Killed during the war, in the Philippines in 1945, his body was not returned to his family until 1949. Upon receiving the body, his family attempted to bury him at the local cemetery, but the only funeral home in town denied wake services since Felix was Mexican American. The G.I. Forum fought against the injustice and he was eventually buried in Arlington National Cemetery near Washington D.C.
Born and raised in Three Rivers, Texas, Longoria later moved to Corpus Christi, TX with his wife in search of work. There his wife bore them a daughter who was only a young child when Felix enlisted. Prior to the war, he worked as a truck driver.
In November 1944, Longoria enlisted in the army and, in late April 1945, shipped out from Fort Ord, CA to the 27th Infantry Regiment of the 25th Infantry Division, then located in Luzon in the Philippines, leaving behind his wife and four-year-old daughter. He arrived on Luzon, Philippines, about June 1, 1945. Within two weeks after landing on the Island of Luzon, Pacific Theatre, a platoon to which Longoria was assigned was ambushed by a hidden Japanese machine gunner. Longoria was among those killed. His badly mangled remains were not identified and returned to the United States until 1949.
In Texas during the 1940s, as in other parts of the country, Mexican Americans were considered non-white. Segregation of Mexican American children in schools and employment discrimination against Mexican American workers was pervasive in the Southwestern United States. The town of Three Rivers, Texas was no exception with the section nearest the river and west of the railroad setup for Mexican Americans to live in segregation (see referenced map, the streets west of the rail lines have names in Spanish).
Generally Mexican-American World War II servicemen were integrated into regular military units but some served in segregated Mexican American units such as Company C, 141st Infantry Regiment, 36th Infantry Division of the Texas Army National Guard.
The soldier's widow tried to make arrangements with the director of the funeral home in Three Rivers to wake his remains at the funeral home. Tom Kennedy, the funeral home director, would not allow Longoria's remains to lie in state in the chapel because he was a "Mexican" and because "the whites would not like it." He repeated this sentiment in phone conversations with Dr. Garcia and reporter, George Groh, of the Corpus Christi Caller. Kennedy was willing to set up a wake at the Longoria home in the segregated area across the railroad tracks from the white section of town as was the customary treatment of Mexican Americans by the Three Rivers Community. Felix Longoria was to be re-interred in the Longoria Cemetery (purchased by his father in 1925), abutting the West side of the town's all white cemetery, this portion of the cemetery separated by a fence at that time was reserved by the Three Rivers Community for the Mexican Americans. It was planned for Longoria to be buried in his family cemetery, but U.S. Senator Lyndon B. Johnson, after an investigation into the Longoria Affair, offered to have Pvt. Longoria's remains interred at Arlington National Cemetery in an effort to end the controversy surrounding the viewing of his coffin prior to burial. Publication of an article in the New York Times brought national attention to the incident and it became known as the Felix Longoria Affair. Walter Winchell on his radio program stated "The big state of Texas looks mighty small tonight".
Outraged Texanos sought to end discrimination organized under the newly formed American GI Forum and its leader Dr. Héctor P. García. With news reports of the incident making it into national papers, the intervention of freshman Senator Lyndon B. Johnson came into play, and arrangements were made for Felix Longoria's remains to be reinterred in Arlington National Cemetery in a military ceremony with eighteen other soldiers whose remains had been repatriated from foreign soil where they had served and died. Full military honors was accorded each burial.
Under mounting national pressure, the State of Texas took action. The Texas House of Representatives appointed a five person committee to investigate the allegations of racism. The Committee met in the Three Rivers Chamber of Commerce, next to the barber shop that only served whites. The open hearings, took testimony, statements, and heard arguments on the issue. In the end, two reports were filed, a majority report that found no racism occurred and a minority report by the lone dissenting member, Frank Oltorf, who found that it was discriminatory based on race. The reports and supporting documentation was filed with the Texas House of Representatives, but when one of the four removed his name from the majority report, both reports were pulled from the record. Today, all we have are the summaries of both reports without any supporting documentation.Purple Heart
Good Conduct Medal
Combat Infantryman Badge
What has now become known as the "Longoria Affair" was a pivotal moment in the early stages of the post-World War II Chicano Movement in the United States. The newly formed GI Forum (est. March 1948) had campaigned the plight of the Hispanic veterans receiving unequal treatment by the military in Corpus Christi, Texas. Mrs. Longoria and her sister contacted the Dr. Hector Perez Garcia, the founder of the American GI Forum, who began lobbying for improvements. The national and international press picked up the story and even impacted U.S. Mexican relations.
The Felix Longoria affair became an early example of a unifying event in the Chicano Movement. The intervention of Dr. Hector García and the American GI Forum in the matter led to an increased interest around the country in opening local chapters of the organization.
Among Mexican Americans and Hispanics across the country, the incident became a rallying point and a recruiting tool for the GI Forum that soon had chapters across the US.
In 2004, Santiago Hernandez of Corpus Christi, and an employee of the Federal Prison near Three Rivers began a push for local recognition of Private Felix Longoria in Three Rivers. He put forth a proposal to name the city's Post Office in honor of Felix Longoria which rekindled old tensions and longstanding resentments surrounding the events of 1948–1949. In this atmosphere the proposal was rejected.
Failing to name the Post Office after Longoria, Hernandez gained permission from the Tejano owner of the now closed and dilapidated, funeral home to place a Texas Historical Marker on the property. The Texas Historical Commission granted permission, over the local historical commission and the mostly white supporters of Mr. Kennedy objections to the marker and the information on it. Surrounded by local controversy the marker was installed in the Spring of 2010. The funeral home was demolished by new owners in 2014 with the lot turned into a parking area and the historical marker was damaged and removed shortly after when hit by a car. The new owners of the property asked that the marker not be returned after it was repaired, so it was rededicated and installed in the town square at the entrance to city hall.
The placement of the historical marker and the documentary which chronicled these events and the events of 1948 are still controversial in Three Rivers to this day. The exact words Mr. Kennedy used and his reasons for denying the use of the funeral home are disputed by some local whites, and the family and friends of Mr. Kennedy.