Quad Cities brothers Emmanuel and Eric Juarez play real-life World War II heroes and siblings Joe and Frank Sandoval in a new film premiering Veterans Day weekend.
Fourth Wall Films’ new Hero Street documentary, “An Infantryman From Hero Street” will be shown at the Putnam’s Giant Screen Theater (1717 W. 12th St., Davenport) at 2 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 12. Both Eric, 28, and Manny, 31, are thrilled to both have the opportunity to honor the sacrifice of the Sandovals of Silvis, who did not survive their 20s.
Kelly Rundle, director of the Hero Street films, said that it made perfect sense to have Manny portray Joe in the new film, since Eric was Frank in the first film in the series, 2015’s “Letters Home to Hero Street.” Rundle called the brothers “both natural performers.”
Born in Long Beach, Calif., to Mexican-American parents, Eric and Manny went to high school in Grand Island, Neb., and performed in shows together.
“We did a lot of plays in high school, musicals, show choir,” Manny said recently. “So it’s just, we grew up doing it, so it’s always fun. We enjoy it.”
Being in the new “Hero Street” together was more meaningful, knowing they’re embodying real people.
“I think this one is definitely special and then being able to do it with my brother,” Manny said. “We have a couple of scenes in there together. It was really kind of personal, you know, and we kinda got a little closer and it was definitely special.”
“We got to hang out together and we really put ourselves in their shoes,” he said.
Only a block and a half long, Second Street in Silvis (renamed Hero Street) lost six young men in World War II and two in the Korean War, more than any other street in America. Hero Street has provided over 150 service members since Mexican-American immigrants settled there in 1929.
Joseph Sandoval was the older brother to Frank (like Manny is to Eric), by about 18 months, and they both served in World War II. Frank entered the U.S. Army on Oct. 3, 1942. He served in North Burma with Co. C 209 Engineer Combat Battalion.
Frank died at 23 in Burma on June 26, 1944 (when Joe was just in France a couple of weeks after D-Day to begin his service during WWII). Joe didn’t find out about Frank being killed until sometime in September of 1944.
In 1944, Joe — married with one young son and another on the way — was drafted and shipped to Britain with the 41st Armored Infantry Regiment. His unit helped fight the second stage of the Normandy Invasion in France. In April 1945, the Allied forces reached an agreement regarding post-war Germany, and Joe and his fellow soldiers were told the war was essentially over, according to a Fourth Wall release.
Joe was killed just days later (at age 26) during a German counterattack near the Elbe River in Schönebeck, Germany. In the two weeks that followed, U.S. and Russian troops shook hands across the Elbe, and Adolf Hitler committed suicide.
“A learning experience”
Manny and Eric’s father came to Los Angeles when he was 15, and lived there 22 years. The boys were born there, and their family moved from Nebraska to the Quad Cities in 2013, when their father got a job at the Tyson Foods plant in Joslin as a member of the United Food and Commercial Workers union.
He just turned 61 and is now on disability because he had a stroke, Manny said.
“We didn’t grow up here, so it’s all been a learning experience, and we’ve been educated a lot by the community, by good people,” Manny said of stories about the eight Hero Street men.
“We’ve learned a lot about the whole story and then we were like, hey, whatever we can do to support it and get the Latino culture out there and what Latinos have done for this community,” he said, noting people have said the Juarez bros resembled Frank and Joe.
“It’s been quite the learning experience and just meeting the people, and knowing how much the family meant to Hero Street, to the community, it’s been a blessing all around,” Manny said.
Frank and Joe represented the selfless service of so many Americans at the time, he noted.
“They stepped up for their country,” Manny said. “They could have gone somewhere else, but America was the land to be able to fight for the land. And that speaks volumes.”
Eric got involved in “Letters Home to Hero Street” because of his mother, who was volunteering at Western Illinois University in Moline, where WQPT is based.
“She had caught wind of the story and I really didn’t know much of it, so she kind of like was, ‘Hey you should do this.’ I did a lot of the musicals in high school and I liked it,” he recalled on Monday.
“Letters Home” was co-produced by WQPT and Moline-based Fourth Wall Films. It focuses on the personal letters sent home from Frank Sandoval, one of the eight soldiers, who died during World War II and the Korean conflict.
“Letters Home” received a 2015 Mid-America Emmy nomination in the historical documentary category. The 25-minute film was partially funded by a grant from the Illinois Arts Council and received a Silver Eddy and the Audience award at the 2015 Cedar Rapids Independent Film Festival.
Manny and Eric Juarez did shows together in school, “so we’ve been doing this for a while and it’s kind of cool,” Eric said.
“He’s my business partner, my best friend and we’ve grown up together. We’ve been very close all of our lives,” he added. “So you know that’s what made this project even more special.”
Now in his second episode of the Hero Street story, Eric noted: “It’s been an honor just to be a part of it. Like I said, I had been an outsider and a transplant here. I didn’t know the story. And so it’s been just so awesome to meet everyone, all the family.”
“It’s just so cool, you know, the family is great and it’s an honor and especially now,” Eric said. “It’s nothing but great things.”
The brothers have a younger brother, Evan, who’s a senior at Augustana College, Rock Island.
“It’s something that we love and I feel like it just comes natural to us, because like I said we’ve done it for so long,” Eric said. “We were also in martial arts, in karate, and the form, it’s almost like a dance. It’s an art like I was doing that as a kid.
“So just acting and entertaining, I guess whatever you wanna call it, we’ve been doing for a long time,” he said, adding that they also produce music. “Whatever our form comes, I think at the end of the day, I consider myself an artist.”
Manny has done more film work than Eric, in commercials and voice-over work. Manny is currently the face of the R.I.A. Federal Credit Union.
Becoming a new father
The Putnam premiere will be all the more special, since Manny and his wife Marissa (married in June 2022) are expecting a baby girl Nov. 11.
“It is so interesting how these stories connect. Joe — whom Manny plays — was drafted and sent to France two weeks after D-Day, leaving his wife who was pregnant and little son Henry living in his parents’ home on 2nd Street,” Tammy Rundle (who is partners with her husband Kelly in Fourth Wall) said.
“His son Michael was born in September 1944. He would never meet his newborn son. Here is Manny about to experience fatherhood for the first time, with his little girl arriving very close to the premiere of the documentary. We can’t help but think about that,” she said.
Henry was born on Oct. 15, 1942, so he was over two years old when Joe died. “He does not remember his father at all,” Tammy said.
For more information on the Hero Street film series, click HERE.