Staff Sergeant Claro Solis was born on August 12, 1920, to Gabino and Manuella Soliz in Silvis, Illinois. Both parents were born in Mexico and spoke only Spanish. They moved to the U.S. in 1906, and to Silvis in 1917. Gabino worked for the railroad. Claro grew up on 2nd Street, which was later renamed Hero Street. Eight Mexican Americans from a two-block section of that street died during WWII and Korea. Claro had two brothers, Anthony and Augustine, and two sisters, Catelina (Catherine) and Isabella. Isabella died at the age of 14 in 1939 from an abscess of the lung. Claro graduated from East Moline High School in 1940, part of the largest graduating class in the history of the school up to that time. After high school, he worked at John Deere Spreader Works.
Claro registered for the draft in February 1942 and enlisted on October 7 in Peoria, Illinois. He boarded a Burlington train in Moline, Illinois, along with 19 other men from the area, and went to Scott Field. Claro was a staff sergeant in Company E, 120th Infantry Regiment, 30th Infantry Division.
After 16 months of training, the 120th Infantry Regiment headed for England on the SS Argentina, sailing from Boston in February 1944. Twelve days later they were debarking near Glasgow, Scotland. In April, they moved to Buckinghamshire for training, where both General Dwight Eisenhower and Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery inspected the regiment. They experienced their first combat shortly thereafter.
In mid-December 1944, after much fighting, the Division moved into Belgium. On Christmas day, enemy action was light. On New Year’s Eve 1944, snow was falling on the end of a year that had seen the 120th Infantry leave the U.S. in February, spend three and a half months in England, land in France on June 12, and distinguish itself at St. Jean de Daye, St. Lo, Mortain, Birk, Altdorf, and Malmedy.
In 1945, Claro was wounded in battle. He was admitted to a U.S. WWII hospital on January 16 due to penetrating battle injuries from artillery and fragments in both the lower intestine and the humerus. He was treated with penicillin therapy and an entero-enterostomy procedure, which joined two parts of the intestine. His parents received a telegram from the war department that Claro had been wounded slightly in Belgium on January 16.
On January 19, Claro succumbed to his injuries. He was just 23. Claro was one of the eight Mexican-Americans who died in WWII or the Korean War who had all lived in a two-block area of 2nd Street in Silvis, Illinois. In 1968, 2nd Street was renamed Hero Street. The Department of Defense concluded that no area of that size in the US had sent more of its children to WWII or Korea to serve in the Armed Forces. In all, 22 families on 2nd Street sent 57 of their children to fight in those two wars.
Claro was not interred at the Rock Island National Cemetery until October 1948. He was initially buried in a U.S. Military cemetery in Henri-Chapelle Belgium. While the war was going on, the U.S. military banned the return of overseas war dead. Money was to go toward fighting rather than shipping bodies back home. Instead, soldiers buried their brothers-in-arms in temporary military cemeteries throughout Europe and the Pacific theater. Then, families were given the choice of leaving their loved ones there or bringing them home. The repatriation program began in July 1947 with a special ceremony at the cemetery and ended in 1951. Claro was disinterred and shipped back home to Silvis for a funeral and burial on the Island. The first shipment of 5,600 American war dead from Henri-Chapelle left Antwerp, Belgium, in the first week of October 1947. Over 30,000 Belgian citizens attended, along with representatives of the Belgian government and senior Americans.
Before Claro left to serve overseas, he wrote out a will. He bequeathed to his family members his ring, a typewriter, and a bicycle that often could not be ridden on the unpaved 2nd Street. And in a letter home once, he said, “Second Street is really not much. But right now, to me, it is the greatest street in the world.”
Hero Street now has a memorial to the men who died in those wars. Claro’s nephew, Sonny Soliz, was instrumental in the efforts to get the memorial and in raising the funds to pay for it. His Uncle Claro and the others who died were heroes to him.
To learn more about the memorial, visit Hero Street U.S.A. · Impact of World War II · Migration is Beautiful (uiowa.edu).