by Bernd Debusmann Jr.
Given the fact that most of you out there are on coronavirus lockdown – or should be – The Velvet Rocket has decided on a much-needed update as we revive the magazine for what we hope to be a successful and exciting 2020. Let’s get ready for thinking of past adventures and preparing for new ones once we can all get on the road again.
We’ll start with a place relatively close to home for most of our North American readers: Mexico City.
Over the last few years, Mexico City – which is my hometown – has experienced a bit of a “buzz” among European and American travelers.
This is The Velvet Rocket, however, so the tourist sites don’t interest us much. But if you get a bit off the beaten track, there are endless hidden and interesting gems throughout the sprawling city.
Take this one: a monument to the ‘Aztec Eagles’ of Mexico’s Squadron 201 in World War II, the only Mexican military unit to ever see combat abroad in its history.
Although little known in the US or elsewhere in the world, Mexico did have a brief part to play in the Second World War. Following a string of attacks on Mexican-flagged vessels by German submarines in the Gulf of Mexico and off the coast of Florida that killed dozens of its citizens, Mexico declared war on the Axis powers on May 22, 1942.
Some two years later, the Mexican fighter squadron flying P-47 Thunderbolts began training first in Texas and then in California. It wasn’t until April 1945 that they were ready to fight, flying out of Clark Field on the island of Luzon on the Philippines.
Between June and the end of the war in the Pacific, the squadron flew more than 90 combat missions in the Philippines – largely in support of the US 25th infantry division and Filipino guerrillas – as well as over Formosa (now Taiwan). Seven pilots never made it home.
Sadly, for many decades the squadron’s participation in the war was kept largely quiet by Mexico’s government, anxious to avoid being seen as having fought on behalf of a country with which it had – and has – a tricky love-hate relationship.
“Avila Camacho [Mexico’s President] had to pretend that he was a real staunch guy who was for the United States, but the truth is Mexico was in a very awkward position,” Harvard University professor John Womack Jr. was quoted as saying in a 2004 LA Times article about the Aztec Eagles. “It didn’t trust the United States, but it couldn’t escape.”
“After the war, the Mexicans didn’t want to play it up,” he added.
Fortunately, those interested in the squadron can learn more at the monument in Mexico City’s Chapultepec Park.
As an interesting aside, the 201 Squadron lives on in Mexico’s modern day air force, and reportedly saw action – flying Pilatus PC-7 aircraft – against Zapatista rebels in Chiapas in 1994.
From its current base in Cozumel, the squadron, now flying T-6 Texans, has also been heavily involved in monitoring and intercepting drug flights coming into Mexico from Central and South America.