Sgt. Cruz Coyazo is coming home after more than 76 years.
The Redlands native was a tail gunner on a B-26 Marauder during World War II when his plane was shot down in a burst of flames during a bombing run over Germany in 1945. No parachutes had deployed.
His family in the city’s Northside neighborhood received a telegram declaring him missing in action, then nothing more until a congressman found them some answers in the 1980s. Coyazo had been killed in action and buried in Belgium after the bomber’s wreckage was found in dense forest in 1952, they learned.
Paul Aranda, whose grandfather was Coyazo’s oldest brother, has been working to document his great-uncle’s life, and teamed up with former Redlands City Councilman Mick Gallagher to have a marker for Coyazo added to Memory Lane at Hillside Memorial Park. The section is designated for local service members who are buried overseas.
Coyazo will be honored at a Memorial Day event Monday, May 31, at the cemetery where the first generation of his family is buried. He would have turned 100 in May 2021, had he survived.
“All we ever had was the family story ‘Cruz was killed in World War II,’ Aranda said. “My great-grandparents received a telegram that he was missing in action, that was March of 1945. That was the end of the story, and the fact that he never returned home like his brothers.”
Coyazo’s parents died and were buried at Hillside without knowing what happened to their son.
Following an article about Coyazo in this publication in 2020, two military historians reached out to the family and were able to fill in some more details. More pictures of Coyazo were also found, as well as three of his medals, a Purple Heart, and two Air Medals, one with three oak-leaf clusters.
After recently obtaining copies of a missing aircraft report from Feb. 15, 1945, eyewitness information, and other documents, Aranda and a friend were able to reconstruct Coyazo’s last day, up to the minute — 12:10 p.m. — when the bomber was hit.
“We found out that day what the flight plan was, the destination, what the weather was like that day, the time of the bombing, the coordination it took to have all the bombers and other planes all lined up at staggered times to bomb that bridge near Bonn, Germany,” Aranda said.
From the plane behind Coyazo’s, Sgt. Lambert D. Austin wrote “I saw 71M (Coyazo’s bomber) hit by enemy flak on the bomb runs about 20 seconds before bombs away. It exploded immediately in mid-air and went down in a sheet of flame off my right wing and disappeared from sight at 11,00 (sic) feet. Other crew members saw it hit the ground and no chutes were open.”
Gallagher, who has been the master of ceremonies at the cemetery’s Memorial Day events for about 16 years, said members of the military like Coyazo “gave their lives to keep this country free.”
Monday’s ceremony, set for 10:45 a.m., he said, is “a tribute to these honorable people.”
Chairs will be set 6 feet apart for social distancing at the cemetery, 1540 Alessandro Road.
Aranda is set to tell his family’s story, and Leonard Tavernetti, the caretaker of Memory Lane, will share the story of a Redlands soldier who died of the flu during World War I. There will be bagpipes, a performance of “Taps” and a band, followed by an open house buffet at American Legion Post 650, 1532 Church St. in Redlands.
There are just a few more questions the family has about his great-uncle’s death, Aranda said. Four medals are still missing, and he’s also looking for an official DD-214 form with Coyazo’s entire military history.
The family plans to have a private celebration at the Memory Lane marker in June with musicians performing traditional songs from a Catholic funeral Mass.
“We’re going to try to recreate what would have been done for him in 1945,” Aranda said.
The traditional prayers and songs, he said, “they just tug at your heart.”
The Memory Lane marker for Coyazo will be installed amongst markers for prisoners of war who were killed, and service members who were on submarines that sank, among others.
“He’s there with other Purple Heart veterans, who are heroes,” Aranda said, “and he’s home.”