By Roman Palomares, chief of staff and chairman of Veteran Affairs Committee
Our freedoms were not for free. Maintaining the freedoms that our forefathers fought to achieve in 1776 is a constant effort. As we approach the Fourth of July, I want to highlight our veterans who have, more than any other group, sacrificed to ensure those very freedoms. In particular, I want to focus on the sacrifices of our Latino veterans whose contributions rarely get the attention they deserve.
Throughout our nation’s history, Hispanics have been proud to serve, fight and in many instances have paid the ultimate sacrifice in service to our country. In fact, Hispanics have fought in every U.S. conflict from the American Revolution to the war in Afghanistan and have received at least 44 Medals of Honor. Undoubtedly, many more deserve such recognition.
For example, during WWI even in the face of blatant discrimination, Hispanic enlisted servicemen served their country with distinction. Such is the case with Private Marcelino Serna. Serna was personally responsible for capturing 24 German soldiers. In recognition, he was awarded with the Distinguished Service Cross, the French Croix de Guerre, the Victory Medal with three bars and two Purple Hearts. Private Serna was an undocumented immigrant who loved this country.
During WWII, the contributions of Hispanic Americans were also well noted. The Arizona National Guard Unit made up of mostly Hispanic soldiers fought with such distinction that General MacArthur referred to them as “the greatest fighting combat team ever deployed for battle.” In addition, the 141st Regiment of the 36th Texas Infantry Division, which included many Spanish-speaking Americans, was recognized for service and valor. Remarkably, the members of this Regiment were awarded with 31 Distinguished Service Crosses, 12 Legion of Merits, 492 Silver Stars, 11 Soldier’s Medals, 1,685 Bronze Stars, as well as numerous commendations and decorations. Finally, there were multiple Hispanic recipients for the Medal of Honor for WW2.
During the Korean War, 43,434 Puerto Rican soldiers served in the 65th Infantry Regiment. For their service, the infantry received the Presidential Unit Citation, a Meritorious Unit Commendation and two Republic of Korea Unit Citations. Certain members within this infantry also received four Distinguished Service crosses and 124 Silver Stars. As commander of the 65th Infantry Regiment, General W. Harris later described the courageous efforts of this group, “No ethnic group has greater pride in itself and its heritage than the Puerto Rican people. Nor have I encountered any that can be more dedicated and zealous in support of the democratic principles for which the United States stands. Many Puerto Ricans have fought to the death to uphold them.”
During the Vietnam War, approximately 170,000 Hispanic-Americans served in Vietnam, incurring a disproportionally high percentage of casualties.
During the 1990s, 20,000 Hispanic servicemen and women enlisted for Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm. Army Chaplain (Capt.) Carlos C. Huerta of the 1st Battalion, 79th Field Artillery stated that “Hispanics have always met the challenge of serving the nation with great fervor. In every war, in every battle, on every battlefield, Hispanics have put their lives on the line to protect freedom.”
For LULAC, ensuring our veterans receive the benefits and care they need is an integral part of our mission. As a result, the LULAC National Convention from July 4 to the 8 will provide detail workshops and a town hall on the following topics: a discussion of the “Choice” program which allows veterans the use of their own physician when they are unable to be seen by their VA physician; information on burial benefits, as well as, the compensation and claims process which can be difficult to navigate; challenges and fears for green card veterans; and a town hall where veterans can discuss a variety of issues related to the VA.
The 88th LULAC National Convention will also highlight the efforts by the LULAC Veterans Program. Specifically, this year LULAC sponsored 10 Vietnam commemoration events around the country honoring Vietnam veterans for their service.
We’re able to celebrate and enjoy the 4th of July because brave men and women have fought and sacrificed for our continued freedoms. Thus, I hope as your family prepares to enjoy the fireworks, picnics and gatherings with friends and family that you give some thought and thanks to all veterans and in particular Hispanics veterans who have fought so hard so that we can celebrate the 4th of July.
Much of the information for this piece came from the Hispanic Experience, Memorial Day Special Feature, Houston Institute for Culture, Hispanic Contributions to America’s Defense, John P. Schmal