Forgotten Latinos of World War 2 - Part 1: Mexico
Latin America is often overlooked in history books about the Second World War. Typically people will remember that Argentina maintained a relationship with Germany, and also remember the Battle of River Plate. There were only two Latin American countries that significantly participated in battle during WW2 and provided people and materiel (albeit mostly from US stock) for the Allied effort: Brazil from South America, and Mexico from North/Central America
Mexico lost cargo ships off its coast to German U-boats, leading to a declaration of war against the Axis. It took some convincing by the United States for Mexico to join the fight, particularly because most Mexicans still held negative views of the US due to recent wars between the two countries. The US leveraged their relationship with Brazil to convince Mexico that fighting the war was the right thing for a Latin American country to do. The US already had Brazil in the European Theater, and they wanted to get an additional commitment for the war efforts in the Pacific, and Mexico was the right candidate.
Mexico was provided with aircraft for the patrol and protection of their coastlines. Notably, the US provided the P-47D Thunderbolt for their primary fighter unit, the 201st Fighter Squadron, also known as the “Aztec Eagles”. The Mexican fighter pilots trained in Texas.
The Aztec Eagles were deployed to the Pacific Theater, and they participated in ground attack operations in support of the Philippines’ Liberation. They operated from Clark Field in the main Island of Luzon, North of Manila. Their aircraft had both United States Army Air Force (USSAF) and Mexican Air Force markings. The 201st Fighter Squadron was credited with several targets damaged or destroyed on the ground. It is said that their first few missions were very long, and flown under the harshest heat conditions and battle stress; by the time the pilots returned, they were dehydrated, and had to be basically hoisted out of their cockpits.
Some of the Mexican fighter pilots earned (American) Air Medals, indicating they did their share of combat missions over the Pacific, with 96 combat missions. When they returned to Mexico at the end of the War, they were received as heroes, and are still viewed that way today, as the only Mexican military unit to ever fight outside of Mexico.
Read more below:
Remembering the Aztec Eagles (USAF Article): http://www.nationalmuseum.af.mil/news/story.asp?id=123192836
Surviving Aztec Eagles (US Dept. of Defense Article): http://www.defense.gov/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=28282