After 65 years buried in a mass nameless grave, 28 Mexican nationals will finally have their names engraved on a memorial headstone.
By H. Nelson Goodson
August 19, 2013
Fresno, California - On Labor Day weekend, a simple grave site headstone marker at the Holy Cross Cemetery where the remains of 28 Mexican nationals were laid to rest without a single identifying name will be finally replace by a memorial headstone with the deceased names, according to the LA Times. The original simple bronze headstone without the deceased names has been removed and a foundation for the new headstone has been placed. The unveiling of the new 4,000 pounds, 10 foot by 4 foot headstone with names of the victims will be on September 2 at the Holy Cross Cemetery. The Roman Catholic Diocese of Fresno and a writer have been working together to raise funds for the headstone and correct a wrong by now identifying the 28 Mexican nationals. The victims were all buried in a mass grave without names.
The simple inscribe bronze marker read, "28 MEXICAN CITIZENS WHO DIED IN AN AIRPLANE ACCIDENT NEAR COALINGA, CALIFORNIA ON JAN. 28, 1948 R.I.P."
The 32 victims, including 28 Mexican nationals perished on January 28, 1948 in a chartered Airline Transport Carriers DC-3 plane crash on Diablo Range (Gatos Canyon) about 20 miles of Coalinga. The names of the pilot, Frances "Frank" Atkinson. 30, of Long Beach; his wife, Lillian "Bobbie" Atkinson, 28, a stewardess; co-pilot Marion Harlow Ewing, 32, of Balboa and immigration officer, Frank E. Chaffin of Berkeley were reported on the news, but the 28 other victims were just reported as deportees. Their names were never made public by the U.S. Immigration Service in 1948 and remained unknown at the grave site for the last 65 years.
The 28 Mexican nationals were being transported to the deportation Center at El Centro, CA for removal, some had over stayed their work authorizations and others had crossed illegally into the country, Irvin F. Wixon, the director of U.S. Immigration Service in San Francisco told Associated Press in 1948.
The incident and unknown victims inspired a poem written by Woody Guthrie, which later became song.
Last year, both Tim Z. Hernández, a writer and poet from Colorado and Carlos Rascon, the director of cemeteries for the Roman Catholic Dioceses of Fresno were instrumental in discovering the actual names of the unknown victims. Hernández had been researching to find the identities of the victims. In the dioceses registry, some of the victims names were misspell and difficult to trace. One day, he called Rascon after finding his Spanish surname in the dioceses website. Rascon told Hernández that he had the actual names of the victims.
Hernández explained, that "It was 2010, when I first came across the headlines "100 See Ship Plunge," while researching another book I was working on at the time. I read the article and quickly found myself jotting notes down for another book idea that would surely come later. By early 2011, I was neck-deep in the research around the plane crash. Initially, my creative impulse was to re-write the stories of the 28 "Deportees," to capture their lives, or re-envision them at least, through fiction. On the internet, I found a list claiming to be the names of the passengers on that flight. Some of the names seemed off mark, but still, entirely possible. I approached the Holy Cross Cemetery in early 2011 asking if they could confirm the names I had found with their records, since they are the cemetery where the remains of those passengers are buried. After a few attempts, cemetery Director, Carlos Rascon, was successful in locating records, and this is how the names were finally confirmed. Together we pondered the possibility of erecting a new headstone listing the names of the passengers, rather than leaving the headstone as it is currently: "Buried Here are 28 Mexicans Who Died in a…" "
Later Rascon told Hernández that someone had been putting flowers at the grave site every November during El Día de los Muertos or The Day of the Dead, a Mexican tradition to remember the dead. A relative who lost his grandfather and great-uncle in the 1948 fatal plane crash was later identified as Jaime Ramirez.
Ramirez entered the U.S. in 1974 at the age of 18 and worked as a dishwasher. He tried to locate where his relatives were buried, but to no avail. Ramirez was promoted as a kitchen manager and was transferred 11 years later to a restaurant in Salinas, where by chance he heard someone talking about Diablo Range, according to the LA Times. Ramirez remembered about his grandfather's death and began to research the archives. He found the grave site with the marker and ever since then has been visiting the grave site in November.
Over $10,000 dollars was raised in May for a monument to remember the 28 Mexican nationals. The monument will have the names of the 32 victims, including the full names of the 28 Mexican nationals.
Hernández is writing a book about the incident and announced that "Guests will include the family of Frank & Bobbi Atkinson (the pilot and stewardess), the family and friends of Martin Hoffman (the musician who composed the melody to the song we all know and love today), June Leigh Austin (daughter of the property owners and first responders), Deana McCloud (Executive of the Woody Guthrie Center), and the Ramirez-Paredes family (descendants of two of the Mexican passengers).
The Memorial Event is scheduled for Monday, September 2, 2013, 10:00 a.m. at Holy Cross Cemetery, 2105 West Belmont Ave., Fresno, California. Armando X. Ochoa, D.D. Bishop from the Diocese of Fresno will give an outdoor mass honoring the victims of the 1948 plane crash and the unveiling of the memorial headstone that will include all their names.
The memorial engraved headstone names will include the following Mexican nationals that were deceased, but never identified publicly by the U.S. Immigration Service in 1948.
● Miguel Negrete Álvarez
● Tomás Aviña de Gracia
● Francisco Llamas Durán
● Santiago García Elizondo
● Rosalio Padilla Estrada
● Tomás Padilla Márquez
● Bernabé López Garcia
● Salvador Sandoval Hernández
● Severo Medina Lára
● Elías Trujillo Macias
● José Rodriguez Macias
● Luis López Medina
● Manuel Calderón Merino
● Luis Cuevas Miranda
● Martin Razo Navarro
● Ignacio Pérez Navarro
● Román Ochoa Ochoa
● Ramón Paredes Gonzalez
● Guadalupe Ramírez Lára
● Apolonio Ramírez Placencia
● Alberto Carlos Raygoza
● Guadalupe Hernández Rodríguez
● Maria Santana Rodríguez
● Juan Valenzuela Ruiz
● Wenceslao Flores Ruiz
● José Valdívia Sánchez
● Jesús Meza Santos
● Baldomero Marcas Torres
May they continue to Rest In Peace.