Henry Sandoval still wonders how his life would have been different today if his father had returned home to 2nd Street in Silvis after serving overseas in World War II.
Henry was only 2 years old when his father, Joe Sandoval, was reported “missing in action” in April 1945 when his company position was overrun on the banks of the Elbe River near Schonebeck, Germany.
But through letters, stories and pictures, Henry has been able to paint a picture of his father, and his uncle, Frank Sandoval, who also lost his life serving overseas in World War II.
On Thursday night, Henry and the rest of the Quad-City community had the opportunity to learn about the Sandoval brothers and the six other Hispanic soldiers from Silvis' Hero Street who died in war at the premiere showing of “Letters Home to Hero Street.”
Viewers packed the community center room at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church for the 30-minute documentary, which primarily focuses on the correspondence between Frank Sandoval and his family back in Silvis. But it also touches on the eight Hero Street-bred men who were lost in war — the most from any street in America.
In total, more than 100 U.S. military veterans have lived on the block-and-a-half long street that was renamed Hero Street in 1969.
The film, which was directed by Kelly Rundle, written by Tammy Rundle and produced by her and Lora Adams of WQPT-TV, shares excerpts from letters, 130 in all, that they received from Frank’s surviving relatives. The letters span the years from the time he was drafted up until the month before he was killed on the banks of the Irrawaddy River in June 1944.
“The hard part about it for me was that I knew how the story ended,” Kelly Rundle said Thursday before the premiere. “I knew he was going to be deployed and eventually die, but it’s a reminder for me of what we ask people to do when they do serve and I think it will cause people to think about things.”
Actor Eric Juarez’ portrayal of Frank Sandoval brought laughs and tears as his narration detailed the 23-year-old’s weapon training and the jungle environment in Burma, his disappointment over missing the Fourth of July fireworks in East Moline, and even his comments on the numerous potholes that once dotted Hero Street.
“Some of the letters were ordinary, but his journey was extraordinary,” Rundle said.
The short movie, which filmmakers hope to transform into a two-hour feature film, received a standing ovation from the audience and even brought active military members to their feet.
Monica Santiago, who was born and raised on Hero Street, said she joined the U.S. Navy 17 years ago and recently returned from a 15-month tour in Afghanistan.
“War is very real and it’s because of these eight men that went to war and paid the ultimate sacrifice is why I’m in the military today,” Santiago said. “Our street was driven with heritage and honor and it didn’t matter whose house you went to on that street, you were treated as a son or a daughter.”
Family members thanked Juarez for bringing to life relatives who they never met but still hold close in their hearts.
The 21-year-old actor said he felt honored to put on Joe Sandoval’s dog tags and grip Frank Sandoval's pocket knife and Bible throughout the production.
“It was special,” he said afterward. “I really had to put myself in his shoes and feel his pain.”
Filmmakers hoped viewers could share that pain near the end of the movie.
But rather than recreate the moment when word of Sandoval's death reached his family's home, the Rundles show a Western Union telegram delivery boy, played by Josh Wielenga, riding through the streets of Moline on a rainy day and handing an envelope to Sandoval's mother.
Today, six of the eight heroes are buried at the Rock Island National Cemetery on Arsenal Island, where Henry Sandoval returns every Memorial Day.
“I never got the chance to know my dad and still don’t understand why things happen the way they do,” he said. “Even today I think to myself how my life would be if these eight heroes came home.”