Four days ago, we celebrated the 75th anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, also referred to as a “Day That Will Live in Infamy.” On that day, 75 years ago at approximately 8 a.m. in the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, the Japanese attempted to destroy the Pacific Fleet at the American Naval Base near Honolulu.
Planes flew over Pearl Harbor raining down bombs and bullets onto the vessels moored below. At 8:10 a.m., a 1,800-pound bomb smashed through the deck of the battleship USS Arizona and landed in her forward ammunition magazine.
The ship exploded and sank with more than 1,000 men trapped inside. Next, torpedoes pierced the shell of the battleship USS Oklahoma. With 400 sailors aboard, the Oklahoma lost her balance, rolled onto her side and slipped underwater.
By the time the attack was over, every battleship in Pearl Harbor– the Arizona, the Oklahoma, California, West Virginia, Utah, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Nevada had sustained significant damage. (All but the Arizona and Utah were eventually salvaged and repaired.)
In all, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor crippled or destroyed 18 American ships and nearly 300 airplanes. Dry docks and airfields were likewise destroyed. Most importantly, almost 2,500 men were killed and another 1,000 were wounded.
Rudy Martinez, a Mexican American young sailor who had just left his family in San Diego for Pearl Harbor, officially became the first Hispanic to be killed in World War II. Martinez was awarded the Purple Heart and World II Victory Medals posthumously.
That morning, the 21-year-old Navy electrician’s mate 3rd class was aboard the USS Utah battleship when the vessel was suddenly and deliberately struck by two Japanese torpedoes in the attack.
Within minutes of being struck, the USS Utah sank, trapping Martinez, six officers and 52 other men, who went down with the ship.
Martinez was a high school wrestling champion and became a featherweight boxer. Since then, the American Legion Post 624 in Mansfield, Texas has been renamed The Rudolph M. Martinez Post.
Martinez’s death marked the beginning of the Latino impact on World War II.
About half a million Latinos served during the war. Gen. Douglas MacArthur referred to the Arizona National Guard’s 158th Infantry Regiment “Bushmasters” as “one of the greatest fighting combat teams ever deployed for battle.” The regiment was comprised of many Latino soldiers.
In the years since, Latinos in the United States have increasingly become a part of the history and fabric of the strongest military the world has ever known.
The history of Latinos in the U.S. Army spans from the War of 1812, when Latinos played their first major role in what some term “America’s second war of independence,” to the most recent Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
To date, 61 Latinos have received the highest military decoration, the Congressional Medal of Honor, which includes Cleto Rodriguez, the grandfather and namesake of News 4 WOAI reporter Cleto Rodriguez. The elder Rodriguez also served in World War II.
On this year’s anniversary of “The Day that will live in Infamy,” we remembered all our men and women who have served in uniform to include those Hispanics who have given their lives for this county as well.
As always, I write just a thought.
Steve Walker is a Viet Nam Veteran, former Journalist and Justice of the Peace.