Air Force Lt. Col. Hector Santa Ana flew 35 missions during a 17-week blitz over Germany during World War II and 127 Berlin Air Lift missions. He also taught hundreds of Air Force pilots to fly before his retirement. A long-time resident of Millersville, Maryland, he died Dec. 9 of pneumonia at Dover, Delaware.
Santa Ana was one of a very few Hispanic pilots during World War II. In recent years he has been highlighted in books and documentaries, including Walter Cronkite’s “Heroes of World War II” and a play entitled “Voices of Valor,” which portrays Latinos who served in World War II. He discussed his career for the University of Texas’ U.S. Latino & Latina World War II Oral History Project.
A great-great-nephew of the Mexican general who captured the Alamo in 1836, Santa Ana joined what then was the Army Air Corps during World War II, earning his wings in 1943. Of the 97 cadets in his class, he was the only Latino, he said. At one point in his career, he taught other Hispanics to fly at a basic training school in Waco, Texas.
In 1944 and 1945, as a B-17 pilot with the 486th Bombardment Group, he flew 37 combat missions over Berlin, Dresden and Munich, including those intensive 35 in 17 weeks, logging more than 250 hours of combat flight time. After the war he taught instrument flying, then was assigned to the Berlin Airlift in 1948. He was chief of the U.S. Military Group’s Protocol Office in Madrid in the 1950s and served as a special assistant to the Secretary of Defense in the early 1960s. He retired from the Air Force in 1964.
Following retirement, he earned a business degree from the University of Maryland and an advanced degree from George Washington University. He worked in public relations for the FAA, designed and ran NASA exhibits, and served on President Nixon’s Committee on Aging and his Cabinet Committee on Opportunities for Spanish-Speaking People. He continued his passion for flight as an instructor at the Navy Flying Club in Annapolis and as a volunteer for the Air Mobility Command Museum at Dover Air Force Base.
During a 13,000-hour flying career, he flew every multiengine aircraft of his era, starting with the B-17 and including the giant B-36, one of his daughters commented.