Reyner Aceves Aguirre was born July 30, 1918, in San Gabriel, California. He was the youngest of five children of Rose Aceves Aguirre, a homemaker, and Francisco Aguirre, a gardener. The parents were immigrants from Mexico.
Reyner’s sister Marina said their father got the name Reyner from a novel. The family called him Neer, though he signed letters as Reyner, Ner or Nero.
By the time of the 1930 Census Mrs. Aguirre was identified as a widow. The family suffered another death in 1935 when son Erin, then 19, died in a car accident. Then, in about 1938, the Great Depression forced the family to relocate from their longtime home to nearby Alhambra.
Reyner quit school briefly, but graduated in 1938 from Alhambra HIgh. He liked to hang out at Long Beach with friends and had a surfboard painted in the school colors of blue and gold. He also played right end on the San Gabriel Mules, a sandlot football team.
Mr. Aguirre loved music, and he and his best friend, Mike Landa, would take Reyner’s old roadster to the Hollywood Palladium to hear big-bands, including the “King of Swing,” Benny Goodman.
The spring 1940 Census said Mr. Aguirre was a laborer for the water department, earning $666 the previous year for 52 weeks of work. That’s equal to about $12,300 in 2020. While a small sum, he was fortunate to have full-time employment at a time when so many young men could find no work at all.
In 1941 he and his friend Mike decided to join the Navy together. Reyner enlisted on June 6, but Mike was too underweight to qualify.
Mr. Aguirre was a seaman second class on the U.S.S. Arizona when he was killed six months later in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
A memorial service was held at Mexican Presbyterian Church in San Gabriel in February 1942. One of the speakers was the president of the YMCA Comrades Club, which Mr. Aguirre led until his Navy enlistment. The service also included his favorite hymn, “The Old Rugged Cross.”
When his friend Mike Landa and his wife had a son in 1943 they named him Michael Reyner Landa.
About a year after World War II ended, American Legion Post 748 was organized in San Gabriel and named in Mr. Aguirre’s memory. The post built a playground in his honor in 1955.
“Our family coped with Reyner’s death in many different ways,” his nephew Frank Manuel Aguirre Andrade wrote in 2002 in his book “Reyner Didn’t Come Home.”
“For many years, Grandma Rose did not remove or touch anything that belonged to Reyner. His high school sweater remained hanging in the closet. His racing bicycle hung upside down in the enclosed rear porch. His possessions and artifacts remained as a reminder.”
Sources: Mr. Andrade’s book is the source of most of the information in this profile. In his introduction, he said he wrote the book in response to an American Legion member who asked “Who is Reyner Aguirre?” The book is also an excellent history of the Mexican-American community in the San Gabriel barrio during the 1920s and 30s. Other sources include: the Post-Advocate of San Gabriel; the Los Angeles Times; Census; Navy muster roll; California birth index. This profile was researched and written on behalf of the U.S.S. Arizona Mall Memorial at the University of Arizona.