Felix Z. Longoria, Jr.
|Felix Z. Longoria|
Pvt. Felix Z. Longoria, Jr.
Three Rivers, Texas
|Died||June, 1945 (aged 24–25)
|Buried at||Arlington National Cemetery|
|Allegiance||United States of America|
|Service/branch||United States Army|
|Battles/wars||World War II|
Combat Infantryman Badge
When he was killed at war (1945), he wasn't returned to his family for a long time (1949). Finally his body was returned but the local funeral home denied him wake services at the home because he was Mexican American. G.I. Forum fought for the injustice and eventually he was buried near Washington D.C.1
Born and raised in Three Rivers, Texas, Longoria later moved to Corpus Christi, TX with his wife in search of work. There his wife bore them a daughter who was only a young child when Felix enlisted. Prior to the war, he worked as a truck driver.
In November 1944, Longoria enlisted in the army and, in late April 1945, shipped out from Fort Ord, CA to the 27th Infantry Regiment of the 25th Infantry Division, then located in Luzon in the Philippines, leaving behind his wife and four-year-old daughter. He arrived on Luzon, Philippines, about June 1, 1945.23 Less than fifteen days after landing on the Island of Luzon, Pacific Theatre, a platoon to which Longoria was assigned was ambushed by a hidden Japanese machine gunner. Longoria was among those killed. His badly mangled remains were not identified and returned to the United States until 1949.
In Texas during the 1940s, as in other parts of the country, Mexican Americans were considered non-white.4 Segregation of Mexican American children in schools and employment discrimination against Mexican American workers was pervasive in the Southwestern United States.5 The town of Three Rivers, Texas was no exception with the section nearest the river and west of the railroad setup for Mexican Americans to live in segregation (see referenced map, the streets west of the rail lines have names in Spanish).6
Generally Mexican-American World War II servicemen were integrated into regular military units but some served in segregated Mexican American units such as Company C, 141st Infantry Regiment, 36th Infantry Division of the Texas Army National Guard.7
The soldier's widow tried to make arrangements with the director of the funeral home in Three Rivers to wake his remains at the funeral home. Tom Kennedy, the funeral home director would not allow Longoria's remains to lie in state in the chapel because he was a "Mexican"8 and because "the whites would not like it." He repeated these words in front of witnesses. Kennedy was willing to set up a wake at the Longoria home in the segregated area across the railroad tracks from the white section of town as was the customary treatment of Mexican Americans by the Three Rivers Community. Because Felix Longoria was to be re-interred in the Longoria Cemetery (purchased by his father in 1925), abutting the West side of the town's all white cemetery, this portion of the cemetery separated by a fence at that time was reserved by the Three Rivers Community for the Mexican Americans(Patrick Carroll, "Felix Longoria's Wake"). It was planned for Longoria to be buried in his family cemetery, but U.S. Senator Lyndon B. Johnson, after an investigation into the Longoria Affair, offered to have Pvt. Longoria's remains interred at Arlington National Cemetery in an effort to end the controversy surrounding the viewing of his coffin prior to burial. Publication of an article in the New York Times brought national attention to the incident and it became known as the Felix Longoria Affair. Walter Winchell on his radio program stated "The big state of Texas looks mighty small tonight".
Outraged Texanos sought to end discrimination organized under the newly formed American GI Forum and its leader Dr. Héctor P. García. With the intervention of freshman Senator Lyndon B. Johnson, arrangements were made for Felix Longoria's remains to be reinterred in Arlington National Cemetery in a military ceremony with eighteen other soldiers whose remains had been repatriated from foreign soil where they had served and died. Full military honors was accorded each burial.9
What has now become know as the "Longoria Affair" was a pivotal moment in the early stages of the post-World War II civil rights movement in the United States. The newly formed GI Forum (est. March 1948) had campaigned the plight of the Hispanic veterans receiving unequal treatment by the military in Corpus Christi, Texas. Mrs. Longoria and her sister contacted the Dr. Hector Perez Garcia, the founder of the American GI Forum. On January 11, 1949, Garcia called a meeting of the Corpus Christi Forum, he also sent many telegrams and letters to Texas congressmen. The national and international press picked up the story and even impacted U.S. Mexican relations.10
The Felix Longoria affair became an early example of a unifying event in the Mexican American civil rights movement. The intervention of Dr. Hector García and the American GI Forum in the matter led to an increased interest around the country in opening local chapters of the organization.11
Among Mexican Americans and Hispanics across the country, the incident became a rallying point and a recruiting tool for the GI Forum that soon had chapters across the US.
In 2004, Santiago Hernandez of Corpus Christi, and an employee of the Federal Prison near Three Rivers began a push for local recognition of Private Felix Longoria in Three Rivers. He put forth a proposal to name the city's Post Office in honor of Felix Longoria which rekindled tensions and resentments surrounding the events of 1948–1949.12 In this atmosphere the proposal was rejected.
Failing to name the Post Office after Longoria, Hernandez gained permission from the current owner of the now closed funeral home to place a Texas Historical Marker on the property. The Texas Historical Commission granted permission, over the local historical commission and the supporters of Mr. Kennedy objections to the marker and the information on it.13 Surrounded by local controversy the marker was installed in the Spring of 2010.14
The placement of the historical marker and the documentary which chronicled these events and the events of 1948 are still controversial in Three Rivers to this day.15 The exact words Mr. Kennedy used and his reasons for denying the use of the funeral home are disputed by some local whites, and the family and friends of Mr. Kennedy.16
- Manuel G. Gonzales Mexicanos: A History of Mexicans in the United States (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1999) p. 183–184.
- Garcia, Ignacio M. (2002). Hector P. Garcia - In Relentless Pursuit of Justice. Houston: Arte Publico Press. p. 105. ISBN 0-13-183550-5.
- Pvt. Felix Longoria
- Gonzales, Manuel (1999). Mexicanos: a history of Mexicans in the United States. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press. p. 184. ISBN 0-253-21400-9.
- Rivas-Rodriguez, Maggie (2006). A Legacy Greater Than Words: Stories of U.S. Latinos & Latinas of the World War II Generation (1st ed.). Austin: U.S. Latino & Latina WWII Oral History Project, University of Texas at Austin, School of Journalism. p. 257. ISBN 0-292-71418-1.
- Richardson, Rupert N.; Adrian Anderson, Cary D. Wintz & Ernest Wallace (2005). Texas: the Lone Star State, 9th edition (9th ed.). New Jersey: Prentice Hall. p. 384. ISBN 0-13-183550-5.
- Lopez, Ian F. Hanner (2003). Racism on Trial - The Chicano Fight for Justice. Cambridge and London: The Belknap Press of Harvard University. p. 70. ISBN 9780674010680.
- Meir, Matt S. (1972). Mexican Americans/American Mexicans: From Conquistadors to Chicanos. New York: Hill and Wang. pp. 169–170. ISBN 0-8090-1559-5.
- Justice for My People: The Dr. Hector P. Garcia Story (2004), documentary aired on PBS, September 17, 2007.
- Hart, Lianne (May 31, 2004). "WWII Dispute Again Divides Town". Los Angeles Times.
- [Hudson, Richard. Felix Longoria Legend: The Untold Story. Ten Spurs:the best of the best [University of North Texas Literary Nonfiction of the Mayborn Conference Vol. 4 (2010): 42-53]
- Carroll, Patrick Felix Longoria's Wake: Bereavement, Racism, and the Rise of Mexican American Activism, University of Texas Press (ISBN 0-292-71249-9)
- Carl Allsup, The American G.I. Forum: Origins and Evolution, University of Texas Center for Mexican American Studies Monograph 6, Austin, (1982)
- Hudson, Richard. Felix Longoria Legend: The Untold Story. Ten Spurs:the best of the best [University of North Texas Literary Nonfiction of the Mayborn Conference Vol. 4 (2010): 42-53].
- Felix Longoria Affair from the Handbook of Texas Online
-  Flyer
- Longoria article - A privately maintained web page not to be confused with the Arlington National Cemetery website.
- The Longoria Affair site for Independent Lens on PBS
-  The University of Texas Medical Branch, Dr. Hector P. Garcia, alumni documents.