ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Miguel Encinias, a War World II veteran who had been a prisoner of war and later flew in missions in the Korean and Vietnam wars before getting a doctorate in Hispanic literature, died Saturday. He was 92.
Ralph Arellanes, a family friend and a chairman of the Hispano Round Table of New Mexico, said Encinias died in his sleep on Saturday at an Albuquerque nursing home.
Born in Las Vegas, New Mexico, to a large Hispanic family in 1923, Encinias delivered the Las Vegas Daily Optic newspaper before he joined the New Mexico National Guard at 16 after his family faced hardship during the Great Depression.
After Pearl Harbor, Encinias applied for the cadet academy to become a pilot, though the idea seemed farfetched at the time. “All the time I was in training I never met another pilot who was Hispanic,” he later told the Voces Oral History Project, a University of Texas program that records testimonies of Latino veterans.
As a pilot in World War II, he flew dozens of missions before he was shot down in Germany and became a prisoner of war for 15 months.
“I was scared of being a prisoner in Nazi Germany because I had heard about that area and about the Aryan stuff, and during the Olympics how they had treated Jessie Owens,” he told the project. The Russians eventually freed the prison camp in 1945.
He retired from the U.S. Air Force as a lieutenant colonel in 1968 and later earned a double doctorate in Hispanic literature and education from the University of New Mexico. Throughout his life, he remained active in Mexican-American and Hispanic civil rights groups.
“He was humble and was someone who just did his job,” Arellanes said.
Then-President Bill Clinton asked Encinias to serve on the World War II Memorial Advisory Board to help build the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. Encinias was the only living veteran on the board to attend the ceremony when the memorial opened in 2004.
He is survived by his wife, two daughters, a son and four grandchildren.
A burial in Santa Fe National Cemetery is scheduled Friday.
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