in 1917 in Nevada to Nafarroan parents. The mission of the USS Boise and the soldiers like Quintana was to give cover during the landing of a new wave of marines in Guadalcanal.

The USS Boise was damaged during the Battle of Cape Esperance on the night of October 11-12 and would have to return to the US for repairs. Quintana passed away in Sacramento in 1979.

Domingo Amuchastegui (center) with his brothers Julián (left) and John, also veterans of the US Navy in WWII (courtesy of the Amuchastegui family).

The USS Boise was joined by the escort carrier USS Copahee, which moved fighters and torpedo boats bound for “Henderson Field.” Domingo Amuchastegui, born in 1923 in Nevada to Bizkaian parents, served aboard the Copahee, where he was in charge of repairs to the structure of embarked aircraft.

John Maitia, a Marine of the 14th Aircraft Group, landed on the island in October 1942.

Maitia, whose father was from Nafarroa Beherea and whose mother was from Nafarroa, was born in California in 1922. He took part in the so-called Naval Battle of Guadalcanal, another attempt (again unsuccessful) to retake Henderson airfield, with an important deployment of the Japanese Navy and a large number of Japanese troop reinforcements from Rabaul.

The reinforcements sent by the Americans to repel this new counteroffensive were attacked by Japanese airplanes on November 11 and 12.

The naval battle was a victory for the Allied side after days of heavy fighting, ending on November 15.

It was Japan’s last and greatest attempt for “Henderson Field.”

Maitia passed away in 2018 at the age of 95.

The marine Facque was aboard the cruiser USS Northampton when it was sunk by Japanese torpedoes at the Battle of Tassafaronga on November 30, 1942, in an effort to prevent the Japanese from reinforcing their troops at Guadalcanal. Facque was unharmed and survived the sinking.

He died in 2015, at the age of 93.

Photograph of John Basañez, possibly taken during the New Britain campaign. He graduated with honors in 1945, he earned five Bronze Stars during his military career for his participation in five battles, and an individual Bronze Star, for his meritorious combat service (courtesy of the Basañez family).

In December, 1942, two other Basque-Californians arrived at the Guadalcanal front: the soldier John Basañez and the “seabee” James Miguelgorry. Basañez, of Bizkaian parents, served in the 185th Regiment (Regimental Combat Team) of the 40th Infantry Division, facing Japanese troops from the first minute. At Guadalcanal he fell ill with malaria, which he carried for the rest of his life. He passed away in South San Francisco in 2001.

Miguelgorry was born in 1918 to parents from Nafarroa Beherea. He served in the 18th Naval Construction Battalion, which was assigned to the Second Marine Division, for reconstruction duties. Miguelgorry’s unit was outfitted with Marine uniforms and equipment. He passed away at the age of 81 in Washington State.

At the beginning of 1943, the Marine of the Second Division, John Sallaberry, and the soldier of the 161st Infantry Regiment, Joaquín Juanche, arrived at Guadalcanal. The Basque-Californian Sallaberry, of a Lapurdian father and a Gipuzkoan mother, served with the 6th Regiment, which disembarked from the USS President Adams in the Guadalcanal-Tulagi area. Juanche, born in California in 1915 to Nafarroan parents, was involved in bloody fighting in defense of the positions around “Henderson Field.” He also participated in the elimination, from January 10 to 21, of a concentration of Japanese troops in what became known as the Matanikau River Pocket, a dense redoubt of jungle situated between a steep hillside and a high cliff above the Matanikau River.

Like Etchemendy, his compatriots Sallaberry and Juanche also fought until the end of the Guadalcanal Campaign.

From January 10 and for about two weeks, the US troops began an offensive to eliminate the Japanese forces from the island, in which the 161st of Juanche participated very actively.

Sallaberry will obtain the Silver Star for his heroism in an action that took place on January 21 in Guadalcanal.

During a patrol with his platoon several hundred meters beyond their defensive lines, an enemy machine gun wounded one of his comrades. Sallaberry, with the help of another marine, picked up the wounded man under constant enemy fire and without regard for his own safety. After Guadalcanal, Sallaberry, Etchemendy and Juanche, together with their comrades in arms, would continue the fight in the southwestern Pacific.

Sallaberry passed away in 1990 and Etchemendy in 2001.

Unfortunately, Juanche was killed in combat at the age of 27 on August 5, 1943 in New Georgia.

Photograph of James Miguelgorry, presumably taken after joining the Navy in June 1942, at his home in Sunnyvale, California (Courtesy of the Miguelgorry family).

The losses, both human and material, were substantial for both sides, although evidently the balance turned to the Allies. About 30,000 Japanese soldiers out of a total of 36,000 perished in the Guadalcanal Campaign, most of them as a result of famine and tropical diseases.

After Guadalcanal, Japan found itself on the defensive for the first time since Pearl Harbor, unable to replace the air and sea fleet destroyed during the long Guadalcanal Campaign.

The allied counteroffensive continued through the rest of the Solomon Islands and New Guinea, capturing Japanese bases of enormous strategic importance, which would facilitate success in future campaigns in the southwest and central Pacific.

The historical narrative presented here arises from verifiable evidence and imposes itself on the myth and its undeniable power of seduction, which to date had falsely connected the Basque with the remote island of Guadalcanal during WWII, masking the true events carried out by Americans of Basque origin, of Basque flesh and blood.

The legend of Carranza and his group of “Basque code talkers,” and its promoters in the shadows, are left with as their only refuge the passing of time, the forgetting of history as it happened and its true heroes.

These heroes must be reclaimed. Facque, Sallaberrry, Etchemendy, Quintana, Amuchastegui, Maitia, Basañez, Miguelgorry and Juanche – among others that our investigation can still reveal – must be indisputably vindicated by Basque historiography as active subjects of our diaspora and of our common history.

We owe it to them and to their memory if we want history to impose itself on myth.

Thus, is necessary more than ever to create a future with memory; a public, didactic and inclusive memory.


(1) Oiarzabal, Pedro J. and Guillermo Tabernilla. “El enigma del mito y la historia: ‘Basque code talkers’ en la Segunda Guerra Mundial. La OSS y el Servicio Vasco de Información—la Organización Airedale”. Saibigain, No. 3 (2017)

(2) Mueller, Joseph N. (1992). Guadalcanal 1942: The Marines Strike Back. Oxford: Osprey Publishing

(3) Danny J. Crawford, Robert V. Aquilina, Ann A. Ferrante, Lena M. Kaljot, and Shelia P. Gramblin. (2001). “The 2nd Marine Division and its Regiments”. Washington D.C.: History and Museum Divisions Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps

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Basque Fact of the Week: The “Butter Buns” of Bilbao

When I visited my dad’s family in Munitibar, I’d stay with his brother Martin and his wife Rosario. They ran the Herriko Taberna. Each morning, after I woke up, I’d make my way to the bar. Rosario was already hard at work, cleaning the bar and preparing the days meals. I’d take my seat at the bar and she’d serve up a cafe con leche and a pastry. I never really gave it much thought, but those pastries stayed with me, their subtle sweetness and simplicity perfect for starting the day. It was only much later that I realized their unique place in the life of Bizkaia.

Bollos de mantequilla from Bizkarra Panadería y Pastelería.
  • Bollos de mantequilla, as they are called, are actually a quite simple pastry. Essentially, they are a Swiss bun or brioche, cut in two and filled with a cream made from butter and eggs. They often have a sprinkling of sugar on top. They have a very soft texture and only a hint of sweetness.
  • Their origin dates back to 1813. That was the year that two cousins from Switzerland, Bernardo Pedro Franconi and Francesco Matossi, came to Bilbao. According to one story, they were trying to sell goats milk. Whatever the case, they eventually set up a pastry shop in the old part of town – the Casco Viejo – at Calle Correo nº 2 to be precise. Years later, they opened a second shop in the Plaza Nueva. It wasn’t long before they had a franchise that reached across Spain, with some 50 shops in cities such as Burgos, Santander, Pamplona, and Madrid.
  • The cousins started making milk buns, or brioches, which became known as Swiss buns. But it wasn’t until they added that butter cream filling that the bollo de mantequilla was born that is now so ubiquitous in Bizkaia. Today, you can find shops all over Bilbao that serve these simple delights; BilbaoClick lists several you can check out next time you are there.
  • However, if you can’t make it to Bilbao any time soon, you can always make your own! You can find recipes for bollos de mantequilla all over the internet, but Bake Street provides not only a good recipe but also advice on making them. The ingredients are pretty simply – water, flour, sugar, butter, milk, eggs, yeast, and salt – but they can take a few days to make, due to the time the buns need to rise.
  • BilbaoClick gives another history of these pastries, though their story also starts on Calle Correo nº 2. According to them, the owner of the shop “Café Suizo” traveled to Switzerland in 1831, where he discovered the bun filled with butter cream. He brought it back to his shop and Bilbao where it quickly became an enormous hit.

Primary sources: Bollo de mantequilla, Wikipedia; Bollos de mantequilla from Bilbao, Bake Street; El bollo de mantequilla, Conoce Bilbao con Esme; Los 9 Mejores Bollos de Mantequilla de Bilbao, BilbaoClick

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The Adventures of Maite and Kepa: Part 68

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!

Months passed and Kepa had still seen no sign of the zatia. He had resigned himself to his routine of tending the camp. The only reprieve was when Dominique stopped by with supplies. The two of them had struck up a genuine friendship. To be honest, Dominique was the first iparraldetar that Kepa had really gotten to know. For how small the Basque Country was, he had never really made much of an effort to get to know the other parts. He vowed to himself to visit the baserri that Dominique was from when he got back home.

If he got back home, he corrected himself. Without the zatia, there was no way to return home, and he was starting to seriously doubt if they would ever find it. He couldn’t imagine that he and Maite had been sent here without reason, but he couldn’t see the purpose in him living this hellish life, alone in the mountains.

One day, when he had finished his daily chores and was a bit more restless than normal, he wandered into the nearby aspens. The smooth tall trees seemed to reach to the heavens, and the sun sparkled through the gently swaying leaves, dappling the ground with a tapestry of moving shadow. It took him a moment to notice the strange markings on the trees. He looked at the nearest tree a bit closer. Bai! They were carvings, left by previous herders who had passed this way. The closest tree had a carving of an elegant church, outlined in crude knife cuts that, together, conveyed a beauty that Kepa wouldn’t have thought possible. He circled the tree, only to find another carving, this one of the torso of a naked woman. Underneath was a simple inscription: “Pedro hemen zegoen” — “Pedro was here.” Kepa examined the other trees. Many had similar markings while some had notes left behind for other herders. One inscription, written in Spanish, said “If this life is what those damn oldtimers told me, my balls are carnations.” Kepa just shook his head and suppressed a resentful chuckle. He knew exactly how that man had felt.

Before he went back to the camp, Kepa pulled out his own knife. Finding a blank canvas, so to speak, he carved his own inscription. “Kepa hearts Maite.” He smiled, but then realized that, if they did find the zatia, this, along with everything he had done, would disappear with the pop of the time bubble. He shook his head and wandered back to the camp.

It wasn’t long before evening came and Santi came with it, his dog by his side. The ever laconic Santi simply nodded as he sat down near the fire and Kepa handed him a bowl of stew. Kepa didn’t say anything, but inwardly sighed, wishing for some meaningful human interaction. But, as had happened so many nights before, Santi finished his meal in silence and then handed the bowl to Kepa to wash as he prepared to sleep.

Santi was rolling out his bedroll in the dying light of the fire while Kepa gathered his own bowl to wash in the morning when they heard the clip-clop of horses. Santi moved toward the wagon and grabbed his shotgun while Kepa stood next to him, waiting to see who their visitors were. In the months Kepa had been in the hills with Santi, this was the first time they had gotten any visitors so late at night and Kepa was more than a little scared.

Three figures rode up, their features obscured by the shadows. That the moon was waxing crescent meant that there was little light. The horses stopped as they got to the edge of the camp.

“Nor da?” barked Santi, his gun raised slightly, not pointing at the men directly, but clearly showing that Santi wasn’t messing around. “Who’s there?”

The man on the lead horse, who seemed to sit up a bit straighter than the others, his large shoulders visible in the darkness, just chuckled. “Calm down, you damn Basquo. We’re just friends, hoping to get a brief respite from a long day of riding.”

Kepa shivered as he recognized that voice. It belonged to Donny McCown.

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