|EDINBURG, March 16 - This March 18, 2014 at a ceremony at the White House, President Barack Obama will officially award the Medal of Honor to an additional 17 Hispanics whose actions in defense of this country were forgotten and now recently recognized by the United States of America.
The 17 Hispanics are:
1.) Pvt. Pedro Cano – WW II. Edinburg (born in México)
2.) Pvt. Joe Gandara – WW II. California
3.) Pfc. Salvador J. Lara – WW II. California
4.) Staff Sgt. Manuel V. Mendoza – WW II. Arizona
5.) Cpl. Joe R. Baldonado – Korea. Colorado
6.) Cpl. Víctor H. Espinoza – Korea. Texas
7.) Sgt. Eduardo C. Gómez – Korea. Colorado
8.) Master Sg. Juan E. Negró – Korea.Puerto Rico
9.) Master Sgt. Mike Péña – Korea. Texas
10.) Pvt. Demensio Rivera – Korea. Puerto Rico
11.) Pvt. Miguel Vera – Korea. Puerto Rico
12.) Sgt. Candelario García – Vietnam. Texas
13.) Spec. 4 Leonardo Alvarado – Vietnam. California
14.) Staff Sgt. Félix Conde-Falcón – Vietnam. Puerto Rico
15.) Spec. 4 Jesús S. Durán – Vietnam. California
16.) Spec. 4 Santiago J. Erevia – Vietnam. Texas
17.) Sgt. 1st. José Rodela – Vietnam. Texas
In total, 62 Hispanics have received the Medal of Honor. They are among the 3,407 other Americans nationwide whose sacrifice also earned them this most prestigious award.
The ceremony at the White House will serve to remind us that, beginning with the American Revolution right up to the present conflicts, Hispanics have been at the front of all battles.
They have enjoyed a long history of participation in all major wars and conflicts in support of the USA, and their sons and daughters have shown their allegiance to this country though military service with many of them paying the ultimate sacrifice.
The U.S. Congressional Medal of Honor is bestowed on individuals who, by their courage and gallantry in battle, have come to symbolize true and loyal American Patriots. It was created by an Act of Congress in 1861 (U.S. Navy) and in 1862 (U.S. Army/Air Force) to acknowledge the highest act of valor and “gallantry in action” by members of the U.S. Military. The example of valor must be of such outstanding quality that it distinguishes heroism of a specific individual to his/her country above that of one’s own life.
According to the “U.S. Latino Project: From the American Revolution to Afghanistan,” when the Civil War (although no war is civil) of 1861-1865 started many Hispanic soldiers either fought in the Union or in the Confederate Armies. Thousands of Hispanics made their home in the United States of America during those years, and all of a sudden this population was divided between those who preferred the Union Army and those who fought with the Confederacy Army.
At the beginning of this conflict, approximately 3,000 Hispanics served in the Union Army, and another 1,000 in the Confederate units. Ultimately, around 9,000 served in both the Union and Confederate units, with some serving under separate Hispanic companies. Of the more than 40,000 books on the Civil War, only one, “Vaqueros in Blue and Gray,” details the role of the Hispanic soldier during the Civil War.
One Hispanic officer who became famous during this conflict was Admiral of the United States Navy David Farragut, whose father was Captain Jorge Farragut, who was born in Minorca, Spain, but participated actively in the American Revolution. Admiral David Farragut was instrumental in achieving victory in the Battle of Mobile on August 5, 1864. His cry of “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead” is a statement most school students study in history classes.
In Texas, the Union Army raised 20 companies made up of Tejano Cavalry. Their captains included George Treviño, Clemente Zapata, Cesario Falcón, and José María Martines.
Three Hispanics, Phillip Bazaar from Chile, Joseph H. De Castro from Massachusetts and John Ortega from Spain, were awarded the U.S. Congressional Medal of Honor for their bravery during the Civil War. They have the distinction of being the first three of a total of soon to be 62 Hispanics who have earned the U.S. Congressional Medal of Honor since this medal was instituted.
Many Hispanics also served with the “Rough Riders” under Theodore Roosevelt and among them were John B. Alamía, Joe T. Sandoval and Captain Maximiliano Luna. The last named was a descendant of the conquistadores who settled in New Mexico in 1650. His family had lived in mainland USA since the 17th Century. He was educated at Georgetown University and later served as Sheriff of Valencia County in New Mexico.
During the Boxer Rebellion of 1900, Private France Silva from California earned the U.S. Congressional Medal of Honor when in Peking, China he was instrumental in securing order during these events and helped safeguard the safety of his fellow marines.
World War I produced one Hispanic U.S. Medal of Honor recipient: David Barkley from Laredo. World War II produced 13 Hispanics earning the honor, with four of them from Texas: Lucien Adams from Port Arthur; José M. López from Mission; Cleto Rodríguez from San Marcos; and Macario García from Sugarland (born in México).
The Korean Conflict had eight Hispanic recipients of the U.S. Congressional Medal of Honor, with two from Texas: Benito Martínez from Fort Hancock and Ambrosio Guillén from El Paso. The Vietnam War had 17 Hispanics recipients of the U.S. Congressional Medal of Honor, with three from Texas: Roy P. Benavidez from Cuero; Alfredo González from Edinburg and Miguel Keith from San Antonio. This makes a total of 44 Hispanics nationwide, with ten of them Tejanos.
Joseph H. De Castro was the first Hispanic to be awarded the Medal of Honor for gallantry in action at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania in 1863.
John Ortega, born in Spain, became the first Hispanic sailor to be awarded the Medal of Honor while serving aboard the USS Saratoga in 1865.
Silvestre S. Herrera was awarded not only the U.S. Medal of Honor but México, his place of birth, also honored him with the prestigious Mexican equivalent of “Primer Mérito Militar” becoming the only person authorized to wear both medals.
Macario García, Francisco Jiménez, and Alfred V. Rascón were born in México.
Leroy Tapia Petry from New Mexico was award the Medal of Honor for heroism in Afghanistan.
This list serves as a reminder of the gallantry in action, the unquestionable loyalty, and beyond the call of duty sacrifices exhibited by Hispanics in all wars beginning with their involvement in the American Revolution, the Civil War, the Rough Riders, the Boxer Rebellion, World Wars I and II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and up to the war in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Sgt. Roy P. Benavidez in his book “Medal of Honor - One Man’s Journey from Poverty and Prejudice” writes the following: “I believe that there is no greater calling for a man or a woman than to serve in the military of a free nation. I believe that is a calling that transcends all others because imbedded deep within the soul of every free man or woman is the knowledge that every freedom we have was earned for us by our ancestors, who paid some price for that freedom.”
Congratulations Hispanics, you have made great contributions to the defense of America.
Dr. Lino García, Jr., is professor emeritus of Spanish Literature at UT-Pan American. He can be reached at: LGarcia@utpa.edu