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Origin: Plane Wreck At Los Gatos (background)

11 Dec 01 - 10:41 PM (#608147)
Subject: Plane Wreck At Los Gatos
From: GUEST,Spirit Whale

Hi Folks! Can anyone there tell me the reason for the origin of the song "Plane Wreck At Los Gatos"? Woody Guthrie wrote it...I sing in on occasion and I would like to know the reason for the origin. If someone knows...please let me know. You may contact me at
I thank you for your time and efforts.

Click for related thread
also here

11 Dec 01 - 10:48 PM (#608150)
Subject: RE: Help: Plane Wreck At Los Gatos
From: Amergin

Well there was an airplane crash in los gatos canyon that was carrying migrant workers back over the mexican border...while the radio broadcast of the event named every member of the crew, they just said it was carrying "mexican nationals" in regards to the passengers...

11 Dec 01 - 10:53 PM (#608151)
Subject: RE: Help: Plane Wreck At Los Gatos
From: catspaw49

First, go to THIS THREAD (click) An now I'll go find the Woody site with some info too, although I think it may be linked on that thread.


11 Dec 01 - 11:07 PM (#608153)
Subject: RE: Help: Plane Wreck At Los Gatos
From: kj...

...well i knew some stuff about this song.....but what an amazing thread it spawned!!......

...thanks Spaw for the blue clicky (i'm just larnin')


12 Dec 01 - 01:07 AM (#608190)
Subject: RE: Help: Plane Wreck At Los Gatos
From: catspaw49

I think you'll find that's a real classic kind of Mudcat thread along with linking to a couple others at the top. The other site I mentioned reall doesn't add much, but it's worth a read too.....Click Here


12 Dec 01 - 07:33 AM (#608248)
Subject: RE: Help: Plane Wreck At Los Gatos
From: Suffet

To briefly summarize, a chartered airplane crashed on a hillside near Los Gatos Canyon, not far from Coalinga, California, on January 28, 1948. All 32 people aboard died. The wire service dispatches gave the names of the pilot, copliot, cabin attendant, and immigration agent aboard, but not the names of the 28 Mexican farmworkers being deported. Some had entered the USA illegally, while others had overstayed temporary work permits that expired when their work contracts ended.

Woody Guthrie heard the story on the radio and/or read it in the newspaper, and then wrote the song. His original tune, which he most likely performed at a Peoples' Artists hoot in New York, was uninteresting. It has been described as a nearly monotonous chant.

About 10 years later a young folksinger named Martin Hoffman wrote a new tune, the one with which we are all familiar. First Cisco Houston and then Judy Collins recorded "Deportees" using Hoffman's tune, and the song quickly became an standard among American folkies.

It is doubtful that Woody Guthrie ever sang the Martin Hoffman tune -- he certainly was too far gone from Huntington's disease to sing it in public by then -- but it is well known that others sang it to him, particularly when he was out on weekend passes from Greystone Hospital in New Jersey.

---- Steve

12 Dec 01 - 07:58 AM (#608254)
Subject: RE: Help: Plane Wreck At Los Gatos
From: catspaw49

To be pedantic, it's "Deportee"

E-mail sent this AM


12 Dec 01 - 07:03 PM (#608646)
Subject: RE: Help: Plane Wreck At Los Gatos
From: GUEST,Spirit Whale

HOLY TOLEDO! I kinda opened up a can of worms here! No big deal though! Gosh! Thanks folks! I really appreciate the efforts that you put into this! I kinda had a hunch the song dealt with an actual plane wreck I wrote to the folks at the information center and the local newspaper in Los Gatos. I am hoping they will send up a clipping, or a copy of the article on the wreck. I am always interested in heading historical things, especially when they center around Folk Music. Anyway...thanks a whole bunch for this information. I wish all of you a joyous holiday season and a prosperous new year!

13 Dec 01 - 06:41 AM (#608875)
Subject: RE: Help: Plane Wreck At Los Gatos
From: Suffet

To the really pedantic it's Plane Wrck at Los Gatos Canyon.

Seriously, though, Los Gatos Canyon is not near Los Gatos. The nearest town in Coalinga.

---- Steve

13 Dec 01 - 05:13 PM (#609232)
Subject: RE: Help: Plane Wreck At Los Gatos
From: Joe Offer

Hi, Spirit Whale. I've been researching this song for five years or more. In the other threads, I posted copies of newspaper articles about the wreck. My quest started after I contacted the library Los Gatos, California, about this song. They said they didn't have any information, so I started digging. Turns out even Pete Seeger had misinformation about this incident (he said it happened in Mexico). It took place about ten miles northwest of Coalinga, in far western Fresno County, California - in the Coastal Range of mountains. Check the other threads for full information.
-Joe Offer-

Click for related thread
also here

13 Dec 01 - 05:29 PM (#609250)
Subject: RE: Help: Plane Wreck At Los Gatos
From: catspaw49

Uh, Joe? Is there some reason you linked the same thread I linked which also links to your first one? Should I just not bother or what?


13 Dec 01 - 06:05 PM (#609275)
Subject: RE: Help: Plane Wreck At Los Gatos
From: Joe Offer

Nope, Spaw. You done good, and you did it two days before I got to this thread.
I'm working on something different. As I come across them, I'm trying to provide cross-links to related threads. I put the crosslinks in a consistent location - at the bottom of the first message in a thread. Yeah, sometimes those crosslinks duplicate the efforts of other Mudcatters - but I think it's helpful to have the additional links in a consistent location. I'd also like to figure out a way to nudge the discussion over to the original threads, rather than duplicating previous efforts and splitting the information.
I posted my crosslinks in my own message for two reasons:
1. I had them.
2. It appeared the requestor had not read the threads you linked to, which contained transcripts of the newspaper articles and explained that the wreck did not take place in Los Gatos.

13 Dec 01 - 06:35 PM (#609298)
Subject: RE: Help: Plane Wreck At Los Gatos
From: catspaw49

Sorry Joe, I guess I'm having one of those days or it's the male menopause, or I'm a paranoid schizophrenic or something..........I've seen the efforts you've put in on cross linking and I really appreciate both you and them.


13 Dec 01 - 09:56 PM (#609410)
Subject: RE: Help: Plane Wreck At Los Gatos
From: Amergin

well...spaw...i just thought it was your time of the month....

15 Dec 01 - 09:38 PM (#610760)
Subject: RE: Help: Plane Wreck At Los Gatos
From: GUEST,Spirit Whale

Hi again good folks! From what I can determine...there was a wreck and the way it looks to me is...the Pilot, Co-Pilot and the Cabin Attendant had names. The 28 other people all had the same name: "Mexican National". Hummm? I wonder if the actual names were ever released? I e-mailed both the Los Gatos newspaper and their information center at their city hall. So far I've not heard from them. I wonder if this is maybe something they would rather not discuss? Maybe a black mark in their city history?

16 Dec 01 - 02:41 AM (#610864)
Subject: RE: Help: Plane Wreck At Los Gatos
From: Coyote Breath

Back in '48, the omission of the names of the Mexican nationals struck Woody Guthrie as wrong, it depersonalized what was a deeply personal tragedy for the friends and families of the passengers. Woody saw the racism in those omissions and his song focuses on that.

Now lets fast forward to the present. You all realize, I'm sure, that today it is rare that a list of victims of air airline crash is published! I am not sure if these lists are omitted due to a sensitivity towards the survivors on the part of the airline, an act designed to protect the airlines legal interests or the news media not wishing to take up valuable advert space. Hmmmm.


16 Dec 01 - 02:48 AM (#610868)
Subject: RE: Help: Plane Wreck At Los Gatos
From: Amergin

yeah but if you can find the flight lists...when this occurred they did not even bother with that...

16 Dec 01 - 05:40 AM (#610887)
Subject: RE: Help: Plane Wreck At Los Gatos
From: John MacKenzie

Slight thread slip here Spaw, but your remark about male menopause reminded me of one of Billy Connolly's cruellest put downs to a big mouth in the audience,(Yep I know , yet another thread crossed!) " Hey pal, does your mouth by any chance bleed every 28 days?!!!"

16 Dec 01 - 08:50 AM (#610924)
Subject: RE: Help: Plane Wreck At Los Gatos
From: GUEST,Duke

I've been singing this song for 35 years or so and never knew any of this information. I just went with what the lyrics said.

Glad I found this place. I'll drop in more often.

16 Dec 01 - 10:52 AM (#610977)
Subject: RE: Help: Plane Wreck At Los Gatos
From: Suffet

Here's the newspaper article that Joe Offer found.

From the New York Times, January 29, 1948

California Victims Include 28 Mexican Workers Who Were Being Deported

FRESNO, Calif., Jan. 28 [1948] (AP)

A chartered Immigration Service plane crashed and burned in western Fresno County this morning, killing twenty-eight Mexican deportees, the crew of three and an Immigration guard.

Irving F. Wixon, director of the Federal Immigration Service at San Francisco, said that the Mexicans were being flown to the deportation center at El Centro, Calif., for return to their country.

The group included Mexican nationals who entered the United States Illegally, and others who stayed beyond duration of work contracts in California, he added. All were agricultural workers.

The crew was identified as Frank Atkinson, 32 years old, of Long Beach, the pilot; Mrs. Bobbie Atkinson, his wife, stewardess, 28; and Marion Ewing of Balboa, copilot, 33.

Long Beach airport officials said that Mr. Atkinson, formerly of Rochester, N.Y., had logged more than 1,700 hours flying time as a wartime member of the Air Transport Command. The guard was identified as Frank E. Chaffin of Berkeley.

The plane, which was chartered from Airline Transport Carriers of Burbank, was southbound from the Oakland airport, when it crashed in view of some 100 road camp workers.

Foreman Frank V. Johnson said that it "appeared to explode and a wing fell off" before it plummeted to the ground. A number of those in the plane appeared to jump or fall before the aircraft hit the earth, he added.

The wreckage was enveloped in flames when the fuel tanks ignited. Not until the fire died down were rescuers able to get near the plane. By then, there was nothing to be done but to extricate the bodies.

The scene of the crash is in the mountains about twenty miles west of Coalinga, seventy-five miles from here in the rough coastal area.

16 Dec 01 - 06:27 PM (#611214)
Subject: Deportee - Plane Wreck At Los Gatos Canyon
From: Joe Offer

Aw, I guess it doesn't do much good. It's obvious that Spirit Whale can't read.

The wreck was in Los Gatos Canyon outside the small city of Coalinga, which is about 105 miles southeast of Los Gatos. I don't believe that Coalinga has a newspaper, or that it had one in 1948 (other than the weekly Coalinga Record - don't know how old it is). The "local" newspaper for the area is the Fresno Bee (Fresno is the county seat, although it's a long way from Coalinga). I wasn't able to check the Fresno newspaper, but our Sacramento Bee is published by the same company and often uses the same writers. There was good, front-page coverage of the accident in both the Sacramento Bee and the Sacramento Union, on the afternoon of the day of the crash, and on the following day (although none of the articles gave names for the deportees). The third day following, the papers were filled with news of the death of Mahatma Gandhi, and the Plane Wreck at Los Gatos Canyon was forgotten until Woody Guthrie wrote a song about it.

The newspaper articles came from United Press and Associated Press, not from local writers - although the California newspapers contained many details that were edited out of the shorter form of the same article that was published in the New York Times (above) - this is the article that Woody Guthrie probably read.

There's no evidence of a cover-up or of any particular local embarrassment. It is still the usual practice of American newspapers to identify only local victims of disasters - victims from places afar are less often mentioned by name. It is sad that these people were far from home when they died, but I don't think it's fair to raise an outcry about the fact that the newspaper didn't publish their names. I don't think that's the point of the song. Publishing their names wouldn't have helped a thing - the tragedy in it all is that these people were unknown and unwanted, and there was no reason to publish their names. Farm labor is still one of the most demeaning jobs in the United States, and yet we are all dependent upon the people who do this work.
Is this the best way we can grow our big orchards?
Is this the best way we can raise our good crops?
To fall like dry leaves and rot on our topsoil
And be known by no names except "deportees"
-Joe Offer-

16 Dec 01 - 07:01 PM (#611228)
Subject: RE: Help: Plane Wreck At Los Gatos
From: Joe Offer

Oh, well... I guess I shouldn't get peeved about requests for information on this song. Every request goads me to look a little deeper. Pulitzer's Coalinga Record newspaper says
In 1948, the crash of what was then the most disastrous airline crash in California history was handled nation wide completely through the offices of the Coalinga Record.
I wrote to the newspaper and the Coalinga Public Library this afternoon to see what they can dig up.
-Joe Offer-

    Note from Joe Offer, 20 March 2012: I did receive a very nice letter from the the retired editor of the Coalinga Record. He was a young reporter for the newspaper in 1948, and he's the one who covered the crash. His story was picked up by the Associated Press, and Woody Guthrie probably read a summary of that story. I meant to contact the man again, but I got married about the time I received his letter, and then my daughter had a terrible accident in San Diego and I misplaced his letter forgot about it until years later, when it was too late to feel right about contacting him. I'm in Coalinga this evening, and I'm wondering if he's still alive. He certainly was gracious to write to me.

16 Dec 01 - 07:26 PM (#611238)

Joe wrote:

"It is still the usual practice of American newspapers to identify only local victims of disasters - victims from places afar are less often mentioned by name."

In 1992, in the aftermath of the Rodney King decision, 57 people died in the Los Angeles riots - all local citizens and, presumably, all black. None of their names appeared in the Los Angeles Times.

Here's a song about it:


1. Los Angeles showed the rage of the poor
In nineteen and ninety two
Fifty seven people lost their lives
And the press didn't even tell us who


Who were the fifty seven?
We don't even know their names
Who were the fifty seven?
That died when the city was in flames?

2. Some might have been in the squads of police
But it wouldn't have been the same
The press would have told us everything
And everyone would surely know their names

3. Some might have been in the fire brigade

4. Some might have been in the national guard

5. Some might have been in the white middle class


Some might have been in the squads of police
Some might have been in the fire brigade
Some might have been in the national guard
Some might have been in the white middle class
But it wouldn't have been the same

Bev and Jerry

16 Dec 01 - 07:33 PM (#611241)
Subject: RE: Help: Plane Wreck At Los Gatos
From: Joe Offer

...and speaking of unnamed people, who wrote "WHO WERE THE FIFTY SEVEN?" - O cookieless Bev & Jerry?
Is the tune familiar?
-Joe Offer-

16 Dec 01 - 07:39 PM (#611248)
Subject: LYR ADD: Plane Wreck At Los Gatos
From: JohnInKansas

Coincidentally, while indexing old issues of SingOut!, I came across a Spanish version of the chorus to "Plane Wreck...," in Sing Out!, Vol 45 # 1, Spring 2001. Original source unknown.
I don't find any Spanish lyrics in Digitrad, so post it in case someone is interested.


Adios a mi Juan, adios Rosalita
Adios mis amigos, Jesus y Maria
No tendran nombres al viajar en el gran avion
No les considran mas que deportados.


16 Dec 01 - 07:57 PM (#611268)
Subject: RE: Help: Plane Wreck At Los Gatos
From: Joe Offer

You betcha, John - please post the lyrics and include any background information you can find.
-Joe Offer-

16 Dec 01 - 10:25 PM (#611338)
Subject: RE: Help: Plane Wreck At Los Gatos
From: JohnInKansas

Joe -

The chorus above was the only thing in the cited Sing Out! column. No background given there.


19 Dec 01 - 01:54 AM (#612918)
Subject: RE: Help: Plane Wreck At Los Gatos
From: Bev and Jerry

With our cookie restored, we must confess to authorship. The tune is not familiar to anyone, even to us at this time. But, we have it written down so it's not lost forever.

Bev and Jerry

10 Mar 08 - 04:12 PM (#2284616)
Subject: Spanish Version?
From: GUEST,Alastair Moock

I seem to be about 7 years late on this thread, but does anyone know of a recorded spanish version of Deportees? I've heard rumours they exist but I haven't tracked any down yet. (Thanks to John for the Sing Out chorus translation, which is what got me here).

I'm doing some workshops on Woody in a school this week and one of my classes is during the spanish class block. We're going to do some writing games around Deportees (in english) and discuss immigration, but I'd love to find a spanish version that I could play for them.

10 Mar 08 - 04:20 PM (#2284622)
Subject: RE: Help: Plane Wreck At Los Gatos
From: Peace

The following lyrics were posted by John in Kansas about seven years ago on another thread. Note: it's the chorus. I have had no luck finding a translation for the stanzas.

Adios a mi Juan, adios Rosalita
Adios mis amigos, Jesus y Maria
No tendran nombres al viajar en el gran avion
No les considran mas que deportados.

10 Mar 08 - 04:32 PM (#2284638)
Subject: RE: Help: Plane Wreck At Los Gatos
From: PoppaGator

Whether or not we come up with Spanish-language lyrics for the verses, it would be great to hear "Deportee" performed with Mexican-style intrumental accompaniment, like conjunto-style squeezebox and maybe even mariachi horns.

21 Dec 12 - 07:38 AM (#3455273)
Subject: RE: Help: Plane Wreck At Los Gatos
From: Suffet


Here is some additional information regarding the January 28, 1948, plane crash west of Coalinga, California, that inspired Woody Guthrie's song Deportees. I compiled this information from several sources, which I then cross checked to weed out errors such as misspellings, duplications, and omissions. In a few instances, I found alternative spellings for what was clearly the name of the same person, so I arbitrarily chose the spelling that was more frequent for that person.

All 32 people aboard were killed, including the pilot Frank C. Atkinson, the cabin attendant and pilot's wife Bobbie Atkinson, the copilot Marion H. Ewing, and US Imigration Service security guard Frank H. Chaffin.

Here, too, are the names of the 28 agricultural workers being deported to Mexico. All 28 were buried in a common grave in Holy Cross Cemetery in Fresno, California.

Those 12 whose remains were positively identified were Ramon Perez, Jesus Santos, Ramon Portello, James A. Guardaho, Guadalupe Ramirez, Julio Barron, Jose Macias, Martin Navarro, Apolonio Placentia, Santiago Elisandro, Salvadore Sandoval, and Manuel Calderon.

The 16 passengers whose remains were too badly burned and thus could not be identified were Francisco Duran, Rosalio Estrado, Bernabe Garcia, Severo Lara, Elias Macias, Tomas Marquez, Juan Martinez, Louis Medina, Manuel Merino, Luis Mirando, Ygnacio Navarro, Roman Ochoa, Alberto Raygoza, Guadalupe Rodriguez, Maria Rodriguez, and Juan Ruiz.

Rest in peace.

--- Steve Suffet

21 Dec 12 - 10:36 AM (#3455331)
Subject: RE: Help: Plane Wreck At Los Gatos
From: pdq


Except for being memorialized by the social justice folk singer Woody Guthrie, who wrote and sung Deportee, this DC-3 crash would be just another obscure accident site. You may read the lyrics to Deportee on The Woody Guthrie Foundation website.

Woody Guthrie had the mistaken understanding of the bracero program, which was created by the U.S. Congress in 1942 and by an agreement between the United States and Mexico. The law permitted Mexican farm laborers into the United States to work on farms because of the sever labor shortage caused by World War II. The agreement with Mexico required the United States to guarantee transportation and repatriation of all Mexicans entering the United States under this program. The labor contractors were expected to provide transportation to and from the border. If the contractor or farmer failed to provide transportation back to Mexico, then the U.S. Immigration Service was required to repatriation the Mexican citizens. Being a "Deportee" in this fashion was simply the U.S. government meeting their obligation under the treaty and in no way affected the labor status of the bracero.

26 Dec 12 - 03:50 PM (#3457333)
Subject: RE: Help: Plane Wreck At Los Gatos
From: Suffet


According to the contemporary reports that I read, the Mexican deportees aboard the ill-fated flight comprised two groups. Some were braceros whose contracts had recently expired and were simply returning home, while others were those who had overstayed their work contracts and were in the USA illegally. That's why Woody wrote "Some are illegal and some are unwanted..." He got it right.

--- Steve

27 Feb 13 - 07:33 PM (#3484503)
Subject: RE: Help: Plane Wreck At Los Gatos
From: GUEST,Carlos Rascon

We are in the process of raising funds thru donations to place a large granite memorial honoring all 32 victims of this crash and inscribing the names of the 28 migrant passengers.   Please check out the link on labeled "Paying respects to the Los Gatos Canyon Crash Victims

Carlos Rascon

22 Apr 13 - 09:34 AM (#3507031)
Subject: RE: Help: origin of song- Plane Wreck At Los Gatos
From: GUEST,tc

Carlos, this is a long shot, but it might be worth your while to contact Johnny Rodriguez's agent to see if he and other musicians who've recorded the song would be interested in helping out in some way. If Johnny were to get Willie behind it, too, it might snowball into something really nice.

22 Jul 13 - 09:23 PM (#3540593)
Subject: RE: Origin: Plane Wreck At Los Gatos (background)
From: Suffet

An accurate and correct list of names has finally been compiled of the 28 Mexican nationals who died aboard the January 28, 1948, flight. Click here for story.

--- Steve

22 Jul 13 - 10:30 PM (#3540614)
Subject: RE: Origin: Plane Wreck At Los Gatos (background)
From: Joe Offer

I think it would be a good idea to post the entire article from the Los Angeles Times, just in case it disappears.

Names Emerge from Shadows of 1948 Crash

28 Mexican citizens returning to their homeland perished in a fireball over Central California. Woody Guthrie's poetry protested their anonymity. Who were they?

By Dana Marcum
Los Angeles Times
July 9, 2013
- See more at:

Jaime Ramirez stood in front of an oak tree, jagged and black from a plane crashing into it all those years ago. He removed his white cowboy hat, closed his eyes and whispered, "Abuelo, Tio, estoy aqui." ("Grandfather, Uncle, I am here.")

Nearby, Tim Z. Hernandez, who had feared this moment might never happen, leaned down and sprinkled tobacco and sage. When the writer first came to this hushed place, looking into a 65-year-old mystery, he had felt he was intruding. Each time he returned, he always left a small offering. He could hear the Woody Guthrie song "Plane Wreck at Los Gatos" playing in his head:

    The sky plane caught fire over Los Gatos Canyon, A fireball of lightning, and shook all our hills, Who are all those friends, all scattered like dry leaves?

On Jan. 28, 1948, a plane chartered by U.S. Immigration Services left Oakland carrying 32 people, including 28 Mexicans. Many were part of the bracero program and had finished their government-sponsored work contracts. A ride home was part of the deal. Others had entered the country illegally.

Over farms and ranches on the edge of the Diablo Range, 20 miles west of Coalinga, the World War II surplus DC-3 trailed black smoke. An engine exploded. A wing broke off, floating left and right. More than 100 witnesses watched bodies and luggage thrown from the fireball. There were no survivors.

This marker at Holy Cross cemetery in Fresno will be replaced by a monument with the names of all the Mexican citizens who perished in the 1948 crash.

News accounts named only the pilot, first officer, stewardess — who was also the pilot's wife — and an immigration officer. The others were listed simply as "deportees."

Guthrie read about the crash and wrote a poem protesting the anonymity of the workers. Schoolteacher Martin Hoffman later set the words to music.

The song lived on. A string of artists including Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, Johnny Cash and Bruce Springsteen sang the chorus of imagined names: Goodbye to my Juan, goodbye Rosalita, Adios mis amigos Jesus y Maria.

In 2009, Hernandez was at the Fresno County Library scrolling through old newspapers, researching a book about Bea Franco, the inspiration behind the Mexican girlfriend character in Jack Kerouac's "On the Road." He'd immersed himself in the era's music, especially that of Guthrie, who sang about migrant workers and Central Valley fields.

It was a life Hernandez, 39, knew well. The poet and novelist now lived in Colorado, but grew up in farm towns across the Central Valley. He traced his love of storytelling to long road trips with his family picking crops. His mother, Lydia, would read books aloud; his father, Felix, would jump in and say "That's not what really happened" and spin his own endings.

A 1948 headline about a fireball plunging to earth caught his eye. He thought of Guthrie's song about the deportees. For the first time, Hernandez realized that Guthrie wasn't referring to the city of Los Gatos, near San Jose, but to the juniper-scented hills and canyons above the oil pumps in western Fresno County.

"Who were the people on that plane?" he wondered. "Did anyone ever tell their loved ones why they didn't come home?"

In 2011, Carlos Rascon, the new director of cemeteries for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Fresno, visited the old Holy Cross graveyard. He noticed a bronze marker that read: "28 Mexican citizens who died in an airplane accident."

A cemetery worker gave him "a short, cut-up version" of the crash, Rascon said. "But 28 souls in a mass grave with no names? It just didn't sit right with me."

The cemetery register listed numbers 1 through 28, and after each someone had written only "Mexican National." The diocese's church register had the names but some were obviously misspelled and all were missing middle initials — key in a culture with many common first and last names.

Rascon's father-in-law had been a bracero. He told Rascon they used to call the planes that flew them home, usually at night, El Tecolote (the Owl). Rascon thought he should do something with the names, but he had no clear idea what.

Back in Colorado, Hernandez couldn't get the deportees out of his mind. Scouring old news accounts, he learned they were buried at Holy Cross. His calls to the diocese cemetery offices were brushed off when he said he wanted information from 1948.

Frustrated, he scanned a roster of employees on the diocese website until he found a Latino surname — Rascon.

"I'm looking for the names of 28 deportees," Hernandez told him in a phone call last year.

"I have the names," Rascon replied.

Hernandez suddenly felt nervous. He'd already decided to write a book about the deportees if he could find their names. Now there was no turning back.

Rascon told him what else he'd heard from the cemetery workers: Someone had been leaving flowers at the grave for years. Often in November on El Dia de los Muertos, when Mexicans honor their dead.

Jaime Ramirez grew up in Charco de Pantoja, a rancheria of about 3,000 people in central Mexico.

When he was about 9, he and his siblings asked their mother why they did not have two grandfathers. She said her father died in a plane crash in the United States when she was 11, and she didn't know where he was buried.

Her father had saved enough money during his bracero contracts to buy land but couldn't afford corn seed. He and his best friend — Ramirez's great-uncle — decided to cross the border illegally to earn money for crops. They never came home.

In 1974, Ramirez came to the United States at age 18 to work as a dishwasher in Pasadena. He planned to look for his grandfather's grave but didn't know where to start. Eleven years later, he had become a kitchen manager and was transferred to a restaurant in Salinas. There he heard someone mention "Diablo Range." Something stirred deep in his memory. Was that the place mentioned in his mother's faded Mexican newspaper clipping about the crash?

He started his search at the Fresno County Hall of Records, where he found death certificates with the misspelled names of his grandfather and great-uncle. The documents said they were buried at Holy Cross. He would not believe it unless he saw the grave.

Even without the directions a receptionist gave him, he would have been able to find it. The rest of the cemetery, where no one had been buried since the 1950s, was a jumble of statuary; the western corner was empty, except for one small marker.

"I just stood still, staring at it. I kept telling myself, 'I found them,' " he recalled of that day in 1989.

That night he called his mother in Mexico. She cried. His paternal grandfather got on the phone and said, "Mi'jo, I can go in peace now that I know where my brother was buried."

Ramirez now owns a restaurant and home just a few miles from Holy Cross. When relatives from Mexico visit, they go to the grave. In November, he leaves flowers.

The Jan. 29, 1948, Fresno Bee front page, with a photo of the wreckage of the plane crash near Coalinga. (Fresno Bee)

Hernandez made note of clues among recovered items: a Laundry Union Workers card from San Francisco, a letter addressed to someone in Northern California, baby clothes found near a woman's body.

He enlisted Rascon to pull the death certificates, which had middle names. After the two men untangled some highly Anglicized spellings, they finally had complete names. But they had no ages, no birthplaces, no relatives — no stories.

"Each of our families is made up of epic stories. Tales of migration, struggle, sacrifice and triumph," Hernandez said. "How do those just fade?"

Hernandez and Rascon had decided to raise money for a memorial engraved with the deportees' names. As they neared their $10,000 goal, Rascon and the diocese wanted to press ahead, but Hernandez was reluctant without having found even one family member.

He put out a plea through local media, but heard nothing. After he mentioned his quest at a writers conference at the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas, a woman with silver curls and tears streaming down her face approached him.

"My father believed in the importance of names," Nora Guthrie told him. "He would repeat them like a chant. Even just finding their names matters."

Hernandez agreed it was time to dedicate the memorial. He'd come to accept that he might never find any of the families.

Ramirez, the restaurant owner, recently told a friend the story of his grandfather. That friend repeated the story to another man who said, "Wait! Your compadre's grandfather was in the paper." He dug out a 2-month-old article about Hernandez's efforts.

In late June in Coalinga, Ramirez met Hernandez for the first time. He told the writer about his grandfather, Ramon Paredes Gonzales, and his great-uncle, Guadalupe Ramirez Lara.

They drove up the winding canyon and walked through whispering dried grass to the tree where the plane crashed. Hernandez reached out his hands to the tree and ravine.

"Do you feel that?" he asked.

Jaime Ramirez, right, with writer Tim Hernandez, visits the crash site and for the first time sees where his grandfather and uncle died.

"Of course, I feel that," Ramirez said, needing no explanation. "May they rest in peace."

The monument will be unveiled on Labor Day.

"They're answering Woody's prayer," Nora Guthrie said. "If you keep the questions — the ideas — alive, then someday, someone will come along to answer. My father sang, 'All they will call you will be deportees.' This is a back-atch'ya. A resounding 'No, we all have names.' "

The stone will be etched with 32 falling leaves, four of them bearing the initials of the Americans who died on the flight. In the center will be 28 names:

Miguel Negrete Álvarez. Tomás Aviña de Gracia. Francisco Llamas Durán. Santiago García Elizondo. Rosalio Padilla Estrada. Tomás Padilla Márquez. Bernabé López Garcia. Salvador Sandoval Hernández. Severo Medina Lára. Elías Trujillo Macias. José Rodriguez Macias. Luis López Medina. Manuel Calderón Merino. Luis Cuevas Miranda. Martin Razo Navarro. Ignacio Pérez Navarro. Román Ochoa Ochoa. Ramón Paredes Gonzalez. Guadalupe Ramírez Lára. Apolonio Ramírez Placencia. Alberto Carlos Raygoza. Guadalupe Hernández Rodríguez. Maria Santana Rodríguez. Juan Valenzuela Ruiz. Wenceslao Flores Ruiz. José Valdívia Sánchez. Jesús Meza Santos. Baldomero Marcas Torres.

Copyright © 2013, Los Angeles Times

- See more at:

23 Jul 13 - 10:14 PM (#3541019)
Subject: RE: Origin: Plane Wreck At Los Gatos (background)
From: Suffet


Yes, a good idea. Thanks for doing so.

--- Steve

25 Jul 13 - 08:27 PM (#3541758)
Subject: RE: Origin: Plane Wreck At Los Gatos (background)
From: Bob Bolton

G'day Joe ... &c ...,

An interesting point that I notice, now we have the full listings of the names of the Mexican workers being repatriated.

Woody Guthrie, starting from his central anger at the apparent anonymity of the 28 Mexican braceros and 'overstaying' agricultural workers, picked four 'Mexican' names out of the air for the chorus: Juan, Roselita (sp?), Jesus & Maria.

For this small guess he was 75% accurate as there were, indeed a Juan, Jesus and Maria: ... apparently the sole female Mexican in the list!



08 Sep 13 - 06:32 PM (#3557274)
Subject: RE: Origin: Plane Wreck At Los Gatos (background)
From: Desert Dancer

This past weekend a memorial ceremony placed a marker with the names of the deportees.

'Deportees' who died in 1948 plane crash finally have names

A headstone and memorial in Fresno honor the Mexican farmworkers buried in a mass grave. This time, those mentioned in a Woody Guthrie song are remembered by name.

By Diana Marcum
Los Angeles Times
September 2, 2013

FRESNO — In an old cemetery, where few headstones have been added since the '50s, a large crowd gathered Monday for a memorial that was 65 years in the making and shepherded home by a Woody Guthrie song.

"Today we are here to right a wrong," said Fresno Roman Catholic Bishop Armando X. Ochoa.

On a morning in 1948, a plane chartered by U.S. Immigration Services, carrying 32 people, including 28 farmworkers, left Oakland bound for the Mexican border. It went down in a fireball over Los Gatos Canyon, near the oil fields of Coalinga. Many of the laborers were part of the bracero work program and had finished their government-sponsored contracts. Others had entered the country illegally.

Everyone on the plane died. It was one of the worst aviation disasters of the era and was widely reported. But the farmworkers were buried without names in a mass grave in Fresno.

Struck by their anonymity, Woody Guthrie wrote a poem:

Is this the best way we can grow our big orchards?

Is this the best way we can grow our good fruit?

To fall like dry leaves to rot on my topsoil and be called by no name except deportees?

Schoolteacher Martin Hoffman later set the words to music. It was recorded by a string of artists including Bruce Springsteen, Dolly Parton and Johnny Cash. The song was passed down and memorized, a protest to both the grave marker with no names and to the idea that some lives don't matter as much as others.

But the real names of the people in that grave were forgotten.

In 2009, writer Tim Z. Hernandez began searching for their names and stories. This year, he finally found family members. On Monday, at Holy Cross Cemetery, he shared with an audience that had gathered from across the United States and Mexico some of what he learned about the people on that plane.

Ramon Paredes used to sing love songs to his wife. His son remembers. Paredes had made enough money from his bracero contracts to buy a small farm in Charco de Pantoja in central Mexico, but he crossed illegally to the U.S. to buy corn seed to plant. He traveled with his best friend, Guadalupe Ramirez Lara, a tall man who was hoping to make money for an irrigation system for their village.

A brightly colored serape was pulled aside to reveal a monument scroll where Paredes and Ramiez Lara and the others who had once been known only as "deportee," now had their names written in stone. The $14,000 for the marker and ceremony was raised largely by donations of less than $20 from individuals, including Woody Guthrie devotees and families of farmworkers.

It was planned that the names would be read aloud; what wasn't planned was that the crowd would repeat each name. Nuns in habits, priests in white robes, Aztec dancers in pink feather headdresses, middle-aged folk-song fans, aged braceros, children shading themselves with umbrellas and many multigenerational families whose grandfathers could have been on that plane, repeated the names.

Jaime Ramirez — Parede's grandson and Lara's grand-nephew — solemn in a suit and tie, read the final names on the list, the crowd growing louder in its chorus. He stepped from the stage, his eyes shining, and broke into a smile.

"It's not every day that we get to witness and take part in a closure of this capacity," Hernandez told the crowd.

Lance Canales, who sang one of three renditions of "Plane Wreck at Los Gatos" during the ceremony, said he had to fight to keep the music reined into its slow, easy tempo.

"There was so much energy from the crowd that the song almost fought to get away," he said. "This means a lot to a lot of different people. For some of us, we're trying to pay back our relatives who worked so hard in the fields with little thanks, by honoring these 28."

Those who still work in the fields were not forgotten.

During the Labor Day Mass before the unveiling of the stone, Ochoa referred to the immigration bill stuck in Congress.

"Let us pray in a special way at this historical time that our elected officials will continue to work on comprehensive immigration reform," he said, to tears and amens in the audience.

Margi Dunlap, the niece of Hoffman, said the day was both bringing a story full circle and setting a path ahead.

"It's really meaningful to have this final punctuation mark on the song and these lives," she said. "But it's also an inspiring start for us to do better."


A couple friends who attended the ceremonies said it was very moving.

~ Becky in Long Beach

08 Sep 13 - 06:35 PM (#3557275)
Subject: RE: Origin: Plane Wreck At Los Gatos (background)
From: Desert Dancer

Fresno memorial unveiled with 'deportee' names from 1948 crash

By Ron Orozco — The Fresno Bee
September 2, 2013

A mass grave site at Holy Cross Catholic Cemetery in Fresno now has a new memorial bearing the names of 28 Mexican citizens — the "deportees" — who died in an airplane crash in 1948.

The farmworkers were in a program that allowed Mexican citizens to enter the United States to do seasonal work and then return to Mexico, but they never made it home. They were buried in a mass grave in Fresno, but the grave maker did not list any names.

Folk singer Woody Guthrie wrote a protest song about the events, "Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos)" in 1948. The memory of the farmworkers was kept alive over the years through renditions of the song by well-known musicians, including Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen.

On Monday, the right thing was done. More than 500 people attended a Mass under a tent at the cemetery and then walked a short distance to the grave site, where a 4-by-8-foot granite memorial with the farmworkers' names was unveiled.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Fresno, which owns Holy Cross Catholic Cemetery, led an effort with author and former Valley resident Tim Z. Hernandez to raise money for the memorial. About $14,000 was raised to cover the cost of the memorial and expenses to stage the Mass and unveiling ceremony.

Carlos Rascon, director of cemeteries for the diocese, told the crowd: "Many of you are here because you wanted to help — you wanted to correct a past wrong. A person asked, 'Who are these friends?' Today, we have that answer, because of you."

Relatives of those who died in the airplane crash expressed gratitude at Monday's events. Some traveled great distances to Fresno.

Caritina Ramirez came from Charco de Pantoja in the Mexican state of Guanajuato. She wiped away tears as she spoke Spanish through an interpreter about her father, Ramon Paredes Gonzalez, a farmworker who died in the crash. She was 11 at the time.

"I remember when he was going and coming back," said Ramirez, now 77. "He was a wonderful man. I have very good memories of him. This day is something that's amazing. I have happiness and sadness at the same time."

Anna Cardena, of Paso Robles, said she felt a sense of family pride. She is the great granddaughter of Guadalupe Ramirez Lara, a farmworker who also died.

"I'm really proud to be here," Cardena said. "My grandmother came here to see the grave site in July 1995. Now, I am able to come here, and to talk with a lot of people. It's almost as if it's nostalgic. I'm really happy. I just don't know how to put it into words."

Three crew members and an immigration guard also died in the crash. Although they were buried at various cemeteries, their names also were listed on the new memorial.

Connie Mart, of Lagunitas, the niece of pilot Francis C. Atkinson, attended the Mass and unveiling, saying it made her feel good about her family.

"It happened eight months to the day before I was born," she said, "My grandmother always talked about him — and tears would come to her eyes. He was always in my life. He was the star of the family."

After the unveiling, renditions of "Deportee" were performed by John McCutcheon as well as Lance Canales and Jemmy Bluestein.

Hernandez, who is writing a book about the farmworkers, read a poem by Martin Hoffman, who provided the music to Guthrie's song: "Now we know who these people are — once nameless — and the stories of their families. Share the story. The more we do, the more we correct the past."

Remembering the dead

The 28 Mexican citizens whose names were inscribed on the new memorial at their mass grave site at Holy Cross Catholic Cemetery:

Miguel Negroros Alvarez

Francisco Llamas Duram

Santiago Garcia Elizondo

Rosalio Padilla Estrada

Tomasa Avena De Garcia

Bernabe Lopez Garcia

Salvador Sandoval Hernandez

Severo Medina Lara

Elias Trujillo Macias

Jose Rodriguez Macias

Tomas Padilla Marquez

Luis Lopez Medina

Manuel Calderon Merino

Luis Cuevas Miranda

Martin Razo Navarro

Ygnacio Perez Navarro

Roman Ochoa Ochoa

Ramon Ramirez Paredes

Apolonio Ramirez Placencia

Guadalupe Laura Ramirez

Alberto Carlos Raygoza

Guadalupe Hernandez Rodriguez

Maria Santana Rodriguez

Juan Valenzuela Ruiz

Wencealado Ruiz

Jose Valdivia Sanchez

Jesus Meza Santos

Baldomero Marcas Torres

Others aboard the flight:

Francis "Frank" Atkinson, Long Beach, pilot

Marion Harlow Ewing, Balboa, co-pilot

Lillian "Bobbie" Atkinson (married to Frank), Long Beach, stewardess

Frank E. Chaffin, Berkeley, immigration guard

Source: Diocese of Fresno Catholic Cemeteries


Go to the Fresno Bee link to see two videos of the ceremonies.

~ Becky in Long Beach

08 Sep 13 - 06:40 PM (#3557276)
Subject: RE: Origin: Plane Wreck At Los Gatos (background)
From: Desert Dancer

ABC News video linked here.

~ B in LB

10 Sep 13 - 05:36 PM (#3557931)
Subject: RE: Origin: Plane Wreck At Los Gatos (background)
From: Desert Dancer