As post-production and fundraising continue for the latest Hero Street documentary, two films in the ambitious series — “Riding the Rails to Hero Street” and “A Bridge too Far from Hero Street” by award-winning filmmakers Kelly and Tammy Rundle — will screen at the Silvis Public Library, 806 1st Ave., Silvis, on Friday, Oct. 15 at 3 p.m.
The program is free to the public and includes a discussion with the Moline-based filmmakers following each 26-minute film.
“Riding the Rails to Hero Street,” part one in the Rundles’ Hero Street documentary series, tells the story of the immigrants’ journey from Mexico to Cook’s Point in Davenport, Holy City in Bettendorf, and the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad train yards and boxcar homes in Silvis.
The families experienced both acceptance and discrimination in their new communities. Around the time of the great depression, the families were removed from the rail yards and some moved box cars or built new homes on 2nd Street in Silvis. Only a block and a half long, the street lost six young men in World War II and two in the Korean War, more than any other street in America. Hero Street, as it is now known, has provided over 100 service members since World War II.
“A Bridge Too Far From Hero Street” follows William Sandoval’s journey from a boxcar in Silvis, to a battle in a forest in Holland. Born into an impoverished family of 12, Willie performed migrant farm work alongside his parents and siblings until his father took a job with the Rock Island Railroad. The Sandovals and other Mexican immigrants made their homes in boxcars in the rail yard. As a young man Willie became an accomplished boxer.
Answering a call to service following the attack on Pearl Harbor, Willie became an Army paratrooper. He survived several battles over the next two years (Salerno, Anzio), before he was killed at age 21 in October 1944 following his involvement in the largest air assault in history — Operation Market Garden. An interview with military historian John C. McManus, the author of “September Hope: The American Side of a Bridge Too Far,” highlights Willie’s participation. Marc Wilson, the author of “Hero Street, USA,” is also featured.
Eight sons of Mexican immigrants from the block-and-a-half long 2nd Street in Silvis were killed in combat in World War II and Korea. The street was renamed Hero Street in 1968.
The Rundles’ “Hero Street” eight-part documentary series (which originated with the 2015 “Letters Home to Hero Street,” a co-production with WQPT) explores the personal and family sagas behind each of the eight heroes and tells the compelling true story of an ongoing effort to memorialize them. The Rundles partnered with WQPT-PBS to produce the Mid-America Emmy-nominated “Letters Home to Hero Street” which tells hero Frank Sandoval’s story and was the first film created for the series.
The newest film in the series, “An Infantryman from Hero Street” (part 4), tells hero Joseph Sandoval’s story and is slated for release near Memorial Day 2022. Willie Sandoval was not related to brothers Joe and Frank, two of the heroes also killed during World War II (whose stories are dramatized in the new “Infantryman”).
The “Hero Street” film series has received partial funding, through its fiscal sponsor the Moline Foundation, the Regional Development Authority (RDA), Illinois Arts Council, Illinois Humanities, Humanities Iowa, National Endowment for the Humanities, Quad City Arts, Quad Cities Community Foundation, LULAC Iowa, Mexican American Veterans Association, the City of Silvis, and individual contributors.
Honoring a key heroine in the family
The Rundles and the Hero Street family have been mourning the recent death of Georgia (Sandoval) Herrera, Sept. 26. 2021 — 76 years after her brother Joe (who was killed at age 26), and 77 years after brother Frank (who died in 1944 at age 24).
Marc Wilson, author of “Hero Street USA,” posted on Facebook Oct. 5:
Georgia was 12 years old in 1944 when the Army sent word that her older brother, Frank, had been killed in action in Burma. “Please do not picture the worst, for he went quickly, perhaps not knowing it,” Army chaplain Lloyd Kessler wrote to her parents, Eduvigues and Angelina Sandoval.
Georgia and her family learned less than a year later that her oldest brother, Joseph, was killed in action in Germany in April 1945, killed in combat the day after his unit was told the war was over.
After each brother’s death, Georgia heard the haunting, unending wails of her mother. After Joe died, her mother forbade playing the family radio.
The radio had been a present to her from Joe. He was dead, so was the radio. Their house would be forever in silent mourning. “In my mind — Georgia Sandoval Herrera, who died September 26 at the age of 89 at her home in East Moline – is one of the unheralded heroines of Hero Street U.S.A.,” Wilson wrote.
He came to know Herrera because she was a thorough record-keeper.
She kept thorough records about her parents, who fled from the Mexican Revolution in the late 1910s to Silvis where he worked for the Rock Island Railroad at its 900-acre rail yard.
“In my book, Hero Street U.S.A., I used – with extensive help from Georgia — the story of Eduvigues and Angelina to tell the story of some Mexicans refugees who fled to the United States to avoid civil war, disease and starvation,” Wilson wrote. “By some accounts, a million Mexicans died in the war, a million died of disease and starvation, and a million fled north to the United States. Eduvigues and Angelina – and other Mexican refugees — lived in box cars in the Rock Island Railroad’s yard in Silvis.”
Although two of their sons died in combat fighting for the U.S. Army, Eduvigues and Angelina weren’t allowed to become Americans, and had to annually register as “aliens” until they died.
Georgia also kept extensive records of her brothers: Frank, who was machine-gunned to death in Burma, and Joseph, who was killed in combat Germany – one of the last men killed in the European conflict in World War II. Joe died the same day Franklin D. Roosevelt died (in 1945), and two weeks before Hitler committed suicide in his Berlin bunker.
“But it’s not the records I most remember as I remember Georgia. What I most remember was a seemingly off-handed comment she made on a May day years ago,” Wilson recalled. “We were walking Hero Street just before a Memorial Day ceremony. We walked past the Hero Street Memorial and reached the Hero Street Memorial Park, where a general and other officials were preparing to speak to a sizable crowd. There was a military honor guard ready to fire a 21-gun salute. A bugler prepared to play Taps. American flags surrounded us.
“Quite a day,” I told Georgia. “Lots of honors and pageantry. Lots to be proud of.”
She looked at me, shook her head, and said, “You need to remember: They didn’t want to be heroes.”
She paused before adding: “They wanted to come home to their family and friends, to their mothers and fathers, and in some cases their children. All this ceremony is fine, but we didn’t want gold stars – we wanted Joe and Frank back home. We wanted all the boys to come home.”
All but one Sandoval sibling – her older brother Tanilo – have died. He lives in East Moline, just a couple of blocks from Hero Street. He’s in his mid-90s now. He has problems with his balance, and he’s nearly deaf. But his mind is sharp, Wilson said.
Of the people who knew the eight heroes as anything other than stone faces in a monument, only Tanilo and a few others still live. “When I think of Hero Street, it won’t be the monument or the memorials that I most remember,” Wilson wrote. “Instead, I will most remember Georgia’s words: “they didn’t want to be heroes…We wanted all the boys to come home.”
Fundraising needed for next film
The Rundles are in post-production on An Infantryman From Hero Street, and are working to raise $3,500 to support the editing phase for this project.
Joe Sandoval’s brother Frank first went off to war in 1942. In 1944, Joe — married with two young children –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.
News of his brother Frank’s death near the Irrawaddy River in Burma reached Joe by letter. In April 1945, the Allies reached an agreement regarding post-war Germany, and Joe and his fellow soliders were told the war was essentially “over”. On April 14, 1945, Joe was killed during a German counter attack near the Elbe River in Schönebeck, Germany. Two weeks later, Adolf Hitler committed suicide.
An Infantryman From Hero Street also features commentary by Captain Kevin Braafladt, First Army Support Command Historian; Dr. Yurida Ramirez, Professor of Latin American Studies, University of Illinois-Urbana; author Marc Wilson “Hero Street, USA”; and members of the Joe and Frank Sandoval family, including Tanilo Sandoval, Georgia Sandoval Herrera, and Irene Mawson.
“We are losing our WWII veterans along with people who remember that era and the Hero Street heroes, at an alarming rate,” according to the series website, herostreetmovie.com. “Time to preserve the stories of these brave men and women is growing short. It is essential to preserve the Hero Street story.”
The Rundles have filmed on-camera interviews with about a dozen elderly siblings of the Hero Street Eight (including Georgia) and others with direct memories of these brave young men. They continue to do interviews when people are available, with or without funding in-hand.
They got two grant awards for “An Infantryman from Hero Street” — Illinois Humanities and Quad City Arts, and additional grant opportunities are very limited. Contributions from individuals interested in supporting the project are equally important. To contribute, visit https://docublogger.typepad.com/hero-street-movie/community-funding-campaign.html.