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Veteran’s Day is on Nov. 11, 2020.
We at Salud America! are excited to honor all U.S. military personnel, including the Latinos, who have served 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.
Latina Navy Oficer Recognized for Service, Mentoring
Lt. Evita Salles of the Navy Recruiting Command (NRC) recently won the American Legion Auxiliary (ALA) Salute to Active Duty Servicewomen Award at the American Legion Annual Conference in Cincinnati, Aug. 30, 2016.
“It was a tremendous honor receiving this award and being recognized by the American Legion Auxiliary,” said Salles. “It is a reminder to me that I am on the right track with what I am doing with my life, and it motivates me to keep on striving to higher levels of excellence.”
Salles, currently the NRC’s director of reserve officer accessions, has been drawn to a life of service from an early age.
“I have wanted to join the Navy since high school when I was a part of the NJROTC unit,” said Salles. “There, I was first exposed to the Navy and I knew this was the place where I could grow and thrive to the best of my abilities and have a rewarding experience.”
And a rewarding experience she has had indeed.
Salles has been given the chance to serve in a variety of career fields from Public Affairs to Naval Flight Officer to her current field of Human Resources. Whatever community Salles was involved with, she credits the Navy for providing so many opportunities.
“The military has shaped me in ways I could never have imagined since I first joined in November of 2007,” said Salles. “I am so much more mature, wise and educated than I was 10 years ago. The Navy has sharpened me spiritually, physically and mentally by challenging me to be the best version of myself through everyday occurrences and opportunities. Every day in the military is an opportunity to do well for others and for one’s self.”
Salles has found that serving others provides a high level of self-satisfaction.
“One time I was running the PRT, and when I finished I noticed there were still several shipmates behind me who were still running,” said Salles.
“One girl in particular struggled with her run and I felt compelled to go back and run with her until she finished strong, even though I was super tired. I wanted to do what I could as her fellow shipmate to motivate her to press on to the best of her abilities. I felt a sense of duty and obligation to do what I could with what little I had left in me to help someone else. This is how I feel each time I serve others, whether it’s for a large project or something as small as helping someone off their feet.”
Doreen Gallagher, a long-time friend, nominated Salles for the award.
“Lt. Salles embodies the American Legion Auxiliary Mission Statement of ‘in the spirit of service, not self’ in her personal life and in her military career,” Gallagher said. “She showed her commitment to the local community by participating in local community service projects and being involved in her local church. I am absolutely thrilled that she won this award. It truly is an honor to know her personally. She is truly deserving of this award.”
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.
You can help, too!
Download the free Salud America! “Handle With Care Action Pack” to start a Handle With Care program. In the program, police notify schools when they encounter children at a traumatic scene, so schools can provide support right away.
Over 65 U.S. cities have started such a program.