Deportees killed in 1948 plane crash finally named

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Musician Lance Canales bows his head at the new memorial now inscribed with the names of the 28 farm workers who died in a 1948 plane crash during a rededication…

Musician Lance Canales bows his head at a memorial at Holy Cross Cemetery in Fresno. The stone is inscribed with the names of the 28 farm workers who died in a 1948 plane crash. (Craig Kohlruss / Associated Press / September 1, 2013)

This week a granite memorial that marked the victims of a plane crash in the Central Valley was unveiled to honor the people who died.

65 years ago, a group of Mexican farm workers – who were laboring here in California – were being transported in an airplane to a deportation center. Immigration officials say they’d overstayed their work authorizations.

But the plane crashed near Los Gatos Canyon, killing everyone on board. Four Americans died, and their bodies were identified and buried in private graves. The bodies of those 28 farm workers were buried in a mass grave near Fresno, without any markings except these words:

“28 MEXICAN CITIZENS WHO DIED IN AN AIRPLANE ACCIDENT NEAR COALINGA, CALIFORNIA ON JANUARY 28, 1948 R.I.P.”

Folk singer-songwriter Woody Guthrie was angered by the anonymity. So he wrote this song, titled “Deportee,” performed here by Bob Dylan and Joan Baez.

Six decades later, California writer Tim Z. Hernandez wanted to finally mark the grave with the names of every victim of the crash, and write a book about the event. He joined KCRW’s Steve Chiotakis to talk about it.