View Full Version : Proud to be a family of joiners

10-31-06, 05:59 AM
Posted on Tue, Oct. 31, 2006

Proud to be a family of joiners
10 of 11 sons have carried on the Aguirres' tradition of serving in the military.

Chuck Aguirre was 8 years old when his brothers began going off to war. First there was Hank, and then George. Ruben went to the Marines, followed by Louis and Mike. Peter went into the Army and then, during the Korean War, Chuck himself went into the Air Force, followed by Bob and Frank to the Marines, and the youngest, Joe.

When Joe went into the Army in 1963, his father said, "Well, that's the last one. That's all we got to give to our country."

Joseph and Henrietta Aguirre of St. Paul gave — and got back — 10 of their 11 sons for service to their country. The only son who didn't go, Bill, had polio, but he worked at the B-24 bomber modification plant at the downtown St. Paul airport during World War II, and his four sons and his daughter eventually would serve in the military.

"We were joiners," says Chuck. "We didn't wait to be drafted, except for Pete. He was the only draftee.''

And join these Aguirres did, this true band of brothers, these sons of Mexican immigrants. They joined all branches of the military except the Coast Guard. You can imagine the war stories that eventually were told around the family home on the East Side.

"Not really," Chuck recalls. "They didn't talk about it to us much. They may have talked to one another, but those who were in the worst of it never said much. They still don't."

And the Aguirres were in the worst of it. Hank fought through Anzio and Zalerno in Italy and was awarded the Purple Heart. George enlisted as a private and rose to lieutenant colonel. Ruben, Louis and Michael were Marines who fought on Midway, Saipan and Okinawa. Peter served in Germany.

When it was over, they all came home from World War II. And when their war was over, Chuck, Frank and Robert came home from Korea.

"From the time I was a little kid," Chuck says now, "I could see my mother cry as she walked to the train depot with each son. And I can remember how she laughed as each one came home."

So many sons serving in that war was unique, so unique that St. Paul's mayor at the time, John McDonough, came out to the Aguirre home and presented Henrietta with a special Mother's Flag for display in her window. These flags featured a star for every son who was away at war. Henrietta's had five blue stars on it.

In 1963, after Joe left for service, Henrietta was interviewed by St. Paul columnist Gareth Hiebert.

" 'The service has been good to my boys,' Mama always said. 'Look, here we are with 15 children, 11 of them boys, and they all turned out good.' "

And then the grandchildren began coming. Fifteen nephews and a niece have served; three of them in Vietnam and the rest in such places as Kuwait, Desert Storm, Iraq and Afghanistan.

"This isn't about any one of us," Chuck says. "It's about all of us. We just have gone off, four generations of us now, and served our country. How many families do that any more?"

I do not know, but I would bet my seabag there are not many. The Ramsey County Veterans Service Bureau director, Steve Lindstrom, could not recall any family having that many vets in one generation. His predecessor, Dick Kaess, who was in the office for more than 35 years, could only remember one family with five sons in the service at one time during World War II: his brothers and himself, during a bygone era when military service seemed like the right thing to do.

Of the 11 Aguirre sons, three — Hank, Ruben and Mike — are gone. Their parents, who led a home prayer vigil after supper each night that a son was away, both died in 1972. One of their four daughters is dead, and Chuck's wife has been gone for nine years. The old vet has a lot of time to think about things.

He's active in numerous veterans' organizations, and he thinks his family should be recognized for its abundance of service to country. He has written letters to two mayors, to his legislator and to his congresswoman. So far, no streets, no parks, no libraries or schools have been renamed. None of the Aguirres was a politician or a famous athlete. Not even a proclamation has been issued.

But the Aguirres are remembered where they grew up, first by the survivors of the old Canada-Grove Street area that is now one of St. Paul's Lost Neighborhoods, and then on the East Side around Cook Avenue.

"My parents came here from Mexico and were very proud to be in America," says Chuck. "Did we all do it for them?

"I don't know about my brothers, but I went into the Air Force because I was tired of digging ditches for Northern States Power Co. I didn't dig ditches in the Air Force.

"But in a much larger sense, we were all very proud to do what we did. And all of us, every one of us, served honorably, we got out and we went on with our lives.

"And I do think our parents were very proud.''

Retired Pioneer Press columnist Don Boxmeyer can be reached at donboxmeyer@comcast.net.