Mexico’s last World War II veteran — an army radio operator who was a member of an Air Force squadron known as the Aztec Eagles — died on Wednesday.
The Ministry of National Defense (Sedena) announced the death of Sgt. Horacio Castilleja Albarrán, who was 98. It didn’t mention a cause of death.
Castilleja, who joined the army in 1942 at the age of 18, was one of approximately 300 soldiers and Air Force members in Squadron 201, the only Mexican military unit to see active combat in World War II.
The squadron, which included about 30 pilots, fought alongside U.S. forces against the Japanese in the Philippines in 1945.
Mexico declared war on the Axis powers of Germany, Italy and Japan in May 1942 after it lost oil ships to German submarine attacks in the Gulf of Mexico.
Squadron 201 “didn’t have a major effect on the overall outcome of the giant Pacific war 75 years ago,” The New York Times said in a 2020 article, “but by the end of the conflict, these men were hailed as valiant and deadly in their machines, beloved for their ferocity by the Filipinos and Americans alike.”
Members of the military paid tribute to Castilleja during a funeral service at a military cemetery in Mexico City on Thursday.
His contribution to the Allies’ ultimately successful World War II efforts was recognized by the Mexican military, which awarded him the “Service in the Far East” medal and the government of the Philippines, which gave him a presidential award.
“His participation in the Second World War showed the highest levels of patriotism, heroism [and] spirit of service,” Sedena said.