Francisco D. Mercado, Jr., who served in the U.S. Army Air Forces (USAAF) during World War II, was born in East Los Angeles, California, in 1920. As a Hispanic American, he experienced one of his most egregious encounters with prejudice after graduating from high school in 1939. Having shown both a strong aptitude and interest in electrical work, Mercado enrolled in and graduated from a trade school to pursue a career in that field. He ranked high in his class, but was only one of two graduates not selected as apprentices by the electricians union. (The other person not selected as an apprentice was a Japanese American.)
After the United States entered World War II on the side of the Allies less than two years later, Mercado enlisted as an Army Air Corps aviation cadet. He completed both primary and basic flight training by the fall of 1942, and underwent dual engine advanced pilot training at Williams Field in Arizona the following year.
Mercado was eventually assigned to the USAAF 491st Bomb Group (Heavy), which arrived in England in the spring of 1944. After additional training, he began flying combat missions as part of the Normandy landing operations. By the end of the summer, Mercado was flying as part of a lead crew for the 853rd Bomb Squadron. He ultimately undertook 35 combat missions during the war and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.
After the war, Mercado pursued a longtime career as a journeyman electrician and became one of the first Hispanic Americans in that category to join the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. He died in Los Angeles in 2005 at the age of 85.
Photo Credit: Public Domain
For more information on Francisco D. Mercado, Jr., please check out https://www.americanairmuseum.com/person/66038