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Memorial Day is May 27, 2019.
We at Salud America! are excited to honor all U.S. military personnel, including the Latinos, who have served and died for our country.
Latinos in the Military: History
Latinos have a “proud and indeed enviable” record of military service that dates back all the way to the Civil War, according to a U.S. Army historical website.
About 20,000 Latino serviceman and women participated in Operation Desert Shield/Storm in 1990-1991, 80,000 in the Vietnam War in 1959-1973, and more than 400,000 in World War II in 1939-1945.
More than 40 Medals of Honor have been awarded to Latinos, according to the Department of Defense.
“Whether their heritage can be traced to Spain, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Mexico, or one of dozens of other Spanish-speaking countries or cultures, they’ve answered the ‘call to duty,’ defending America with unwavering valor and honor,” according to the website.
Latinos in the Military: Today
Racial/ethnic minority groups made up 40% of Defense Department active-duty military in 2015.
That number is up from 25% in 1990, according to a Pew Research report in April 2017.
The Latino share of the active-duty force has continued to rise.
In 2015, 12% of all active-duty personnel were Latino.
That is three times the share in 1980, according to Pew Research.
Two Latinos’ Heroic Stories: Humbert Roque Versace and Marcelino Serna
Pvt. Marcelino Serna was an undocumented Mexican immigrant who joined the U.S. Army and fought in World War I.
He was the first Latino to be awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.
“[In 1918, Serna] stood out for single-handedly capturing 24 German soldiers after a German bullet had grazed his head,” according to the Army’s website. “Perhaps even more impressive, Serna prevented another American Soldier from summarily executing all the captives in the heat of the moment.”
Capt. Humbert Roque ‘Rocky’ Versace, of Puerto Rican-Italian descent, was a member of U.S. Army Special Forces.
Versace, two weeks before he was due to return home, Versace, 27, was captured, Oct. 29, 1963, by Viet Cong guerrillas.
He mounted four escape attempts, ridiculed his interrogators, swore at them in three languages, and confounded them as best he could, according to two U.S. Soldiers captured with him, according to the Army’s website.
“The witnesses said the unbroken Versace sang ‘God Bless America’ at the top of his lungs the night before he was executed, Sept. 26, 1965. His remains have never been recovered,” according to the Army’s website. “Versace was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor, July 8, 2002.”
Latino Contributions to Society
They are creating healthy change in their communities, like these heroes:
- Mental Health Support for City’s Youngest Kids. Fred Cardenas helped build the Early Childhood Well Being (ECWB) at Family Service Association of San Antonio. ECWB intervenes early for kids ages 0-8 who have mental health issues. They provide interaction strategies for parents, teachers, and healthcare providers.
- City Health Advocates Make Physical Activity Fun in Parks. Health worker Pete Garcia created Fitness in the Park. These are free fitness classes in parks in each of the city’s 10 council districts.
- 13-year-old Creates Nutrition App for Kids. Isabella Jimenez of San Antonio is working to create a fun, informative nutrition app for kids.
- City Leader Pushes for Equity in Public Transit. San Antonio City Council Member Rey Saldaña gave up his car for a month. He used buses. He often arrived late, soaked from rain, and frustrated. His eye-opening experiment led him to champion more funding for VIA Metropolitan Transit.