National Hispanic Heritage Month: The Medal of Honor
In discussing the importance of creating National Hispanic Heritage Week (now National Hispanic Heritage Month) in House Joint Resolution 1299 dated June 11, 1968, Representative George E. Brown of California indicated that:
“I am advised, that the Spanish surnamed population has contributed the highest proportion of Medal of Honor winners through acts of bravery and determination in the defense of our land.”
The Medal of Honor is the highest military decoration that may be awarded by the United States government. It is conferred upon members of the United States Armed Forces who distinguish themselves through conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of life above and beyond the call of duty.
As such, it is prudent to take a moment and celebrate the brave soldiers of Hispanic heritage that have been awarded the Medal of Honor. The Hispanic Medal of Honor Society reveals 60 such recipients. Of these recipients, 34 were killed in action. The honor has been awarded to soldiers for their actions in the Civil War, the Boxer Rebellion, World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and Afghanistan. The citation has been awarded to soldiers born outside the United States that hailed from Spain (1), Chile (1), Mexico (5), and Puerto Rico (9).
Among the recipients is lieutenant colonel Alfred V. Rascon who is often quoted as saying “I’m an immigrant by birth and American by choice." As detailed by the Congressional Medal of Honor Society in the “Stories of Sacrifice” collection, on March 16, 1966, Specialist Rascon disregarded his own life to cover fellow soldiers from exploding grenades on two separate occasions. Despite his numerous wounds, he disregarded aid for himself and aided in the treating of the wounded and directing their evacuation.
The same collection tells us the story of Staff Sergeant Leroy A. Petry, the first soldier of Hispanic decent to receive the Medal of Honor for his actions in Afghanistan. In complete disregard for his own safety, Sergeant Petry picked up a grenade to clear the threat. The grenade exploded as he was releasing it. This caused him to lose his right hand and wrist. His actions saved the lives of his fellow rangers.
First lieutenant Baldomero Lopez sacrificed himself by throwing his body over a live grenade and absorbed the full impact of the explosion. His actions saved the lives of the men around him.
Staff Sergeant Ysmael R. Villegas, with complete disregard for his own safety and the bullets which kicked up the dirt at his feet, charged at six foxholes and shot the enemy at point-blank range. His heroism cost him his life, but he inspired his men to a determined attack.
In this National Hispanic Heritage Month, please take a moment to learn about the rich lives and heroic sacrifices of the 60 brave soldiers of Hispanic heritage that have been awarded the Medal of Honor.
Lastly, please join me in thanking the brave men and women of all heritages for their service.
Julio Navarro is a member of the firm’s Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Committee and the Hispanic Bar Association of New Jersey.