Honoring the Heroes Who Sacrificed Everything
For 151 years, our nation has set aside this day to pay solemn tribute to patriots who sacrificed everything for the country that we love. These brave men and women exemplified the best this country has to offer: Honor, courage, selflessness.
These same values lived in those who fought in the American Civil War, World War 1, World War II, Korean War, Vietnam War, and Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Most recently, we’ve seen these values on display in the men and women of the 9/11 Generation.
America’s history can be fraught and its memory short, so today we take the opportunity to remember Latinos who made the ultimate sacrifice, to ensure our freedom is protected then, today, and for generations to come. And yet, we still have men and women who our outcast by the country they served because of their immigration status, who have been deported, are in detention, and separated from their families. It is time we recognize these brave men and women for the sacrifices they have made to our country and bring them back home once and for all or release them from detention immediately.
Sixty men of Hispanic heritage have been awarded the Medal of Honor, the highest military decoration presented by the United States government to a member of its armed forces, since the American Civil War. These Medal of Honor Recipients must have distinguished themselves at the risk of their own lives above and beyond the call of duty in action against an enemy of the United States. In most cases, they are recognized posthumously for their sacrifices.
The first recipient was Corporal Joseph H. De Castro of the Union Army for his actions at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania on July 3, 1863, during the American Civil War and the most recent recipient is Sergeant First Class Leroy Petry for his actions in Afghanistan. Fifteen recipients were born outside the United States mainland, one each in Chile and Spain, five in Mexico and eight in Puerto Rico.
We also recognize Macario Garcia, Staff Sergeant, US Army B Company 1st Battalion 22nd Infantry, 4th Infantry Division, the first Mexican Immigrant to receive the Medal of Honor for his heroic actions as a soldier in World War II. García was born in Villa de Castaños, Mexico in the state of Coahuila. In 1924, Garcia's family immigrated to the United States in search of a better way of life. He lived in Sugar Land, Texas where he worked as a cotton farmer. Upon the outbreak of World War II, Garcia joined the United States Army at a recruiting station in his adopted hometown in November 1942.
It was dawn on the Monday following Thanksgiving in November, 1944 and nine Army GI’s including a young acting squad leader from Texas had been fighting in the muddy forests of Germany for weeks. For them, there had been no turkey, no family, no rest. Little did they know that on this cold, rainy morning thousands of miles from home, destiny awaited them.
This squad was the tip of the spear of the advancing American Army, now just 90-miles from Hitler’s headquarters and they were facing fierce enemy fire for every foot of ground. The Allies had already lost 30,000 soldiers in their push. On this morning, they came upon a hill that had only one way up and Garcia was in front.
The official war record states what happened next:
Suddenly… “His company was pinned down by intense machine-gun fire and subjected to a concentrated artillery and mortar barrage. Although painfully wounded, he refused to be evacuated and on his own initiative crawled forward alone until he reached a position near an enemy emplacement. Hurling grenades, he boldly assaulted the position, destroyed the gun, and with his rifle killed three of the enemy who attempted to escape. When he rejoined his company, a second machine-gun opened fire and again the intrepid soldier went forward, utterly disregarding his own safety. He stormed the position and destroyed the gun, killed three more Germans, and captured four prisoners. He fought on with his unit until the objective was taken and only then did he permit himself to be removed for medical care.”
Just five months later, the war in Europe ended and the still recovering soldier returned to the United States. On August 23, 1945, President Harry S. Truman awarded Garcia, who was not yet a U.S. citizen, the Congressional Medal of Honor at the White House.
Garcia returned home to Sugarland, Texas the following month. He went into a restaurant to buy a meal and even though he was in full uniform with a chest full of combat decorations, the owner denied him service, kicked him out and beat Garcia with a bat because he was Mexican.
A fight broke out as other soldiers came to Garcia’s aid but when police arrived, he was the only one arrested for ignoring the sign that read: “No dogs or Mexicans”. No charges were filed against the owner.
Years later, on November 21, 1963 Garcia was a special honoree at a dinner by the League of United Latin American Citizens in Houston attended by President John F. Kennedy where the audience was reminded about the importance of organizations like LULAC and recognizing our heroes.
Throughout the remainder of his life until his untimely death in 1972 in a car accident, Garcia exemplified the ethic of hard work and family values as he and his wife, Alice Reyes raised their three children. He once said, “I would rather have a Medal of Honor than be President of the United States.”
Felix Longoria, Private First Class – US ARMY 27th Infantry Regiment 25th Infantry Division. Longoria was born and raised in Three Rivers, Texas and after marrying, he and his wife moved to Corpus Christi, Texas with their four-year old daughter. Longoria worked as a truck driver to support his family but when the call went out to the country that more soldiers were needed for the war effort in the Philippines, he volunteered and enlisted at the age of 24.
Longoria went to boot camp at Fort Ord, California, then shipped out in April, 1945. He arrived in Luzon, Philippines in June, 1945 and within two weeks was killed when his platoon was ambushed by a hidden Japanese machine gunner. Yet, because of the fierce battle conditions at the time, Longoria remains were not located and identified until four years later in 1949 when his family was informed he was being brought home.
By then, his widow and daughter had moved back to Three Rivers. Longoria’s family began to make arrangements for his service and burial only to be told that he could not have a wake or cemetery plot because their facilities were for whites only. In fact, when the soldier’s widow went to the funeral home to request the services, she was turned away after being told, the soldier was, “Mexican and the whites would not like it” if his service and burial took place at the same place where they took their relatives.
The family was forced to hold a wake for the fallen soldier in the family’s home and his remains were interred in a private plot purchase by Longoria’s father in the cemetery reserved for Mexicans in the town.
Following the incident, the American GI Forum became involved and fought for an end to segregation of funeral services for military veterans. Also, then U.S. Senator Lyndon Johnson found out about the case and worked so that Longoria’s remains could be transferred to the Arlington National Cemetery in Washington with full military honors.
Today, Felix Longoria is buried alongside other American military heroes.
Less than 1% of our nation wears the uniform and for many Americans they don’t have a chance to see this patriotism with own eyes or know someone who serves in uniform. Memorial Day is the only opportunity for us share these stories and I encourage you to pass this message a long to friends and loved ones.
If we are truly going to remember and honor these fallen soldiers, it means we must be there for their parents, and their spouses, and their children. Truly remembering means that after our fallen heroes sacrifice everything on the battle field, we make sure that our veterans get everything that they have earned, from the medical care they need, an opportunity to a good job, and live free in the country they risked and sacrificed everything to protect.
Our country reveals itself not only by the rights and protections it offers its citizens, but by those it remembers. We remember our fallen heroes not just by saluting them on this day but by sharing their stories and being there to fight for their rights – just like they fought for ours on the battle field.
Hasta la Victoria!
LULAC National President
The League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) is the nation’s largest and oldest civil rights volunteer-based organization that empowers Hispanic Americans and builds strong Latino communities. Headquartered in Washington, DC, with 1,000 councils around the United States and Puerto Rico, LULAC’s programs, services and advocacy address the most important issues for Latinos, meeting critical needs of today and the future. For more information, visit www.LULAC.org