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Erminio Dominguez: In the Service of His Country

He received four bronze stars, the Purple Heart, the EAME Theater Ribbon, and a good conduct medal for his extraordinary service

By John P. Schmal
Published on LatinoLA: January 23, 2014


Erminio Dominguez: In the Service of His Country


Erminio Lujan Dominguez was born on May 19, 1922 in Turner, Kansas as the seventh of nine children of Geronimo Dominguez and Luisa Lujan, who were both immigrants from the Hacienda de Santa Monica in the municipio of Sain Alto in Zacatecas, Mexico. Erminio's parents had left Mexico in 1909 as the Mexican Republic was beginning its rapid descent into its bloody ten-year Mexican Revolution. Their first two children were born in Mexico, but the rest of their children were born in Texas and Kansas City, Kansas.

Growing Up in Kansas

At the age of four, Little Erminio lost his mother Luisa, who had died in childbirth with Erminio's little brother, Louie. However, even with the loss of their mother, the Dominguez children were cared for by their father Geronimo, their grandfather Aniceto Dominguez, and an assortment of extended family members. In Kansas City, Mexican-American citizens were, according to the author Cynthia Mines, "set apart linguistically, economically, religiously, and culturally from the mostly white, Protestant, middle class Kansans with which they were surrounded. They tended to stay within their colonies, some eventually building their own schools and churches, and ventured out only to buy necessities."

As a young boy, Erminio accompanied his family to the beet fields of Nebraska, Colorado and Wyoming to do summer work. He also attended the Turner Grade School up until the Seventh Grade. Although the Dominguez family lived in a small Mexican community on a small hill in Turner, Kansas, the children had to attend a school in which they were forbidden from using the Spanish language that they spoke at home.

Tragedy and Sorrow

In the 1920s and 1930s, the teachers at the schools in the Kansas City area were very adamant about the use of the Spanish language in school. Believing that the use of Spanish at home might interfere with their English-language education, some teachers very strictly enforced these rules. These rules were similarly enforced at the Turner High School, which was attended by Erminio's two younger brothers, Marshall and Louie.

In 1939, a female teacher seemed to have a vendetta against the Dominguez family. Erminio's young brother Marshall was punished severely several times for speaking Spanish. Then, one day, some students stole erasers from the classroom and gave them to Marshall. When the erasers were discovered in Marshall's possession, he was beaten severely by the school madam. To this day, the family believes that this - and other beatings - led to Marshall's premature death at the age of 14 years and eight months from acute general nephritis on March 29, 1939.

War Comes to America

Erminio's family exhibited great fortitude and endurance in times of sorrow and, through the tragedies and the Great Depression, the Dominguez family continued to make the best of their lives in the Kansas City area. So, when the Japanese Imperial Navy launched a surprise attack on the American naval fleet at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the Dominguez family exhibited the same concern that all American families felt.

Suddenly at war with three powerful foes - Germany, Italy, and Japan - the American people exhibited an uncompromising sense of confidence in eventual victory. Able-bodied men in every town of every state made painful decisions to leave their families behind to defend their nation in its time of need.

During the first two years of World War II, from September 1939 through December 1941, a series of startling military victories permitted German domination of the European continent. After the conquest of Poland in 1939, Adolph Hitler gave the order to invade other countries, even while professing his desire to make peace with Great Britain and France. Using Blitzkrieg (Lightning-war) tactics, the German military had overwhelmed and destroyed the armies of France, Poland, Norway, Yugoslavia, and Greece. In addition, Denmark, Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands had been occupied after short campaigns. And in June 1941, Nazi Germany - with the help of its allies - invaded the Soviet Union (now known as Russia) along a 2,000-mile front.

Joining the Cause
On September 2, 1942, during America's darkest hours, 20-year-old Erminio Dominguez enlisted in the armed forces. On December 11, 1942, he reported to duty and was officially inducted into the United States armed services at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. His first military assignment was with the Reconnaissance Section of the Cavalry School in Fort Riley, Kansas. Entire units were usually sent to Fort Riley to receive training and special instructions in the cavalry techniques and tactics. Erminio's military emphasis, however, was military reconnaissance, which involved the inspection and study of the land to gather military information.

Before enlisting, Erminio had been a truck driver for the Santa Fe Freight House in Kansas City, Missouri for more than a year. After finishing his basic cavalry training at Fort Riley, Erminio was promoted to Private First Class (Pfc.) and took on new duties as a truck driver. In this capacity, he operated, serviced and made minor repairs on various army vehicles, both in the United States and overseas in combat. As an overseas combat soldier, Erminio also became a skilled marksman and specialized in the service and use of military weapons, in particular .45 caliber Thompson sub-machine guns.

Liberators

During 1943, Erminio was given his first overseas assignment with the 117th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron (Mechanized). But it was not until 1944 that Erminio would see major action. Starting in April 1944, Erminio's 117th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron took part in the Italian campaign and would play a pivotal role in the liberation of Rome. On June 2, just three days before the liberation, Erminio was wounded in action.

But Erminio's unit had accomplished a great deal. In a mere twelve days, the 117th Squadron had advanced almost 161 kilometers (100 miles). Erminio - despite his wound - was able to accompany his unit into the "Eternal City" as ecstatic Italians spilled into the streets to welcome the Americans. Later in the month, Erminio's unit relieved of its mission on the Italian front and reassigned to the VI Corps as part of the 7th Army's "Operation Anvil" (the Allied amphibious invasion of Southern France).

On August 15, 1944, Allied forces ‘«Ű including the 117th Squadron ‘«Ű landed in Southern France to begin a new assault on the German occupiers. In four days, the 117th Squadron advanced 306 kilometers (190 miles) from the beachhead, liberating 6,645 square miles of French territory and capturing more than 2,500 prisoners. However, in September, the unit was given orders to seize the City of Montrevel in order to cut off the escape of a German unit.

However, at this point fate intervened. The German 11th Panzer Division counterattacked and surrounded Montrevel. The 117th held fast in the town and fought bravely against an enemy with vastly superior numbers and armor. But the American soldiers could not hold on. Their ammunition expended, 70 men of 117th Regiment ‘«Ű including Private Erminio Dominguez ‘«Ű were captured on September 3, 1944. At a later date, the Adjutant General praised the gallant men of the 117th for their bravery and tenacity.

A Prisoner of War (POW)

The prisoners of war were quickly transported by train to Stalag VII-A at Moosburg in the German state of Bavaria. By the end of the war, at least 80,000 Allied soldiers would be interned in Moosburg, located 35 kilometers (22 miles) northeast of Munich. From early September 1944 to April 29, 1945 - a total of eight months - Erminio Dominguez was an inmate of this prisoner of war camp.

Awaiting Liberation

In the final days of April 1945, as the end of the war drew near, the American POWs in Moosburg anxiously waited for their day of liberation. With the use of clandestine radio equipment, Erminio and the other prisoners were able to learn that the Third Army of General George S. Patton was racing through Bavaria en route to Munich. The Americans knew that their liberation would soon be at hand.

The German soldiers guarding the prisoners became as anxious as the Americans, realizing that they may be called upon by Adolph Hitler, the German dictator, to take retaliatory action against the POWs. On April 28, both the inmates and the guards could hear artillery fire coming from the west and southwest. As the artillery fire grew closer, an amazing event took place.

On April 29, outside the prison gates, the prisoners could see Germans fighting each other. It was later learned that Hitler had issued an order to kill all the prisoners in the camp, but the German Wehrmacht (Army) had refused to take this action. When the Gestapo tried to take possession of Moosburg, the Wehrmacht fought back and prevented the massacre of prisoners of war.

Freedom at Last

Shortly after noon on the 29th, Combat Team A of the 14th American Armored Division appeared near the camp entrance and the American flag was raised over Moosburg. Erminio and his fellow American soldiers cheered wildly as their liberation took place. But the greatest thrill was yet to come.

An hour later, General George S. Patton arrived in a jeep. General Patton gave a rousing speech to the liberated prisoners and then concluded that "we will whip the bastards all the way to Berlin." As it turns out, Moosburg was the last of the POW camps to be liberated. Nine days later, on May 8, 1945, Germany unconditionally surrendered to the Allied forces.

With these events, Erminio Dominguez became a free man. Erminio soon returned to the United States where he received his honorary discharge on October 5, 1945 at Fort Riley, Kansas. The brave veteran of the French and Italian campaigns received a warm welcome from the Dominguez family in Kansas City. However, Erminio was shattered to learn that his youngest brother, Louie, had been killed in action on March 31, 1945, after having made his way across the Rhine River onto German territory.

Young Louie had joined the Army in August, shortly before Erminio's capture in France, so Erminio had not been aware of his whereabouts as the Third Reich crumbled. Louie had looked up to his older brother and aspired to be a soldier like he was. As with the rest of his family, Erminio was devastated by this news.

Returning Home

Although Erminio received four bronze stars, the Purple Heart, the EAME Theater Ribbon, and a good conduct medal for his extraordinary service to his country, he only spoke to his family about his experience once. For Erminio, his POW experience had been both humiliating and frightening. At times, the German camp guards even threw food at the American prisoners, as if they were dogs.

Living with the Memories

Being held as a POW for any period of time is a traumatic experience and even when a man is released from captivity, he carries around the memories of his imprisonment like a "black cloud." The nightmares keep coming back, even many years after freedom has been restored. As a means of forgetting this terrible chapter in their lives, many POWs refuse to talk about their experiences for the rest of their lives.

Mexican-American veterans who returned to Kansas City found it hard to gain acceptance from their fellow American veterans, so they had to start their own VFW and American Legion chapters. Two years after being released from German captivity, Erminio Dominguez was married to Carmen Garcia. He returned to work for the Santa Fe Railroad, where he took on a position as a forklift operator. On June 8, 1996, Erminio Dominguez died at the age of 74.

Copyright ?ģ 2014, John P. Schmal.

Sources:

Bill Ethridge, "Time Out. A Remembrance of World War II." (1998).

Cynthia Mines, "Riding the Rails to Kansas: The Mexican Immigrants." McPherson, Kansas: 1980.

Harold J. Samsel, "The Operational History of the 117th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron (Mecz.), World War II." Westfield, New Jersey: 117th Cavalry Association, 1982.

Harold J. Samsel, "The Battle of Montrevel, France, September 3, 1944: 117th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron (Mechanized)." Princeton, New Jersey: Triangle Reproduction, 1986, 2nd edition.

Donna S. Morales and John P. Schmal, "The Dominguez Family: A Mexican-American Journey" (Nov 2004: Heritage Books).

About John P. Schmal:
John Schmal is a researcher and market analyst. He has specialized in researching families from Aguascalientes, Zacatecas and Jalisco over the last two decades.




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