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Dispute Over Historical Items

A 1966 Bowie High School graduate is trying to get back a shadow box containing a letter from President Lyndon B. Johnson, as well as a commemorative Chamizal medal.

He wants that shadow box placed in the Chamizal Park Museum in time for the 55th anniversary of the signing of the Chamizal treaty, but he also wants to rescue it from what he calls, poor conditions.

A district spokesman tells ABC 7 the box was donated to Bowie High School and now belongs to El Paso Independent School District.

Not so, says 1966 Bowie graduate Arnulfo Hernandez, who indicates he’s wiling to take legal action, if need be, to get it back and place in its rightful place, Chamizal Park Museum.

Both sides in this dispute, however, acknowledge a lack of documentation for the item at the center of this dispute.

Hernandez showed ABC 7 a picture of the shadow box and described it: “There it is. It’s a bronze Medal. And the letterhead, it’s on White House letterhead. And you see the damage that’s already done. There two cross bars were at the top. These are watermarks on the paper, and the box is all scratched up.”

The letter is addressed to 96-year-old World War II veteran Manny Val, signed by Lyndon B. Johnson, the 36th President of the United States.

The medal commemorates the signing of the Chamizal treaty by the presidents of Mexico and the U.S.

“The substance of that letter basically says how two nations, two sovereign nations can come together, peacefully and diplomatically resolve a land dispute that has been lingering for many years.” Hernandez explains.

Val, the World War II veteran entrusted the shadow box to Hernandez, so that he in turn could turn it over to the Chamizal museum.

But at the time, he knew no one at that museum, only Bowie alumni. So he asked them to store it for safe keeping.

Ten years later, when Hernandez tried reclaiming the letter, he discovered it was inside a memorabilia storage facility called the Bowie Den, under what he calls deplorable conditions for historical items.

“The shadow box has been under lock and key in a so-called Bowie Den. I characterize it as a dungeon without any windows, no ventilation, certainly no climate control. Deteriorating not only the shadow box but all the memorabilia,” said Hernandez.

When Hernandez asked for the shadow box back to turn it over to the Chamizal, he was told the school district would loan the item to the museum for three years to display it. The school board on Tuesday night did approve the loan, which could be renewed for additional periods of time at the district’s discretion.

Hernandez said he not only wants the box in the Chamizal for the 55th anniversary of the signing of the treaty, he wants it to stay in the Chamizal permanently.

“I won’t stop until that is there where it belongs, if I have to dedicate myself to that issue I will. Because it doesn’t belong where it is now and it’s a shame. It belongs in the Chamizal for the world to see,” proclaimed Hernandez.

That anniversary of the signing off the treaty is Sept. 25, which is next week.

KVIA 2019

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