Costa Rica remembers Armistice Day

November 7, 2008

War veteran and Costa Rica are not often mentioned in the same conversation.

However, a wreath-laying ceremony in San José´s Parque de Francia yesterday morning to mark the 90th anniversary of the end of World War I, and the unveiling of a war exhibit at the National Museum, attested to the fact that heroic Ticos came to France´s aid during Europe´s “War to End All Wars.”

An aspiring aviator and a prized poet formed part of a handful of Costa Ricans who as young men enlisted in the fabled Foreign Legion that fought in the 1914-1918 war.  

One of them was Tobías Bolaños, a national hero, with an airport named after him in Pavas, west of San José, but whose story few Ticos remember.

An aviator in WWI, Bolaños was Costa Rica´s first pilot.

Bolaños joined the fight when he was 22, flying in northern France and in the Catalan Pyrenees, until injuries, a plane accident, and an amputated right leg, ended his battle time, according to Gerardo Bolaños, 64, the pilot´s great nephew.

A journalist, Bolaños is well versed in the stories of his great uncle and the Costa Ricans who joined him in the war. He wrote portions of the text for the exhibit, entitled “The Great War, 90 years on – Ticos fighting for peace,” which displays objects such as manuscripts, medals of honor, helmets, swords and Luger and Colt.45 pistols.

José Basileo Acuña, another WWI veteran, left medical studies in London when he was 19 to join the legion in France. Only 1 meter and 60 inches tall, Bolaños said, Basileo worked in an ambulance gathering injured soldiers to bring them to health and safety.

Basileo later became known as “the poet who went to war,” Bolaños said, earning Costa Rica´s top literary prize, the Premio Magón.

Present at the Armistice Day celebration, organized by the French Embassy, were a host of foreign ambassadors, a band, and Costa Rican excombatientes of World War II and the 1948 Costa Rican Civil War.

Asked how he felt 60 years after his country abolished its military, civil war veteran Ismael Quesada replied, “It makes me want to raise the flag.”

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