The Latino Military Service of Distinction Award
tribute to serving men and women who continue to support our
country through their engagement in their communities, along
with leadership and success in their careers.
88, is the youngest man on record to ever enter the U.S. armed
forces, when he enlisted in the Air Force at age 14. Villa
fought in the Korean War and retired in 1969 with 21-plus years
of active duty. He served another eight-and-a-half years in the
US Air Force Reserves.
Villa’s parents were migrant workers from Texas. Their three sons
got tired of working the fields, so the older two brothers went
to take an Army exam in 1948. Ezekiel tagged along, but sat in
the back of the exam room and was inadvertently handed a test,
“My dad was goofing around and opened it up and started taking the
test,” his daughter Dina recalled in a LaPrensa
interview last year.
After the tests were graded, according to Ms. Villa, her father was
the only one in the room who had passed. He scored high enough
on the exam, he got to choose which branch of military service
he wanted. Her father chose the Army Air Corps, precursor to the
US Air Force.
“It was a snowball effect. He had no idea this was going to
happen,” she said. “He didn’t mean to lie his way in. When asked
how many years of schooling he had, he held up four fingers. The
sergeant assumed he meant four years of high school, not the
fourth grade. After that, he told some very colorful stories in
order to get in. When he was 18, he went and told them the truth
because he was up for a promotion and he knew they would do a
further background check.”
His superior officers threatened to court-martial him, but sent him
to serve in Korea during the war instead. During a battle with
the Chinese/Koreans, he got shot and the opposing forces
stripped him of everything except his pants—including his dog
tags and I.D.—and severely beat him. He was left severely
swollen and unrecognizable.
As Ms. Villa tells it, U.S. troops mistook him for a prisoner of
war and took him with them.
“That saved my father’s life. Otherwise, they probably would have
killed him,” she said. “He was a POW on the U.S. side for a
couple of days, because they didn’t know he was one of them. I
believe this was all due to his mother, at home on her knees,
praying for his safety.”
Ezekiel later returned stateside to finish his military career in a
downtown Toledo office.
According to his daughter, Villa and his wife Consuelo
opened El Tipico restaurant in March, 1968, “now known as
Toledo’s oldest Mexican restaurant and Ohio’s first and only
fresh and organic Mexican restaurant. The owners have always
insisted on buying fresh, local produce to support local
businesses and remain true to a faithful customer base. The
family also has grown fresh ingredients in its own gardens, some
of it located on the restaurant’s grounds.” El Tipico,
which celebrated its 50th anniversary last year, is
now run by Dina.
Mr. Villa’s faith always has been a big part of family life and
deeply rooted in community service. He graduated from Toledo
Bible College and was ordained as a minister in 1972. Villa
started Christ Latino Mission inside Christ Presbyterian Church
at the corner of Talmadge Rd. and Sylvania Ave. later that same
year. According to his daughter “the Sunday services became the
first bilingual church in the area.”
Mr. Villa has also served in a variety of capacities with
community organizations over the years, including: Maumee Youth
Camp, Latinos Unidos, the Northwest Ohio Hispanic Business
Association, Sofia Quintero Art and Cultural Center, Centro
Unico, and Cherry Street Mission.
In December of 2013, Mr. Villa attended a sign unveiling where
Toledo City Council renamed the intersection of South Ave. and
Spencer St. to be Ezekiel Villa Corner in honor of his
long-time service to his community and country. La Prensa was
there and took a variety of photos.