On this Veteran’s Day, It’s Time Not to Just Recognize our Latino Veterans but Know Them

LatinaLista — In 2007, 1.1 million of our nation’s veterans were Hispanic.
As of August 28, 2008, Hispanics comprised the second largest group of soldiers killed in Iraq — 10.67%.

Through the noble efforts of Latina and Latino academicians, we are gaining increased recognition for all the unsung Latino veterans who have served this country in wars past.
Yet, there are so many more unsung Latino war heroes that are continuing the tradition of going above and beyond the call of duty but, unfortunately, we don’t know about them like we should.
There are dreams to rectify this oversight. Two years ago, a group of war veterans in San Antonio, Texas embarked on an ambitious mission to create a National Hispanic Veterans Museum. As the organizers of this monumental task say:

Some people may see this as discrimination, however, there is presently no museum that highlights Hispanic veteran’s accomplishments and contributions to our country via military service.
Over the years, Hispanic military personnel have given their blood, sweat, and tears in their defense of this nation and have received very little, if any, recognition for their efforts. We believe it is time that everyone realize that Hispanic veterans have given much to this country. And some of these Hispanic veterans were not even American citizens at the time of service and sacrifice to the United States of America.

It’s not clear how far the group has come in raising money for the museum but it’s safe to say that it’s still a dream yet to be realized.
In the meantime, as a tribute to all the Latinas and Latinos who have served and are serving our nation, we share some of the stories of the new generation of Latino war heroes. You will notice that there is not one story of a Latina
Yet, if you have a story of a Latino/a war veteran you’d like to share, send it to latinalista@airmail.net and we’ll make sure to share your stories with the greater Latino community because no soldier should have his/her military contribution go “unsung.”
(The following profiles were taken from HispanicContributions.org and icasualties.org.)

Ivan Castro was a U.S. Army Ranger in Iraq when a mortar explosion drove shrapnel through his body, shredding the left side of his face, leaving him permanently blind. He stayed in the Army, becoming the only blind officer serving in the Special Forces — the small, elite units famed for dropping behind enemy lines on combat missions. As executive officer of the Special Forces, his duties don’t directly involve combat, but he does just about everything that leads up to it. “I am going to push the limits,” he said. “I want to work every day and have a mission. I want to support the guys and make sure life is easier for them so that they can accomplish the mission.” His commanding officer says, “Obviously, he cannot do some things that a sighted person can do. But Ivan will find a way to do whatever he needs to get done. I am most impressed with his determination to continue to serve his country after all that he’s been through.”

Capt. Maria I. Ortiz, 40, of Bayamon, P.R., died July 10 in Baghdad, Iraq, of wounds suffered from enemy indirect fire. She was assigned to the Kirk U.S. Army Health Clinic, Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md.

Army Staff Sgt. Luis Falcon was on a routine patrol in a poor neighborhood of Baqubah, Iraq when he came upon a young girl, named Shahad She was sitting in an old wheelchair, blood crusting on the stumps where her legs had been. It all began one day when she was walking home from school. A roadside bomb meant for U.S. forces exploded beneath her, removing both of her legs below the knees. Thus began a Herculean effort by Luis to get her prostheses, an effort hampered by military bureaucracy. He pushed her case up the chain of command. As his departure date from Iraq neared, just three weeks before he was scheduled to leave Iraq, an American approached him and said, “I’m here to help you.” Shahad is now able to walk on the two prosthetic legs that Luis got for her. Until then, he had wondered about his mission in Iraq. “This was what I needed,” he said. “Doing this right now, I’ll do as many tours as I need.”

2nd Lt. Emily J.T. Perez, 23, of Texas, died on Sept.12 of injuries sustained in Al Kifl, Iraq, when an improvised explosive device detonated near her HMMWV during combat operations. Perez was assigned to the 204th Support Battalion, 2nd Brigade, 4th Infantry Division, Fort Hood, Texas.

In 2003, John Fernandez was a lieutenant in the U.S. army, stationed in Iraq when he lost both legs from friendly fire. Instead of feeling sorry for himself and giving up, he has become an inspiration for other persons recovering from war wounds and posttraumatic stress thanks to, among other things, learning to walk and run with two prosthetic legs. As a graduate of West Point, he could have earned a masters degree in business and got a well-paying job. Instead, he has found a way to serve his country as director of a program called “Alumni Outreach of the Wounded Warrior Project,” which helps former North American soldiers who have received serious wounds in wars, and also as captain of the lacrosse team of graduates of the program. Also, he has dedicated himself to persuading the North American public to remember the soldiers who have been seriously wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Lance Cpl. Juana NavarroArellano, 24, of Ceres, Calif., died April 8 from wounds received while supporting combat operations in Al Anbar province, Iraq. She was assigned to 9th Engineer Support Battalion, 3rd Marine Logistics Group, III Marine Expeditionary Force, Okinawa, Japan.

U.S. Army Special Forces Sgt. 1st Class Abram Hernandez was one of nine Green Berets in June 23, 2006, who were ambushed in a small village in Afghanistan when they were searching for a Taliban commander. For two days and nights, the outmanned unit received mortar fire. Sgt. Hernandez was one of the heroes whose courage prevented the unit from being overrun. He climbed a ladder to fire at advancing enemy soldiers trying to capture two wounded U.S. troops and their translator. Another sergeant said: “Seeing Hernandez propped up at that ridiculous angle was absolutely inspiring. Tracer rounds were whizzing by our heads. I was [amazed by Hernandez]” Later, the entire unit was honored at a ceremony at Ft. Bragg, making them the most decorated Special Forces team in any one battle of the Afghan war.

Sgt. Myla L. Maravillosa, 24, of Wahiawa, Hawaii, died in Kirkuk, Iraq, on Dec. 24, of injuries sustained earlier that day in Al Hawijah, Iraq, when her HMMWV was attacked by enemy forces using rocket-propelled grenades. Maravillosa was assigned to the C Company, 301st Military Intelligence Battalion,Honolulu, Hawaii.

Angel Barcenas, as a U.S. Marine, lost both legs in Iraq. On June 02, 2007, he appeared on television network ABC’s “Good Morning America,” running on prosthetic legs. When interviewed, he expressed only positive feelings about the future, nothing negative about the past.

Sergeant Scott Montoya, while serving with the U.S. Marines in Iraq, demonstrated his strong commitment to the Corps’ motto, “Semper Fidelis”—“Always Faithful.” During the battle for Baghdad, he noticed a disabled vehicle in the line of fire. With complete disregard for his own safety, he rushed forward, missed a hail of gunfire and dragged a wounded Iraqi civilian to safety. Four more times that same day, Montoya risked his life to save wounded fellow Marines. For his extraordinary bravery, he was awarded the Navy Cross, the second-highest honor a Marine can receive in combat after the Medal of Honor. Montoya truly symbolizes the saying, “Greater love hath no man that he would lay his life down for his friends.”

When R.W. Johnny Apple, the late, legendary correspondent for the New York Times, was a reporter in Vietnam 40 years ago, he wrote about a rare young man, Danny Fernandez, who was admired by the men who served with him in the U.S. Army. As a rifleman in the 25th Infantry, Danny died just short of his 22nd birthday. One day, a Viet Cong grenade landed near his fellow soldiers. “Move out,” he shouted, and, without hesitation, threw himself onto the grenade, saving his comrades’ lives. Moments later, he told one of them, “I’m sorry; someone else is going to have to take care of you because Old Dan has just got to go now.” He received the Medal of Honor posthumously in 1966. (Paraphrase of a commentary by Scott Simon, host of National Public Radio’s Weekend Edition, on October 07, 2006.)

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