“Pray that the clarity of the day will encourage the clarity of our goals here this morning to reflect on international friendship and goodwill,” said Howard Hickey, pastor at First Baptist Church of Medford.
With that invocation began the 86th annual Captain Emilio Carranza Memorial Service on July 12 at the Carranza Memorial in Wharton State Forest.
Presented by the members of American Legion Mount Holly Post 11, the annual memorial service honors the legacy of Capt. Emilio Carranza.
Carranza, often referred to as the Charles Lindbergh of Mexico, died in 1928 while on a goodwill mission between Mexico and The United States when his plane was downed deep within the Pine Barrens during a violent thunderstorm.
When the Post 11 legionnaires of the time learned that Carranza’s plane had gone down, they traveled 25 miles and cut through much of the dense underbrush to recover Carranza’s body.
In Mount Holly, the legionnaires mounted a Guard of Honor around Carranza until his body could be returned to officials of the Mexican government, upon which time members of Post 11 accompanied the casket, draped with Post 11’s flag, on a train back to Mexico.
Every year since the crash, members of Post 11 have memorialized Carranza by re-enacting the search and recovery of his body, and in 1933, a memorial monument was erected with an Aztec Eagle symbolizing Mexican identity, and a descending eagle and set of footprints marking Carranza’s tragic descent and final walk on Earth.
The event also included a color guard, firing squad and a laying of wreaths by members of Post 11, Carranza’s family, Tabernacle and Shamong townships, the Burlington County and New Jersey American Legion departments, the Mexican embassies and consulates from Washington, D.C., New York, Philadelphia and more.
Commander of Post 11 Larry Gladfelter said many members of Post 11 in 1928 were early aviators themselves and felt a kinship with Carranza.
“When they heard that Emilio Carranza had crashed in the pines, their heart went out to him, and they came and sought him,” Gladfelter said. “23 years old and he had already accomplished more than most of us will ever accomplish in our entire lifetimes — a true patriot and an international hero. We are so proud to honor him each year.”
Mexican Army Maj. Gen. Victor Hugo Aguirre Serna attended the event representing the Mexican embassy in Washington, D.C.
He said it was privilege to participate in the memorial.
“I want to thank all the officers and members of the American Legion Department of New Jersey Mount Holly Post 11, who have played a central role in preserving the memory and legacy of the Capt. Emilio Carranza, not only as a Mexican hero and aviator, but also as a goodwill ambassador between Mexico and the United States of America.”
Speaking on behalf of the Carranza family was Samuel Gutierrez Carranza. He said he and his family wished to express their profound gratitude to members of Post 11 and their spouses for keeping the essence of Emilio’s endeavor alive.
He also spoke of how even after 85 years following Carranza’s final flight, there were still gestures of pure friendship between the two great nations of Mexico and the United States, such as when the United States offered aid and supplies to Mexico after the 1985 Mexico City earthquake that cost 30,000 lives, or when Mexico offered food, water, medical aid and Army and Marine personnel after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005.
“Capt. Emilio Carranza’s gesture of friendship and the parallel response from the United States are the perfect examples of brotherhood, when in spite of normal human differences, in the end we always stand together,” Samuel Carranza said. “We must try to keep the memory of heroes such as Emilio Carranza alive and not forget the passion and goodwill of this world at the essence of the human race.”