Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Thursday, December 28, 2023

Remembering a Veteran: Pvt. Marciano Valenzuela, 364th Infantry, 91st Division, KIA

Every headstone of the American soldiers buried overseas has a story behind it. The facts behind Marciano Valenzuela's death are well documented. He was killed by enemy fire just north of the Montfaucon-Cheppy road on 26 September 1918, the opening day of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. His family back in El Monte, California, chose to have him buried overseas, so he rests today near where he fell, in Grave 15, Row 2, Plot B of the Meuse-Argonne Cemetery.

What has never been told before, though, is the remarkable story of Marciano's earlier life which led him to his fate on the Western Front. His great nephew, retired U.S. Army Major General Alfred Valenzuela, who is also a member of  the National World War One Centennial Commission, has tracked this down and shared the story with us.

91st Division Field Kitchen Near Where Marciano Fell

In the early 20th century, the Valenzuela family was based in Presidio, Texas, just across the Rio Grande from Pancho Villa's northern base, and Marciano's brother had made it to El Monte, CA.  Marciano, however, had remained in Presidio but had joined the band of supporters of  Pancho Villa, who were  known as Villistas.  General Valenzuela has told me his research shows he fought with Pancho Villa’s Army for several years with very little pay and that it appears he was around Columbus, New Mexico, at the time of the raid against U.S. forces there in March 1916.

Apparently though,  in early 1916, Marciano decided he had enough of the low pay and made his way to California to work in the fields. Then, he enlisted in the California National Guard, which was soon—probably to his great surprise—deployed to the border to guard against his old Villista compadres. That deployment lasted until just before President Wilson asked Congress to declare war.

Group of Unidentified Villistas

There's no documentation about how Marciano was subsequently assigned from the National Guard (the California Guard was nationalized as the 40th Division) to the 91st Division (the West Coast draftee division). In any case, somewhere between California and the Meuse-Argonne, he was assigned to the 91st. [The 40th did not serve as a unit in France. It was broken up and used for replacements, so that seems like the likeliest reason to me.]

Nevertheless, Marciano's story is one that sounds worthy of a Hollywood movie. A one-time member of Pancho Villa's band ends up serving under General Pershing's command and dies fighting for his country in the Great War. 

As a postscript:  Marciano Valenzuela would not be the only member of his family to make the ultimate sacrifice for America. His nephew Claudio would be killed in action later on Okinawa while serving with the 27th Division, so there were two generations of Gold Star Mothers in the family. No wonder the latest member to serve our country, Major General Valenzuela, is so proud of  his heritage.

Thanks of course to General Valenzuela for passing on  this story, and to Bruce Malone, Superintendent of the Meuse-Argonne Cemetery, for sharing his files with us and providing the photo of Marciano's cross.


  1. Thanks to the General for this very interesting information.

  2. Another Great Story about the Men who gave their all. I thank them.