This Hispanic Heritage Month has the theme “A History of Serving Our Nation.” The United States Military has a strong tradition of service by members of the Hispanic community, from the Revolutionary War in through present day. Hispanic soldiers have contributed in many ways to the excellence of our military through their commitment, camaraderie, loyalty, dedication, hard work, bravery, and honor. During this month of Hispanic Heritage recognition, it is a perfect opportunity to look back at the important military legacy of Hispanic service members who had a lasting impact on our country through their service.
As far back as the Revolutionary War, Spaniard Jordi Farragut Mesquida (aka George Farragut) fought for the U.S. against the British at the Siege of Charleston, S.C. During the Civil War, his son, David Glasgow Farragut, is credited with the famous exclamation of “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!” at the Battle of Mobile Bay, Alabama. He later became the first Rear Admiral, Vice Admiral, and then Admiral in the U.S. Navy.
By the Spanish-American War, thousands of Hispanics had volunteered in the fight. One of the most famous was Capt. Maximiliano Luna, whose family lived in New Mexico before it was incorporated into the United States and who served with then-Colonel Theodore Roosevelt in the 1st Volunteer U.S. Cavalry, more famously known as the Rough Riders. Another Rough Rider also descended from Nuevo Mexicanos, George Armijo, later became a member of Congress.
Prior to the advent of World War I, Hispanics continued to gravitate to military service, including Frederick Lois Riefkohl, who was the first Puerto Rican to graduate from the U.S. Naval Academy, and who later was awarded the Navy Cross for his engagement with an enemy sub in battle. Mexican Nicholas Lucero fought with valor and received the French Croix de Guerre, and fellow Mexican Marcelino Serna received the Distinguished Service Cross for his efforts in capturing enemy soldiers.
By World War II, it is estimated that between 500,000 Hispanics served in the Armed Forces of the U.S. The 158th Infantry Regiment, known as the Bushmasters and comprised mostly of Hispanic soldiers, was recognized by Gen. Douglas MacArthur as “One of the greatest fighting combat teams ever deployed for battle.” Their motto was “Cuidado” or “Take Care.” They earned countless medals for their valor in battle. Not to be left out, World War II was also a time for Hispanic women to serve. Lt. j.g. Maria Rodriguez Denton became the first woman of Puerto Rican descent to become an officer in the U.S. Navy WAVES. It was she who would forward on to President Harry S. Truman the official notification that the war had ended.
Over 150,000 Hispanics served in the Korean War, including 61,000 Puerto Ricans. The 65th Infantry Regiment was a segregated unit that originated from Puerto Rico and was nicknamed “The Borinqueneers,” derived from an Indian name for the island. They were highly decorated and were later awarded a Congressional Gold Medal for their service. One member of the regiment, Mexican-American Gen. Richard E. Cavazos, who served in Korea and later in Vietnam, would become the Army’s first Hispanic four-star general.
Vietnam was a time of service for over 80,000 Hispanic-Americas, including U.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr. Everett Alvarez Jr., grandson of Mexican immigrants. He became a prisoner of war for over eight years when his place was shot down in the north.
These are just a few examples of the long and valuable tradition of service by Hispanics in the Armed Services which continues just as strongly today as in past wartimes. As our country became more racially and ethnically diverse over the past 200 years, so too did the military. Hispanics currently account for just over 17% of enlisted personnel, about equal to the general Hispanic population. However, the U.S. Census projects that number to grow to 119 million by 2060, which will then represent 31% of the nation’s population. The military expects to see a similar growth within its ranks.Whether it is Hispanic Heritage Month or any of the other 11 months, take a moment to appreciate those who have “A History of Serving Our Nation” in the U.S. military. Regardless of their nationality and background, our military shares a devout dedication and patriotism to our diverse country which keeps us all safe and free.