Maggie Van Ostrand
yesterday, I had never heard of Charlie Foster. Today, I'm writing
about him. One of the benefits of being a writer is the fact-checking,
because you can end up with provocative information. That's how I
found out about Charlie Foster.
An ace flier is defined in the dictionary as a fighter pilot who has
destroyed five or more enemy aircraft. Charlie Foster was a World
War II ace with the 201st Fighter Squadron. What's more, Charlie's
heroism beyond the call of duty netted him a Congressional Medal of
Yet no one made a movie about Charlie Foster, the way they did about
Audie Murphy, a famed Medal of Honor-winning World War II hero, in
To Hell and Back. No HBO miniseries about Charlie was made by Tom
Hanks and Steven Spielberg the way they made Band of Brothers, the
one about WWII's 101st Airborne Division's Easy Company. No Hollywood
studio made an Oscar winning film about the 201st, as they did about
the Civil War's first all-black volunteer company in 1989's Glory.
But in its way, Charlie's tale is as special as those famous stories
of heroic actions.
What makes Charlie's story unique is that his real name isn't Charlie
Foster, it's Carlos Faustinos, a Mexican citizen. Carlos fought beside
American airmen in the Pacific Theater and was a member of the elite
"Esquadron Aereo de Caza 201," also known as the Fighting 201st.
Not only did this information surprise me, but so did the fact that
Mexico declared war on the Axis powers on June 11, 1942. Imagine that.
Can't you just see kind, agricultural Mexico declaring war on the
Big Bad Wolves Hirohito, Mussolini and Hitler? But Mexico did indeed
declare war, and they put their men where their collective mouth was.
It was at that time Mexico organized the 201st Fighter Squadron, a
select group of Mexican pilots, including Carlos Foustinos. Thirty-five
officers and 300 enlisted men were trained in Mexico, then given additional
flight training as P-47 fighter squadron at Pocatello Army Air Base
in Idaho, and were then attached to the 58th Fighter Group in the
Philippines where they began combat operations. They wiped out machine
gun nests, dropped 181 tons of bombs and fired 153,000 rounds of ammunition,
acquitting themselves well and bravely. Seven of their pilots were
killed in action.
Fighting 201st wasn't the only heroic group of Mexicans. In a town
called Silvis, just west of Chicago, runs a street once named Second
Street. It's not much of a street, not even two blocks long, muddy
in spring, icy in winter, dusty in summer. On this single street,
105 men participated in World War II, Korea and Vietnam. It's the
street where Joe Gomez, Peter Macias, Johnny Muños, Tony Pompa, Claro
Soliz, and Frank, Joseph, and William Sandoval grew up together. They
worked for the railroad, like their fathers who had emigrated from
Mexico. These young men, raised to revere freedom, went to war without
The two Sandoval families alone sent thirteen; six from one family;
seven from the other. According to the U.S. Defense Department, this
little street contributed more men to military service than any other
place of comparable size in the United States, standing alone in American
In a letter to Frank Sandoval, Claro Soliz described Second Street
as: ". . . . Really not much, just mud and ruts, but right now to
me it is the greatest street in the world." He never saw it again.
Not one of these boys came home alive.
In honor of their supreme sacrifice, a monument listing the name of
each man now stands in Silvis, Illinois. Second Street has been officially
renamed Hero Street USA. Next time you're in the mid West, you might
want to visit this street of heroes just to say thank you.
Maybe these stories weren't sensational enough to be covered by CNN,
but they happened just the same.
It never ceases to amaze me how many people don't know of the Mexican
involvement in WW II. Extending a helping hand and putting their money
where their mouth is, as Mexico did, is something everyone should
be proud of. I know I am.