By Hiram Jacques
When he attempted to join the military after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941, Francisco “Frank” Xavier Jacques of the West Texas town of Sweetwater was turned away because of his lack of education; he’d only been to the third grade. But on August 18, 1942, Jacques was drafted and inducted into the Army Air Corps, where he would serve as a side areal ILO gunner.
His war experiences would transform his life forever: He’d know battle, visit places he’d never heard of before. Years later, he’d tell his children of his escapades in the service, some of them happy, others painful. This tribute is based on information provided by Jacques’ younger of two sons, Hiram Jacques, of San Jose, Calif.
Hiram says his dad used to say he qualified for training as a side areal gunner for a B-17 bomber by exaggerating his educational level and performing fairly well on an exam. Jacques was stationed in Rapid City, S.D., then Pocatello, Idaho, followed by Salt Lake City, Utah, and Pyote, Texas, before being shipped out to the UK. He’d recall several instances during training of being refused service at local barber shops and restaurants, even while wearing his uniform.
In Pyote, Jacques was saddened when he wasn’t allowed to visit his parents in Sweetwater one last time before being shipped to the UK. (The soldiers’ families couldn’t be informed of the plans.) One moonlit night, the train carried soldiers through town, but wasn’t allowed to stop. Jacques told of seeing his home from the train. With a heavy heart, he took a dog tag from his neck and threw it beside the tracks below, not knowing until much later that a small boy would find the tag and give it to his mother.
Jacques was assigned to the 8th Army Airforce, 96th Bombardment Group and 338th Bombing Squadron. He had multiple assignments: first with a B-17 ground crew in southern England, then three months of training using a .50-caliber machine gun, followed by guarding a runway with a .50-caliber machine gun. His memories of England up until the Allied invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944, were vivid: many huge tethered balloons floating above to prevent German fighters from swooping down and strafing civilians, English people huddled in the underground subways during rocket attacks. During better times at Picadilly Square, he was fascinated with people dressed in costumes of different countries. At times, large groups of American GIs would fill local pubs, drink all the available lukewarm beer, and then mischievously kick in the English umbrellas leaning outside of the pubs.
There were characters: Jacques would tell of a short dark Mexican American from Rosebud, Texas, who had a beautiful and sincere English girlfriend with a true love for her GI. The other soldiers liked her very much and treated her like a sister when she visited the camp on her bicycle. This friend told Frank he’d never return to Texas because there was nothing waiting for him back home. He married the English girl and stayed in England after the war.
The B-17 Jacques was assigned to as a side gunner was called the “Flying Fortress.” It had 10 crew members, up to 13 guns and more than eight tons of bombs. During the course of two months, Jacques flew on six bombing missions over Berlin, Germany. He was injured on his sixth, when antiaircraft flak ripped through the oxygen hoses inside the B-17. His lungs were traumatized, and he was hospitalized for one or two weeks.
Jacques was the third child of Selso Jacques and Maria Maldonado, born July 14, 1917, at the Tankersley cattle ranch a few miles north of Knickerbocker, Texas. At the time of Frank’s birth, Selso was R.F. Tankersley’s ranch foreman, and Maldonado was the niece of Tankersley’s wife, Conchita Tankersley. The Jacqueses had three sons of their own and adopted a baby girl, Eloisa Ibarra, the niece of Maria Maldonado.
They moved off the Tankersley Ranch in 1920, after R.F. died and Conchita sold the property – first to Hobbs, Texas, then to Sweetwater, Texas, where they raised crops and livestock. As young boys in Sweetwater, Frank and his brother, Trinidad, helped their father with his small farm and also drove around the neighborhoods in a truck selling milk. The family lived a vibrant life – Christian faith, hard work, musical instruments, singing, dancing and large family gatherings were integral. The elder Jacques held Thursday prayer meetings at his house for the neighborhood families and helped feed those who needed a hand.
Frank Jacques grew up in a time of rigid racial segregation: Mexican Americans and African Americans lived “on the other side of the tracks” on the west side of town; schools, movie houses, restaurants and even cemeteries were segregated. The first Mexican American school available to Jacques in 1925 was a small dilapidated building with a wood-burning stove inside that functioned as a heater. Mexican American students of various ages were grouped together as one class.
During the 1930s, the local Mexican American community raised the funds to build a small brick schoolhouse named Emilio Carranza. After WWII, one of the teachers at the school was a local Mexican American veteran, Ruperto Rodriguez, who’d survived injuries after the attack on Pearl Harbor and the Battle of Midway, and had won the Purple Heart.
Jacques joined the Works Progress Administration at age 15, and labored alongside adult men to construct Hwy 153 south of Sweetwater. He also participated in the mass slaughter and burial of farm animals in order to stabilize their market value. He had vivid memories of the Depression years, especially its dust storms and plagues of jackrabbits, which had to be rounded up and slaughtered.
Along with his brothers and father, Jacques also sheared sheep, a service the family provided for ranchers locally and in other states. This profitable business enabled the Jacqueses to buy new cars and clothes and to hire many Mexican American men from their neighborhood.
Upon his release from the hospital, Jacques was reassigned to the ground crew. Shortly before the D-Day invasion in 1944, he received heart-breaking news: His father had died in Sweetwater of pneumonia in January.
Following D-Day, Jacques went into Morocco, France, Belgium and Germany, eventually being used for general service with a rifle. He rose to the rank of Sergeant, but then dropped back to Corporal for disobeying some undisclosed orders. After three years of military service, he returned stateside and was honorably discharged Oct. 5, 1945. He was also awarded a Good Conduct Medal, Meritorious Unit Award and European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with six Bronze Stars.
The discrimination Jacques left behind in the United States was waiting for him when he got back. In Rotan, Texas, he supposedly watched as his cousin, a WWII veteran of the Pacific, was shot and killed after using a gas station bathroom against the wishes of several local Anglo men.
Jacques held several jobs in the Sweetwater area once he returned home: sheep shearer, construction worker and laborer in the loading docks and departments of local sheetrock and gypsum manufacturers. Three years after his return, he married Argentina Galán, who, in 1939, was one of the few Mexican Americans in West Texas to earn a high school education, with honors. She later earned her beautician license and worked in her profession for 30 years. After battling kidney failure on a dialysis machine for three years, Jacques died Jan. 12, 1997, but not before backpacking in the mountains of Colorado at age 65, traveling around the U. S. and Mexico, and lots of socializing and dancing. He and Argentina are buried next to one another in Sweetwater.