WWII Gold Star Family
Recently, I had the distinct pleasure of meeting two members of one of the longest living family residents of Santa Clarita Valley, Bettyrose Cordova and her daughter Nancy.
This meeting resulted from preparations for our Fallen Warriors Monument unveiling ceremony which was held Wednesday, Nov. 8, at Newhall’s Veterans Historical Plaza.
We realized that SCV still has at least one known WWII Gold Star family in SCV, the Cordova family.
Johnny Cordova was killed at 22 years of age in fierce combat against Japanese forces at Okinawa June 18, 1945, just 58 days before Emperor Hirohito’s unconditional surrender.
Johnny is SCV’s last of 18 WWII fallen warriors. The following is Bettyrose and Nancy’s story.
Spanish Land Grant
The Cordova family goes back to 1835 in Santa Clarita when Spanish/Native American Jesus Cordova received a Spanish Land Grant of 1,040 acres in Castaic Canyon.
Jesus later participated in John C. Frémont’s famous expeditions that mapped the Western frontier. Frémont’s initial explorations, his timely scientific reports coauthored by his wife Jesse, and their romantic writing style, encouraged Americans to migrate and settle in the west. John Frémont was known as The Pathfinder.
Ever since the Cordova’s settled in Santa Clarita Valley they have continued as cattle ranchers, even to this day. Bettyrose’s daughter Nancy manages their remaining 100 acres and another 900 leased acres.
Jesus Cordova and his wife Chata, a Native American Indian of California had nine sons and three daughters, including Marcus who later married Rosa.
All of Jesus’ sons were cowboys – and bachelors, except for Marcus.
Marcus and Rosa had a total of 18 children with 13 living into adulthood.
Together Marcus and Rosa established the Cordova Ranch where they had seven sons and six daughters. All of their children, including Johnny, were born in the Cordova ranch house.
Johnny Cordova and his siblings attended Castaic Union Elementary School where most of them finished with an 8th grade education. All of the boys were cowboys on the Cordova Ranch and five were drafted and trained at either Fort Ord or Camp Roberts and served in World War II.
Johnny was an expert rifleman and he was a terrific horseman, Bettyrose said.
“Everyone loved the Cordova boys, especially Johnny, so much so that many family members later named their sons Johnny,” she said.
Late in the war, Johnny took a troop ship to join the fighting in Okinawa where he was mortally wounded.
Two SCV Fallen Soldiers
John Cordova died of his wounds and U.S. Army records listed him as “Died of Wounds June 18, 1945”.
Johnny was initially buried at Okinawa, but his body was exhumed and relocated to the U.S. to be buried in SCV’s Ruiz-Perea Cemetery in San Francisquito Canyon. It now sits on private property.
Johnny’s brothers Lawrence and Rudy received their brother’s body at the Saugus Train Station, and, following a memorial service Lawrence and Rudy personally dug their brother’s grave.
It turns out the body of another Santa Clarita Valley fallen soldier, Eugene Darr, also returned via train with Johnny’s body.
Veterans Historical Plaza
It’s noted that Jesus and Chata’s, son Marcus married Rosa at a Newhall courthouse located at what is now our Veterans Historical Plaza.
Five Cordova brothers served admirably in the U.S. Army with Patrick, known as handsome and quite the lady’s man who also wore beautiful cowboy boots, served in 163rd Infantry Division.
William Cordova served with 101st Airborne “Screaming Eagles” and participated in Normandy’s D-day Invasion at Omaha Beach where he landed on a sharp anti troop abutment injuring his leg.
William was subsequently hit by German shrapnel earning him a Purple Heart. Army doctors threatened to remove his leg but William wouldn’t hear of it and he went on to serve the remainder of WWII.
To honor his brother, William named one of his sons Johnny. Michael trained at Ford Ord and was sent to the Aleutian Islands as American forces battled the Japanese where he was shot at and missed.
Cordova Family Ranch
Rudy also trained at Fort Ord and transferred to Fort Lee, Virginia. He became a driver for a Colonel Dalton who recognized that he had four brothers serving in combat, with his brother Johnny who had been killed in action, so he made certain that Rudy was not deployed overseas.
Nancy’s father Lawrence, who married Bettyrose, was not drafted because he was the last of the Cordova brothers who could manage their family ranch.
The oldest Cordova brother, Ignacio, known as Natch was not drafted due to medical issues, plus he was married and had a family of his own. Natch worked with the Forest Service and had some involvement with his family’s ranch.
St. Francis Dam Failure
At 11:57 p.m. on March 12, 1928 the St. Francis Dam in Bouquet Canyon built in 1926, catastrophically failed, resulting in a flood that killed an estimated 430 people.
This collapse is considered one of America’s worst civil engineering disasters of
the 20th century and remains the second greatest loss of life in California’s history, after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire.
Bettyrose and Nancy said that following that disaster it was determined that other water reservoirs must be established to serve thirsty Southern Californians.
So, it was deemed necessary to take property from several ranchers in Castaic Canyon, including the majority of Cordova’s ranch, to create Castaic Lake. Eminent Domain was the legal method used for emergency land grabbing.
Lawrence and Rudolph Cordova were given 90-days notice to clear out. However, when that deadline had barely approached, prisoners from Lancaster were brought in to destroy their out buildings that contained hay and cattle feed, tear down barb wire fences and posts along with their windmill.
“The worst part was seeing their ranch house go up in flames and she’ll never forget her father saying ‘oh my God Rudy, our ranch is on fire,’” Nancy said.
Fortunately they had removed their valuables. It was simply a heartbreaking moment for the entire Cordova family.
Many Cordova family members still reside in Castaic today. And Bettyrose can see Castaic Lake’s dam from her dining room window. She acknowledged that even though a bit of resentment is still felt, it’s really best for Southern Californians to have this wonderful lake as opposed to her having her whole ranch.
Bettyrose’s daughter Nancy said, “Our long generational tradition of cattle ranching is not going away anytime soon.”