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Hero pilot ‘felt a very patriotic duty’

FOR THE RECORD: Miguel Encinias was awarded three Distinguished Flying Crosses for his service in the U.S. Air Force. This story misidentified the award. Also, Encinias announced plans in 2008 to run for a seat relinquished by former-U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M. He did not run against the senator.

As a scholar, educator, New Mexico historian, and decorated combat flier in three wars, Miguel Encinias both studied and shaped history in a life that spanned nine decades.

The New Mexico native voiced strong opinions in books, letters and the classroom – even as a candidate for the U.S. Senate – until his death Saturday at age 92.

Encinias was shot down over Italy in World War II, held as a German prisoner of war, then went on to fly combat missions in Korea and Vietnam. His service earned him three Distinguished Flying Crosses, awarded for “heroism or extraordinary achievement” in flight combat.

“First and foremost, he felt a very patriotic duty, for World War II especially,” said his son, Juan-Pablo Encinias.

Flight held a special attraction for the elder Encinias.

Miguel Encinias was photographed in 2008 with models of aircraft he flew in World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. Encinias died Saturday at age 92. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

Miguel Encinias was photographed in 2008 with models of aircraft he flew in World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. Encinias died Saturday at age 92. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

“What really drew him to that line of service was his love of flying,” his son said. “He was absolutely obsessed with flying.”

But flying and military service consumed only the early stage of his life. After he retired from the Air Force as a lieutenant colonel in 1968, Encinias studied French at the University of Paris and later earned a double doctorate in Hispanic literature and education at the University of New Mexico.

Encinias taught Hispanic literature at two New Mexico universities and developed bilingual programs for Albuquerque Public Schools in the 1980s that were replicated across the state, Juan-Pablo Encinias said.

“He was very just and felt very strongly about people getting their fair shake in life,” his son said.

He was active in Hispanic rights organizations and was honored by New Mexico LULAC in May 2007 and by the Hispano Round Table of New Mexico in February 2011, according to Ralph Arellanes, chairman of the Hispano Round Table.

Encinias wrote several books on New Mexico history, wrote a historical novel about Juan de Oñate, and co-translated “Historia de la Nueva Mexico,” an epic poem written in 1610 by Gaspar Pérez de Villagrá.

Encinias remained active and robust at least into his 80s.

“I can do 30 chin-ups and 80 push-ups,” Encinias told the Journal in 2008 when he made his first run for public office – an unsuccessful bid against Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M.

Encinias, a Democrat, ran on a platform of universal health care on the European model, some measures to control gun violence and opposition to a barrier wall on the border to control immigration.

“My age shouldn’t matter,” he said at the time. “If anything, it should be an advantage in terms of life experience.”

Much accomplished

Encinias lacked nothing in life experience.

A native of Las Vegas, N.M., Encinias joined the National Guard in 1939 at the age of 16, in part to help his large family struggling through the Great Depression.

His Guard unit was called to active duty after he finished high school and Encinias served as a combat engineer in the U.S. Army’s 45th Infantry Division, according to biographical information in the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage.

After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, Encinias trained to become a pilot and was sent to North Africa as the campaign there was ending.

He later flew a British-made Spitfire fighter in combat in Italy, where his division saw intense fighting during the invasion of Sicily and the attack on Salerno in the 1943 Italian Campaign.

Encinias was taken prisoner in 1944 after his aircraft was shot down over northern Italy. During 15 months as a prisoner of war, he was transferred to a camp in Germany until its liberation by Russian soldiers.

During the Korean War, his P-51 Mustang was shot down, leaving him injured in a U.S. surgical hospital. Encinias went on to fly an F-86 fighter jet during the Vietnam War.

In addition to his three Distinguished Flying Crosses, Encinias received 14 Air Medals and two Purple Hearts, making him one of New Mexico’s most highly decorated veterans.

While stationed in Europe, he met Jeannine Blondel, a French woman whom he married in 1964. The couple raised three children.

After his military career ended, he taught Hispanic literature at Western New Mexico University and the now-defunct University of Albuquerque, and trained bilingual teachers at Albuquerque Public Schools.

In the meantime, he helped found the theater group La Compañia de Teatro de Alburquerque and a light-opera company, La Zarzuela de Alburquerque.

In 1993, he was appointed to the World War II Memorial Advisory Board and contributed to planning the memorial on the mall at Washington, D.C.

“It’s kind of amazing how much he accomplished,” Juan-Pablo Encinias said. “He really didn’t stop.”

He is survived by his wife, Jeannine Encinias, his daughter, Maria-Isabel Encinias, and son, Juan-Pablo Encinias. He was preceded in death by his daughter Ana-Maria “Nana” Encinias.

Funeral services will be held at San Felipe de Neri Church in Old Town at 11 a.m. Thursday followed by a 1 p.m. reception at the New Mexico Hispanic Cultural Center, 1701 Fourth SW. Interment will take place at 9 a.m. Friday at Santa Fe National Cemetery.

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