WWII veteran Bill Lansford, 90, fought for the recognition of fellow Latino vets

Writer, World War II veteran and Latino veterans' advocate Bill Lansford in an undated family photo.
Writer, World War II veteran and Latino veterans' advocate Bill Lansford in an undated family photo.
Photo courtesy of Lisa Fimiani

On his website, writer and World War II veteran Bill Lansford noted: "Age is a box you store a lifetime of adventures in; and if you were lucky enough to be born when I was — in 1922 — time is a book of 20th century history..."

William Douglas Lansford, who died last week at 90, carried volumes with him. Born to a Los Angeles policeman and a Mexican-born mother, he joined the Marines while still in his teens and went on to serve in some of World War II's fiercest campaigns in the Pacific, including Guadalcanal and Iwo Jima.

He later joined the Army and served in the Korean War. After his military career ended, he found success as an author and writer for film and television. One of his books, a biography of Pancho Villa, inspired a 1968 film starring Yul Brynner.

Lansford's most recent recognition came as a veterans' advocate, particularly as an activist who sought to honor Latino veterans. In 1993, Lansford co-founded the Eugene A. Obregon Congressional Medal of Honor Memorial Foundation, named for a Marine from East Los Angeles who died in combat in Korea in 1950.

Obregon was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest military award for valor. One of the foundation's goals has been to raise awareness of Latino military members' contributions by honoring Latino Congressional Medal of Honor Recipients in U.S. history, dating back to the time of the Civil War.

In recent years, Lansford and the foundation pushed for construction of a monument honoring Latino Medal of Honor recipients at El Pueblo de Los Angeles downtown, a project that's still in the works; a related "Wall of Honor" monument was unveiled in 2009 at L.A.'s Father Serra Park.

Lansford was also interviewed for Ken Burns' 2007 WWII documentary "The War," after a campaign by Latino groups and veterans to convince Burns to include Latinos' wartime contributions in the film, which initially lacked Latino stories. Lansford and another Marine, Pete Arias, spoke about their experience in Iwo Jima.

Lansford died May 22 in at his home in Playa Vista, where he lived with his wife, environmental activist Ruth Lansford. He is also survived by two sons.