June7, 2002

Commentary

Memorial Day 2002

Not a Single Latino Medal of Honor Winner Mentioned!

Jorge Mariscal

During Memorial Day weekend, I happened to turn to CNBC. Tim Russert is interviewing author Allen Mikaelian and CBS’s Mike Wallace. They have just published a book called Medal of Honor: Profiles of America’s Military Heroes from the Civil War to the Present. As a veteran, I am interested in the topic and pay close attention. I know that Mexican Americans have won more Congressional Medals of Honor than any other “minority” group. Which Chicano or Latino will they honor, I wonder. Russert gushes over the eleven medal winners featured in the book, Wallace is the mature wise man, Mikaelian an earnest young scholar without affect. Together they take us through the book—the only woman medal winner, a Japanese American soldier killed in Korea, two African American heroes. As the program hits the half hour I say to my wife, “They can’t possibly do this show without mentioning one Latino, can they? Could this high-profile book have been published without reference to a single Latino medal winner?” 

The program ends and I have the answer to my questions—a resounding “yes.” Yes, they could do an entire book and tv show on the Medal of Honor and not mention one Mexican American or Puerto Rican. I shake my head in disgust, my anger dissolved in disbelief. Am I being “politically correct” in asking that our community and its history not be erased? Oh, I know—”We couldn’t include everyone. We had to make hard choices,” the authors will say. 

But how can a community with so (too?) many heroes be excluded from the national memory? Where are the stories of all those medal winners with Spanish surnames? The honor roll is long—Joe Martinez (World War II), Manuel Perez (World War II), Marcario Garcia (World War II), David Gonzales (World War II), Eugene A. Obregon (Korea), Benito Martinez (Korea), Roy P. Benavidez (Viet Nam), Everett Alvarez (Viet Nam), Hector Santiago-Colon (VIet Nam), Daniel Fernandez (Viet Nam), Euripides Rubio (Viet Nam), and all the rest. As Raul Morin put it in his classic book, these men and many others deserve their place among the valiant. 

Listen to just three of the official citations:

MARCARIO GARCIA Staff Sergeant, U.S. Army, Company B, 22d Infantry, 4th Infantry Division. Place and date: Near Grosshau, Germany, 27 November 1944. Entered service at: Sugarland, Tex. Born: 20 January 1920, Villa de Castano, Mexico. Attacking German positions on a wooded hill, which could be approached only through meager cover, his company was pinned down by intense machinegun fire and subjected to a concentrated artillery and mortar barrage. Although painfully wounded, he refused to be evacuated and on his own initiative crawled forward alone until he reached a position near an enemy emplacement. Hurling grenades, he boldly assaulted the position, destroyed the gun, and with his rifle killed 3 of the enemy who attempted to escape.

BENITO MARTINEZ Corporal, U.S. Army, Company A, 27th Infantry Regiment, 25th Infantry Division. Place and date: Near Satae-ri Korea, 6 September 1952. Entered service at: Fort Hancock, Tex. Born: 21 March 1931, Fort Hancock, Tex While manning a listening post forward of the main line of resistance, his position was attacked by a hostile force of reinforced company strength. In the bitter fighting which ensued, the enemy infiltrated the defense perimeter and, realizing that encirclement was imminent, Cpl. Martinez elected to remain at his post in an attempt to stem the onslaught. In a daring defense, he raked the attacking troops with crippling fire, inflicting numerous casualties. Although contacted by sound power phone several times, he insisted that no attempt be made to rescue him because of the danger involved. After a courageous 6-hour stand and shortly before dawn, he called in for the last time, stating that the enemy was converging on his position His magnificent stand enabled friendly elements to reorganize, attack, and regain the key terrain.

DANIEL FERNANDEZ Specialist Fourth Class, U.S. Army, Company C, 1st Battalion, 5th Infantry (Mechanized) 25th Infantry Division. Place and date: Cu Chi, Hau Nghia Province, Republic of Vietnam, 18 February 1966. Entered service at: Albuquerque, N. Mex. Born: 30 June 1944, Albuquerque, N. Mex. Upon reaching a fallen comrade… Sp4c. Fernandez took charge, rallied the left flank of his patrol and began to assist in the recovery of the wounded sergeant. While first aid was being administered to the wounded man, a sudden increase in the accuracy and intensity of enemy fire forced the volunteer group to take cover. As they did, an enemy grenade landed in the midst of the group, although some men did not see it. Realizing there was no time for the wounded sergeant or the other men to protect themselves from the grenade blast, Sp4c. Fernandez vaulted over the wounded sergeant and threw himself on the grenade as it exploded, saving the lives of his 4 comrades at the sacrifice of his life

Another May day when we honor those who served their country. It seems we have only traveled a short distance on the long road to equality of treatment for Mexican Americans. Old questions remain unanswered—How will our children learn their history if the society at large continues to ignore it? How will our neighbors overcome the tendency to view us as foreigners if our stories are not told? When will this country treat us with the dignity we have earned? If not on Memorial Day, then when?

Jorge Mariscal was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1968 and served in Viet Nam the following year. His father was a U.S. Marine in World War II; his tios fought in the Pacific and Korea.

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