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January 31st, 2013
05:30 AM ET

Migrant plane crash victims get back their names

By Jim Roope, CNN

Follow on Twitter: @JimRoopeCNN

Editor's Note: Listen to the full story in our player above, and join the conversation in our comments section below.

(CNN) – Sixty-five years ago this week, a plane carrying 32 people crashed in Central California's Los Gatos Canyon, killing all on board.

The dead included the four crew members and 28 Mexican citizens taking part in this nation’s first ‘guest worker’ program. As part of the program, called 'Braceros,' workers were flown in to ply American fields to help ease the US labor shortage caused by World War II. After a few months they would be flown back to Mexico.

Local resident Lisa Junnilla tells how one of those planes didn’t make it back.

[1:19] “...there was an explosion on the plane. And one of the wings fell off. Can you imagine how scary that would have been? And of course, you know, it was not able to fly and it crashed. And it was the pilot and the co-pilot and one of the pilots’ wife was the stewardess on the plane and the plane of course crashed and all those poor people perished. And they actually found some baby clothing in the wreckage but they were never able to find a child. It’s really tragic.”

When the newspaper articles were published and the radio reports broadcast, the names of the pilot, co-pilot, flight attendant and immigration guard were announced. The Mexican laborers were referred to simply as "the 28 deportees."

Folk singer Woody Guthrie, angered by the indignity of ignoring the names of the Mexican victims wrote a poem called ‘Deportee’ that was later put to music and recorded by such artists as Bob Dylan, Linda Ronstadt, and Bruce Springsteen.

One man, the man who tends the cemetery where the 28 are buried, recently set out to put names to the nameless and restore dignity to the dead.

He succeeded.

Listen to the story to hear a full account of the crash, its aftermath, and its legacy.

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Filed under: Culture • History • Soundwaves • Stories
soundoff (29 Responses)
  1. Chatlie cares

    Imagine the pain of loosing your child, searching without end, without knowing where he/she might be. Then you find out many years later that this was your sibling than never came home and is buried at a cemetery without his/her name. This happened to 28 families at the same time. Yes, It would matter to me that someone took care of giving my brother or sister thier name for many reasons. Thanks to all who care.

    February 7, 2013 at 12:05 pm | Report abuse |
  2. mooseheartproductions

    Jim, i see your story did not mention the author, myself, who spent the last 2 years researching the names, and who brought this to the cemtery directors attention in the first place. Also, in the spirit of accuracy, Martin Hoffman's name should've been credited with the song too. You can find details at http://www.timzhernandez.com

    February 1, 2013 at 9:54 am | Report abuse |
  3. Emma in Baltimore

    I'm glad there are people who still recognize how important it is to respect one and other, even in death. If we don't respect each other, we treat each other with indignity, and destroy the foundations of a healthy society. We cannot expect to live peacefully among each other if we don't care or condescend upon one and other.

    February 1, 2013 at 9:38 am | Report abuse |
  4. fiftyfive55

    ...like anyone cares that you care....

    February 1, 2013 at 9:34 am | Report abuse |
  5. fiftyfive55

    Dignity to the dead ? The dead have no dignity,or anything else,they are dead and dead is gone.

    February 1, 2013 at 7:26 am | Report abuse |
    • Seanna

      Wow, you're a real ray of sunshine.

      February 1, 2013 at 7:39 am | Report abuse |
      • fiftyfive55

        Oh,and like you really care ?

        February 1, 2013 at 8:11 am | Report abuse |
    • jimroopecnn

      Hello fiftyfive55,
      It's not giving dignity to the dead. The idea of the effort to name the victims is in restoring the dignity denied them as human beings in the aftermath of the crash.

      February 1, 2013 at 8:43 am | Report abuse |
      • fiftyfive55

        the dead are still dead,no matter what,nothing matters to the dead,nothing,they are gone,gone,gone.what is so hard to understand about that ?

        February 1, 2013 at 9:33 am | Report abuse |
    • Evenstar13

      "Jesus said unto him, Let the dead bury their dead: but go thou and preach the kingdom of God." Luke 9:60
      "For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten." Ecclesiastes 9:5

      February 1, 2013 at 9:31 am | Report abuse |
  6. TonyH

    Thanks for covering this, Jim – and thanks to the cemetery worker who understood that human dignity transcends not only politics or economics, but death and time themselves. My favorite version of Guthrie's ode was the ensemble version on Nancy Griffith's 'Other Voices Too', which correctly noted that the music was by Martin Hoffman...

    February 1, 2013 at 1:35 am | Report abuse |
  7. Disgrunteled American

    it is sad they died this way!But I am wondering why this is being brought up now?If you buy and bring in 10 guns into the united states ligally and then you bring in 1,000,000 illegally then you have not committed a crime?If they were guns being talked about boy howdy what an uproar! but lets see Drugs,cartellsm murder ,protitution amd slavery of their own people ??yea but thats different!Again those who were brought here legally ,its sad they died and they did bring a service then!Now its a different story!

    January 31, 2013 at 11:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • Less Disgruntled American

      First: your comments are in no way related to the contents of the story. The folks on this airplane (aside from the flight crew) were coming here legally and leaving here legally. Your political rhetoric doesn't belong here.
      Second: Learn how to spell or at least use spell check. If your comments didn't indicate your level of intelligence your lack of grammar and spelling surely did.

      February 1, 2013 at 12:44 am | Report abuse |
    • Eriberto Aguilar

      What on earth are you gassing on about???? You'd do a lot better to go back and finish high school, where you'd learn the valuable skills of spelling correctly and organizing information into a well-constructed and clear paragraph.

      February 1, 2013 at 2:26 am | Report abuse |
    • Seanna

      Wow, it's people like you who cause the rest of the world to think that Americans are racist and uneducated. That's not true for the majority of Americans but you're doing nothing to help dispel that myth.

      February 1, 2013 at 7:43 am | Report abuse |
    • jimroopecnn

      I don't think you understand the story.

      February 1, 2013 at 8:45 am | Report abuse |
  8. gatecrasher1

    oh waaahhhh....

    January 31, 2013 at 8:32 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Harry

    Who cares?

    January 31, 2013 at 1:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • jimroopecnn

      Apathy is the root of all evil. I'm sorry you feel that way.

      January 31, 2013 at 4:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • fiftyfive55

      Agree with you Harry,65 years ago,who cares ? why ?

      February 1, 2013 at 7:23 am | Report abuse |
    • Paul

      I care!

      February 1, 2013 at 8:34 am | Report abuse |
  10. cvryder2000

    "Goodbye to my Juan, goodbye Rosalita, adios mis amigos Jesus y Maria...." Now you will have your names back.

    January 31, 2013 at 11:15 am | Report abuse |
    • jimroopecnn

      Thank you very much for you post.

      January 31, 2013 at 11:52 am | Report abuse |
    • Ms. L

      That was unnecessary and uncouth. You should be ashamed of yourself, but I suspect you lack sufficient self-awareness to appreciate your crassness.

      January 31, 2013 at 2:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • Torm Terrible

      You misunderstand cvryder2000's post. They are quoting a Johnny Cash song that was designed to commemorate the passengers and how they were lost. You may not believe this but Johnny Cash was a man who was always looking out for the underdog and went out of his way to help people of all races, colors and ethnicities. He wrote and released entire albums dedicated to this for very little monatary gain to himself looking to promote the interest of groups. He even went so far as to put his own life on the line on more than one occasion looking out for the best interest of others. True, he made mistakes including drug use but no one can honestly say that he was uncouth or crass in standing up for the rights of others.

      January 31, 2013 at 3:17 pm | Report abuse |
      • jimroopecnn

        This story is about human beings who died tragically in a time when many did not see them as human beings with dignity. To be called by our names is basic. It is long over due in providing that basic aspect of human dignity, as I said in the story, to these victims.

        January 31, 2013 at 4:24 pm | Report abuse |
      • Cascadian

        Johnny Cash just sang a cover, the song was originally penned by Woodie Guthrie. With all due respect to the numerous great artists who covered the song, I think the best version was done by Woodie's own son, Arlo Guthrie. Look up "Deportees (Plane Crash at Los Gatos)"

        January 31, 2013 at 4:45 pm | Report abuse |
        • jimroopecnn

          I used Arlo's version in the story. It's very good. Thanks for you post.

          January 31, 2013 at 5:06 pm | Report abuse |