Sunday, December 18, 2016

El Corrido de LA

My Great-Uncle Eloy Gallegos was just 28 years old when he was killed in action – an early casualty when the U.S. entered World War II. He hadn’t started a family of his own when he joined the Army, so he didn’t leave behind any sort of family legacy, except for his name, which was passed along as a middle name to my father, and then to me.

At least that’s what I thought. Apparently Uncle Eloy was a musician. Not only that, he used his talent to chronicle his time during a famous military exercise prior to the start of the war.

Thanks to my cousin, Barbara Gallegos, a fellow genealogist and Eloy’s niece, we have a copy of a corrido that Eloy co-wrote with two buddies as they participated in the Louisiana Maneuvers in 1941.

Eloy Gallegos (date unknown)

Finding any record of the military service of my uncles and my grandfather is special. But a corrido is especially appropriate for soldiers from New Mexico. Corridos -- narrative folk songs -- are typically identified with Mexican or borderland culture and history. They developed in New Mexico and around the lower Rio Grande Valley in the 1800s, although they originate from earlier Spanish narratives known as the romance, according to Chicano Folklore: A Guide to the Folktales, Traditions, Rituals and Religious Practices of Mexican-Americans.

My Gallegos uncles, Eloy and Clemente, and my Grandpa Carlos Gallegos, all from Las Vegas, served in the New Mexico National Guard in the late 1930s. They served in the 45th Infantry Division when it was ordered into federal served in September 1940 to train for a year as a result of the war that was developing in Europe.

At the end of a year of training at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, the 45th, known as the Thunderbirds, traveled in August 1941 to Louisiana as part of a massive training exercise – the largest ever, involving more than 400,000 American soldiers – to assess the military’s capabilities and prepare for possible war.

Private Eloy Gallegos and his buddies captured their experience in a narrative they called, “El Corrido de LA,” which starts with their departure from Fort Sill on Aug. 4 and the arrival at a military camp near Pitkin, Louisiana on Aug. 5. No, doubt, the swamps of western Louisiana were a far cry from the high mountains of northern New Mexico. Worse, the soldiers were forced to endure “hurricane-force winds, torrential rains, and bloodthirsty mosquitos,” according to a history of the 45th Infantry Division, titled, “The Rock of Anzio.”

The bad weather is a constant theme in the corrido, so much so, the soldier/musicians are reminded of a famous New Mexico flood that was immortalized in the corridor of San Marcial. But the soldiers believed the Louisiana storm was worse.

According to the history of the 45th, “The rain and mud were so bad, in fact, that the ground was covered with crayfish digging their nests in the open, and because so many vehicles were mired in the muck, the Army cancelled much of the first week of maneuvers.”

The version of the corridor (above) that my cousin Barbara had was typed and had her father, Clemente’s name handwritten on it. The three typed names are the authors of the corrido: Eloy Gallegos, Phil Ortiz and Louis Madrid.

Here is a translation of the corrido by my friend, Juan:


The day of August 4th
I would like to forget
We departed to Louisiana
To a military camp

In the afternoon of the fifth
I remember that date
In the small square of Pitkin
People were expecting us

When we got off the train
Everyone was in awe
To see seventy thousand
Officers and soldiers

On the sixth, during the day
We were all drenched in sweat
We noticed how different
And harsh that hot weather was

The following day in the morning
When we set out to march
We got caught in a terrible rain storm
We felt like we would drown
Three days later
We couldn’t even walk
We were about to use the boats
In order to survive

You may remember
The corrido of San Marcial
This was even worse
You can’t even compare

We worked like slaves
Repairing the camp
But even so
The suffering wouldn’t end
Once we had it repaired
And we were able to go outside
We were stuck by an outbreak
That made us want to die

Those of us who remained healthy
All wanted to cry
From seeing our brothers in arms
Going to the hospital

Finally, on the sixteenth
We departed for combat
Against a blue front
That wouldn’t surrender

We departed with four squadrons
To blow up all access points
And begin the fighting
In that much-touted battle

When the fighting started
We were struck by bad luck
Our dear Lieutenant Philipe
And his men got lost

Sergeant Joe Gallegos
Rounded up only ten men
To search for the Lieutenant
Who went missing in the forrest

Once we found them
They felt very relieved
Thanking us many times
For being such good soldiers

Captain Whipple too
Complimented us
Knowing that every soldier
Carried out their duties

Happy with the accolades
That we received from our commanders
We heard the news
That three more had gone missing

We went out searching
Day and night without stop
Out in the battle line
That’s where we found them

We joined the battle
With joy and excitement
After 12 hours
Our ammunition was gone

We kept fighting
By God I swear to you, brother
We came so close
That we fought head to head

To be able to advance
We didn’t use light
The only light that lit us
Was the moonshine

It was on a Tuesday, I know
In the wee hours of the morning
All the reserve troops
Were called to the front

We had such good luck
Perhaps that’s how God wanted it
When we arrived to the front
The armistice was signed

After it was signed
We were all happy
And we went back
To our camp

Back in the camp
They made us prepare
To go back
To our sweet home

On August twenty three
At six O’clock in the morning
We said goodbye to that place
And to the State of Louisiana

45th Division
You don’t know how to surrender
Dedicating these verses to you
We say farewell

Included among us
I also want to acknowledge
Lieutenant Gallegos
For being such a good officer

These verses have been written
By three very good soldiers
If you want to know their names
They are signed below

Eloy Gallegos
Phil Ortiz
Louis Madrid

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