Almost 65 years ago, a company of Hispanic Soldiers with an average age of 20 set out on a mission to cross the heavy-fortified Rapido River in southern Italy during World War II. Nearly every Soldier who attempted the crossing was killed by mines, artillery or gunfire.

And yet it was only Friday that El Paso thanked the men of Company E, 141st Infantry Regiment, 36th Infantry Division, with a commemorative wall and an unveiling ceremony at the Chalio Acosta Recreation Center.

El Paso Herald Post journalist Joe Olvera is widely credited with bringing the story of the young men - many of whom were initially pulled from the Segundo Barrio and Bowie High School before they graduated - to the community's attention.

"It's, I think, one of the most powerful stories that I've ever heard about El Paso because it truly represents not just the best of south El Paso, not just the best of Bowie High School, not just the best of our city, El Paso, but really the best of our country and really why we're here today," said District 8 City Rep. Beto O'Rourke.

O'Rourke was one of several community leaders in attendance. Also attending were El Paso Mayor John Cook, U.S. Rep. Silvestre Reyes, District 3 City Rep. Emma Acosta, Sean McGlynn, director of the city's Museums and Cultural Affairs Department; Lt. Col. Paul Hernandez, rear detachment commander of the Texas National Guard's 56th Infantry Brigade Combat Team; Julio Sanchez De Alba, the artist; and the granddaughter of Company E veteran Lorenzo Luna.

Also attending the event was a unit survivor, surviving Soldiers' family members, and more than 200 veterans, family members and other El Paso citizens.

"On behalf of this great community, a community that embraces and loves and cares about its military, we can never do enough to cherish the memory and to pay back the great sacrifices that were made on our behalf by the men of Company E and men and women in the armed services that today are carrying on that legacy," said Reyes during his speech and before the official unveiling.

The wall itself features a bronze bas-relief illustration of the men charging across the river on one side, and the names and a short story of the unit's Soldiers on the other.

"It made me feel real proud," said Ignacio Rosemond, an infantryman and platoon sergeant under company commander Capt. John L. Chapin.

"[It's important] for them to know what happened to the men of Company E," Rosemond added. "When we were training and they had parades, Company E was always the first. We had a reputation of no man falling out of a 25-mile hike."

The last speaker brought tears to the eyes of the survivors' family members, and to others there.

"You did promise you weren't going to make me cry, but you broke your word," Cook said after the speech from Norma De La Rosa, Luna's granddaughter.

"The memorial being unveiled today is, I hope, the beginning of the telling of the true story of the men of Company E - their humble beginnings, their fierce love for their families and their country - so much so, that many of them gave their lives," De La Rosa said.

"I wish my grandfather was here today to be a part of this - to see a part of his life that was never acknowledged or appreciated until today," she added. "I'm sure that this afternoon, my grandfather and his comrades are looking down today and taking this all in."

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16