The monument erected in Wharton State Forest to the Mexican aviator Emilio Carranza, whose plane crashed at the site in 1928, stands as a tribute and reminder of the goodwill mission the 22-year-old pilot conducted on his visit to the U.S.
According to the Roadside America website, “The heartbroken children of Mexico contributed pennies to build [the] monument, inscribed in both English and Spanish, to mark the spot where their hero had died.”
The website describes the structure as having “an arrow on one side pointing skyward, an Aztec eagle on the other plummeting to earth. Eerie footprints have been carved into the granite to signify Carranza’s final touchdown. ‘The people of Mexico,’ its inscription reads, ‘hope that your high ideals will be realized.’ ”
A 1997 New York Times article explained that the monument was shipped to the Pinelands site in pieces and assembled there. But while the monument resulted from donations from Mexican children, the annual ceremony held at the site in Carranza’s memory is the work of American Legion Post 11.
An account by the aviator’s second cousin, Ismael Carranza, identifies that Post 11 has been linked with the pilot since July 13, 1928, the day after the plane crashed, when “the Commander of American Legion Post 11 of Mount Holly, N.J. mobilized its members to cut their way through the underbrush and recover the body of the gallant Captain Emilio Carranza. Once the body was recovered…arrangements were then made to move it to Mount Holly. Post 11 used its own U.S. Flag to cover the hero’s body, while members of American Legion Post 11 stood honor guard until the US Military and Government Officials arranged to take possession of the hero’s body in order to return it to his mother country.”
According to the New York Times, the flag that covered the pilot’s body now hangs in Mexico’s School of Aviation.
The Roadside America website reports that, since 1929, “once a year, at 1:00 P.M. on the Saturday closest to July 12th, Emilio Carranza is honored. American Legion Post 11 drives out to the monument…along with representatives from the Mexican consulates in New York City and Philadelphia. There, they hold a ceremony for the ‘Lindbergh of Mexico.’”
The ceremony continues to this day. Over the past 90-plus years, according to a 2002 New York Times article, the event had “dwindled” somewhat before being rethought at the start of this century.
In advance of that year’s ceremony, the 2002 article explained that “what the Mount Holly Legionnaires call a ‘re-enactment march’ of the carrying of Carranza’s body from the forest will be held to the music of ‘Going Home.’ Wreaths will be placed on the monument and the United States Air Force will honor Carranza with a ‘missing plane’ fly-by in which a squadron leaves a gap in the formation to signify the fallen flyer.”
The Roadside America website closes its article on the Carranza monument and annual celebration with an interesting observation that can’t help but ring true for anyone who knows the full story of the aviator’s achievements: “For one afternoon Carranza is again a hero, although he might have preferred to be remembered for something other than this.”
That something might be what Lawrence Gladfelter, commander of Post 11, told the New York Times in 1997 when asked whether the annual ceremony was still relevant. What made it relevant, he said, was “that a man such as Emilio Carranza would put his life on the line for no other purpose than to bring goodwill from his nation to our nation. We are still remembering his goodwill and extend our own goodwill to the nation of Mexico. Those are values that are tough to grasp in 1997.”