"Hispanics in America's Defense - Latino Blood, American Hearts"
An Artists Interpretation
By Eddie Martinez
I first began developing my presentation on the accounts of Hispanics in the Military early in 2005 after being invited by Mimi Lozano to join the participant team of Somos Primos' 2005 Hispanic Heritage Activities, sponsored by the National Archives and Records Administration, Washington D.C. My task was to produce and present a topic presentation on "Hispanics in the Military" an "Artist's Interpretation" to the National Archives at the William G. McGowan Theater in Washington D.C. on October 12, 2005.
The following is a brief description of the war events as I depicted it. The Latinos in the military covers the time period from 1775 until 2005, beginning with the American Revolutionary War.
In 1777, Viceroy José de Gálvez appointed his nephew, Bernardo de Gálvez to Governor of Spanish Louisiana. Gálvez's first act of defiance against the British as governor was to order vaqueros and presidio soldiers to drive large herds of Texas cattle, horses, and military supplies to General Washington's continental army. After Spain officially declared war against England, General Gálvez's Louisiana Regiment immediately engaged British forces along the Mississippi River, winning every battle. As the war for independence continued, Gálvez forces grew with militia patriots from Cuba, Puerto Rico, Hispañola, Venezuela, and Mexico. Gálvez's final victory against the British came at Pensacola. This ended England's occupation on the "western front," all of the Floridas and the entire Gulf of Mexico. General Bernardo de Gálvez never lost a battle. He defeated the mighty British army in every single military campaign they fought, which I believe set the stage for Washington's victory against the British at Yorktown in 1780.
The military accounts continue with heroes like Captain Juan Seguín and the two major battles fought for the Independence of Texas, Tejanos against Méxicanos. In the Civil War, David Farragut (Spanish decent) became the first Admiral in the Union Navy. In Texas, Tejano Colonel Santos Benavides fought on the side of the Confederates to defeat the Union army for control of the Río Grande. In all, three Latinos servicemen were awarded the Congressional Medals of Honor for brave action during the Civil War. In the Spanish American War, Captain Maximiliano Luna led his Mexican-American Rough Riders in the "Charge of San Juan Hill" at Santiago de Cuba.
World War I had Latinos fighting in trench warfare in France. Army Pvt. David Barkley Cantu received posthumously the Medal of Honor for his heroic action under heavy battle conditions. In World War II, the first combat casualty of the war was Naval pilot Ensign Manuel Gonzales, when Japanese fighter planes shot his aircraft down just before the attack on Pearl Harbor. Much later in the war, Marine Pvt. Guy Gabaldon single-handedly captured 1,500 Japanese soldiers and civilians on the bloody island of Saipan. His Commanding Officer, Colonel John L. Schwabe, recommended that Pvt. Gabaldon be awarded the Medal of Honor for his brave actions in combat.
In the Korean Conflict, Air Force "Ace" pilot Captain Manuel "Pete" Fernandez had several aerial combat victories over Chinese and Russian pilots flying MiG 15 aircraft. Also in this conflict, Marine Pvt. Eugene Obregon was killed in action defending his wounded buddy and fellow Marine while at the same time repelling an enemy attack. He was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for bravery in combat.
The Vietnam War Navy pilot, LTJG Everett Alvarez Jr., was the first to be shot down at the beginning of the war in the Gulf of Tonkin. He became the first prisoner in the infamous "Hanoi Hilton." The last one out of the war was Marine Sergeant Juan Valdez, in charge of the U.S. Embassy in Saigon. Sgt. Valdez was the last to board the last helicopter that lifted off the roof of the U.S. Embassy on the final day of the war.
My presentation concludes with the current Iraqi War and the fine example of patriotic duty of two brave soldiers. Army Pvt. Lori Piestewa of the Hopi Tribe fought and died defending her convoy, in her tradition of a true warrior. Jessica Lynch later said of her, "Piestewa's strength rubbed off on me." Born in Mexico, Marine Sergeant Rafael Peralta's act of bravery was "above and beyond the call of duty." Sgt. Peralta gave his life to save the lives of his fellow Marines by scooping up and cradling a live grenade to his body, absorbing the full impact of the blast. In a letter to his little brother just before his final battle, he wrote, "You should be proud to be an American. Our father came to this country and became a citizen because it was the right place for our family to be. If anything happens to me, just remember I've already lived my life to the fullest."
For all of the many more patriotic Latinos in military service who are not in my presentation, know that your heroic and brave actions in combat are not forgotten; my presentation is only a brief overview. The complete story of "Latinos in America's Defense" still remains to be fully told.
I wish to thank Raul Morin (although he is not among us), for writing "Among the Valiant." It has been an invaluable source for my research on Hispanics in the Military, as well as an inspiration for my work.