RIO GRANDE COUNTY— Rio Grande County Museum is continuing the research on Rio Grande County’s military veterans starting with the Civil War veterans who helped to establish Rio Grande County in the 1870s and 1880s, World War I veterans and now those who were killed in the line of duty in World War II. This project has become a major part of the research being done by the staff.
At the present time, 46 men who lost their lives in World War II are being researched. The emphasis presently is for those who are buried on foreign soil or missing in action or were not able to be recovered to be returned home to their families.
There are six who are memorialized at the Court of the Missing at the Honolulu, Hawaii. These men are PFC Clarence Ary, PFC George Chacon, Sgt. Howard O. Darby, SSGT Cecil Keith Decker, Col. James D. Garcia and S1 Virgil Off.
At the Wall of the Missing at Manila are SSGT Warren G. Card, PFC George T. Darby, 1st Lt. Donald G. Richardson, Pvt. Clarence Schlichting and Jerry H. Zeiler. Many of these men were in aircraft that was shot down by enemy fire or went down with their ship without any recovery.
PFC George Chacon was buried at sea after dying from wounds in the invasion of Tarawa. He was only 19 years old. Pvt. Clarence Schlichting may have been on the Bataan Death March. Jerry Zeiler may have been the first casualty from Rio Grande County when the destroyer, The Pillsbury, was sunk in the Indian Ocean. He was Missing in Action from March 1, 1942 until he was declared dead Nov. 25, 1945 when the Japanese military records were found to determine what happened. Howard and George T. Darby are brothers who deaths were very close together. Lt. Richardson’s young widow, Twila Fox Richardson, joined the Marines after her husband was lost at sea.
There are several who are buried in the American Cemeteries in Europe. Pvt. Armando Atencio is buried in the Sicily-Rome American Cemetery. Second Lt. Leslie Walker is in the Lorraine American Cemetery in France. Carl Divine is in the Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery in Belgium. The Normandy American Cemetery in France is the final resting place for Pvt. Arnold J. Martinez. Pvt Martinez was a paratrooper who died in the D-Day invasion. PFC Okey C. Dean who was in the 10th Mountain Division, Cpl. Wilbur D. Kinsey and PFC. Ernest (Chili) Martinez are buried in the Florence American Cemetery in Italy. PFC Hugh Denton was originally buried in Saipan, but the family was able to bring him home and he is buried in the Del Norte Cemetery beside his father. The veterans’ stories are all being documented and will be in the permanent document collection of Rio Grande County Museum.
These men’s stories are just the beginning of the research for local military heroes in World War II. The museum would like to have information on these men as and their families and if there are any descendants or relatives left in the area. All of the men who died will have a story written for each of them. Ralph Nash who wrote a booklet on the men has recorded many of the names of the men who were drafted or enlisted.
A committee may be assembled to work on getting these men, the World War I, Korean War, Viet Nam War and the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts documented. Plaques and a memorial hallway within the museum are some of the ideas for the tribute to them and their families. Monetary donations as well as artifacts can be made to the project.
For more information, please contact the Rio Grande County Museum at 719-657-2847 or stop by the museum at 580 Oak Street, Del Norte. Check out the museum’s Facebook page also for ongoing information.