Hero Street, U. S. A.: The Story of Little Mexico's Fallen Soldiers


The first book-length account of a story too long overlooked

Claro Solis wanted to win a gold star for his mother. He succeeded—as did seven other sons of “Little Mexico.”

Second Street in Silvis, Illinois, was a poor neighborhood during the Great Depression that had become home to Mexicans fleeing revolution in their homeland. In 1971 it was officially renamed “Hero Street” to commemorate its claim to the highest per-capita casualty rate from ...

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The first book-length account of a story too long overlooked

Claro Solis wanted to win a gold star for his mother. He succeeded—as did seven other sons of “Little Mexico.”

Second Street in Silvis, Illinois, was a poor neighborhood during the Great Depression that had become home to Mexicans fleeing revolution in their homeland. In 1971 it was officially renamed “Hero Street” to commemorate its claim to the highest per-capita casualty rate from any neighborhood during World War II. Marc Wilson now tells the story of this community and the young men it sent to fight for their adopted country.

Hero Street, U.S.A. is the first book to recount a saga too long overlooked in histories and television documentaries. Interweaving family memories, soldiers’ letters, historical photographs, interviews with relatives, and firsthand combat accounts, Wilson tells the compelling stories of nearly eighty men from three dozen Second Street homes who volunteered to fight for their country in World War II and Korea—and of the eight, including Claro Solis, who never came back.

As debate swirls around the place of Mexican immigrants in contemporary American society, this book shows the price of citizenship willingly paid by the sons of earlier refugees. With Hero Street, U.S.A., Marc Wilson not only makes an important contribution to military and social history but also acknowledges the efforts of the heroes of Second Street to realize the American dream.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Second Street in the railroad town of Silvis, Ill., was known as "Little Mexico." Its people had fled Mexico during its revolution almost 100 years ago and found work with the railroads, seeking to survive, to move in from society's margins. "We all wanted to be Americans," recalled one resident. "Nobody knows how patriotic we Mexican Americans were." Seventy-eight men from 35 small houses, shacks and converted boxcars served in WWII and Korea. Eight died-reportedly the highest per capita rate of any neighborhood-but despite this service, Second Street remained unpaved for years. Its veterans were blackballed by the local VFW, which feared "the Mexican Americans would take the post over...." But recognition of the community's sacrifices came in 1968 when a grateful legislature renamed Second Street "Hero Street." Journalist Wilson, founder of the International Newspaper Network, tells the stories of these families with a clarity that never lapses into sentiment or pity. Things are very different now, affirm relatives and descendants. All the more reason to remember by name the young men from Little Mexico who were "killed in action fighting for their country." 15 b&w photos. (May)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Kirkus Reviews
Associated Press news executive Wilson looks at a single block in Silvis, Ill., and the families who sacrificed their sons to combat deaths in World War II and Korea. Little understood in America, the Mexican Revolution accounted for millions of deaths between 1910 and 1920 and the emigration of another million Mexicans to the United States. A sizable community ended up in Silvis, working for the Chicago and Rock Island Railroad, living in boxcars, weathering the Great Depression and enduring numerous violent labor-management disputes. Many of the families later moved to Second Street-an area of town known as Little Mexico-and from this tight-knit pocket of poverty they sent their sons to war. Out of the 78 who served, eight died, likely "the most from any single block in America." All of the boys were indifferently schooled, most of them boxed a little, all shared a fierce patriotism. Notwithstanding his dogged interviewing, Wilson never quite fleshes out each of these cruelly foreshortened lives. Taken together, however, the stories deal less with individuals and with war than they do with a special community. Wilson successfully ties together the history of the refugee families with the history that their children helped to make in faraway battlefields in Europe and Asia. Little Mexico's surviving soldiers returned to a country where bigotry and prejudice against Hispanics was still widespread. That prejudice lasted until the late '60s, when local officials finally agreed that Second Street embodied something quite remarkable, a level of service and sacrifice worthy of the designation "Hero Street."An appropriate tribute to the men who died and a fitting appreciation of theneighborhood they so distinguished.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780806140124
  • Publisher: University of Oklahoma Press
  • Publication date: 5/15/2009
  • Pages: 224
  • Sales rank: 1,031,494
  • Product dimensions: 5.80 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Marc Wilson is a veteran journalist, reporter, and news executive for the Associated Press and founder and CEO of the International Newspaper Network. He has been a reporter for the Rocky Mountain News, the Denver Post, and the Boulder Daily Camera. The Montana Newspaper Association honored him in 2004 as a Master Editor-Publisher for his work at the Bigfork Eagle.

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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Posted January 15, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    This book is recommended for all to read about the heritage of Mexican-Americans contribution to our country.

    Hero Street USA
    The Story of Little Mexico's Fallen Soldiers
    Author: Marc Wilson
    ISBN: 978-0-8061-4012-4, Pages: 224, $19.95, Publication Date: May, 2009, Cloth, Military History/Biography, University of Oklahoma Press

    Marc Wilson steps back in time to deliver a message which brings to life the "Hero Street USA" and tells the stories of 8 brave men who gave the ultimate sacrifice for their country, The United States of America.

    As sons of Mexican immigrants, our government military had accepted these brave young men as equals in the performance of their duties as servicemen without regard to heritage. Each had served in either World War II or Korea and never came back. They were classified as Caucasians and did not feel the sting of discrimination as they had back home in Illinois while growing up. In the service, they were welcomed as equals, yet back in their hometown, they were not allowed access in many restaurants or clubs.

    Wilson incorporates into his story the background of each of the hero's immigrant parents who came to the United States at the time of the civil war in Mexico, so they could raise their families and contribute to society. The civil war disrupted their lives in Mexico and the opportunity to successful rearing of a family was non-existent. Their parents migrated to Illinois and lived in squalid conditions, often in railroad box cars or small houses with dirt floors, but were resolute in their belief it was best for the children. They worked for the railroad, earned a living, and were not a burden upon the community.

    When the war came and the rest of Americans signed up, the young Mexican men of Silvis, Illinois were counted among them. These men's stories of bravery and death are very unique because they came from the same street. Never before had eight fallen heroes come from the same street in the United States and this book is the story of their lives interacting as youngsters. Then, as men, Wilson distinguishes them as American patriots.

    The heroic eight were not the only heroes from this community. There were over 90 men from Silvis who also served in World War II and Korea. When they returned home, they found out things had not changed. Discrimination was still rampant and they were denied membership in the VFW by blackball! They were told to form their own post, which they did, and ironically, it still flourishes today. However, the original post to which they had applied has disbanded due to lack of membership.

    Silvis had a bad history of handling their Mexican immigrants. While many streets were paved in this community, the three blocks where these Mexican families lived, were not. President Lyndon Johnson was very instrumental in granting funds for the paving and raising the standards of life in the community. 2nd Street in Silvis, Illinois, was not only paved, but was re-named Hero Street, and a monument was constructed to honor its lost heroes.

    This book is highly recommended.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted April 9, 2010

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    Posted May 24, 2009

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    Posted September 14, 2009

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