LatinaLista — On Memorial Day, we remember all people who lost their lives in service to our country. Their contributions and sacrifices should be honored and remembered by us all.
Yet, due to past prejudices that existed in this country, the complete story of military contributions of Latinos and other soldiers of color is incomplete. In 2005, academic researchers decided to fill in the historical gaps of Latinos in military service with the publication of U.S. LATINO PATRIOTS: From the American Revolution to Iraq 2003 – An Overview .
Though seven years has passed since the publication of this title, with many more Latinos/as serving and sacrificing in the armed forces, it’s still important to remember that Latinos have always served this country proudly — though the full extent of Latino involvement was never shared until people who cared that Latinos be included in the historical record wrote books like these.
The following is a small excerpt from the e-book U.S. LATINO PATRIOTS: From the American Revolution to Iraq 2003 – An Overview published by Michigan State University:
Now, as in the past, Latinos must bring forth their stories and messages of patriotism. This is especially true as Latinos of World Wars I and II are fading into history. And very important as Latino veterans of Korea and Vietnam are retiring and interested in reminiscing and sharing their mementos among their progeny and other generations who want a knowledge of the past.
It is equally important to document and publish this heritage as Latinos are caught in a situation of being perceived in America as primarily foreign born and un-American in their attitude and behavior, occasionally profiled and stopped, or arrested.
From the American Revolution to the on-going conflicts against terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan, Latino Patriots have played an important role in serving the United States of America. That role has been as foot soldier, pilot, ship’s captain, private troop, army sergeant, general, admiral, etc., and in almost every type of service in defense of America.
Most patriots who served in the military lived to tell their stories, raise their families and serve their communities. But many also died in combat far from home.
For Latinos who did not return, there are some notes in the annals of American history, usually scattered in some library stacks of periodicals. Generally, however, there is a dearth of research and public information on Latino military service. Within other places, Latino patriots are remembered in very humble ways.
From pictures on the walls and alters in homes to a few neighborhood plaques of recognition. A few hometowns have built parks and added memorabilia to local museums and community centers, integrating Latinos into their communities and heritage.
There are a few memorials, such as the one on Hero Street, in Silvis, Ill., just west of Chicago, dedicated to the 84 Mexican-American men who participated in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. Eight died in combat. Hero Street is less than two blocks long, originating with 22 families who were former Mexican immigrant workers.
There is the memorial in Santa Fe, N.M., to the victims and rescue mission of the infamous Bataan Death March of World War II, that caught the eye of Hampton Sides and inspired him to write “Ghost Soldiers: the Epic Account of World War II’s Greatest Rescue Mission.” Many of General MacArthur’s soldiers, who were captured by the Japanese in the Philippines, were native Hispanos of New Mexico.
Alexandria, Va., originally a southern city, established a small park and statue during 2001 in the name of the latest Medal of Honor recipient, Capt. Humbert Roque “Rocky” Versace (July 2, 1937 – Sept. 26, 1965), who received posthumously, dozens of years after his bravery in Vietnam, the Medal of Honor from President George W. Bush.
However, the residents of Alexandria always believed Versace was Italian American, not realizing that his mother was Puerto Rican and the author of a paperback that was the basis for the TV series on “The Flying Nun.” With considerable pride, we note that Versace was a remarkable hero for all.
The stories of heroes like Versace, who did not return alive, are important for many who served in the military. The tributes and memorials are positive signs for Latinos to know that they, too, can take pride in observing and remembering people, like themselves, who fought for others.
More is definitely needed today to commemorate the myriad of stories of Latino valor and patriotism in the name of the United States of America.