Usually around a discussion of Hispanic immigration is an implicit, and sometimes explicit, argument that somehow these immigrants don’t contribute much. Whereas past immigrants (read: me and mine) contributed to America, it somehow goes assumed that recent immigrants and in particular Hispanic immigrants and their descendants don’t really put their time into America. Thus immigration from these countries is undesirable. This argument is made now and then. The narrative is simple: They don’t assimilate and they don’t contribute. The problem with this narrative is that it could not be further from the truth.
This Veteran’s Day, I thought it would be fitting to honor but a small sample, one per each major conflict, of Hispanic Medal of Honor winners; citizens and immigrants, who gave their all to this country and certainly more than Tom Tancredo or Ann Coulter ever have. (It should be noted that neither Coulter or Tancredo ever served in the military, like these gentleman below did. In fact Tancredo was eligible to join in 1969 after graduating college but instead claimed to be depressed to avoid the draft. How lucky for him.)
Private David Bennes Barkley y Cantu
David Barkley grew up in Laredo, Texas to Josef Barkley and Antonia Cantu. After his father left the family, he had to work a variety of odd jobs at the age of 13 and joined the US Army at the age of 17. He purposefully hid his Hispanic heritage for fear of being segregated from the front lines, using his father’s Anglo surname to ensure that he would see combat. While serving in combat for the 356th Infantry, he volunteered to swim the Meuse River in order to gain intelligence on the German positions. While doing so under fire, he died and was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor after being commended directly by General Jack Pershing. His citation read as follows:
When information was desired as to the enemy’s position on the opposite side of the Meuse River, Pvt. Barkeley, with another soldier, volunteered without hesitation and swam the river to reconnoiter the exact location. He succeeded in reaching the opposite bank, despite the evident determination of the enemy to prevent a crossing. Having obtained his information, he again entered the water for his return, but before his goal was reached, he was seized with cramps and drowned.
He was the first Hispanic American to receive the Medal of Honor.
Staff Sergeant Marcario Garcia
Garcia was born in Villa de Castaños in the state of Coahuila, Mexico. At the age of four, he immigrated to Texas, where his family worked as cotton farmers. He joined the US Army once WWII began and was assigned to the 22nd Infantry of the 4th Division. While in Großhau, his squad was pinned down by machine gun fire. Realizing they could not move unless he took out the machine gun nests, he did so by himself and while wounded. His citation reads:
Staff Sergeant Marcario García, Company B, 22nd Infantry, in action involving actual conflict with the enemy in the vicinity of Grosshau, Germany, 27 November 1944. While an acting squad leader, he single-handedly assaulted two enemy machine gun emplacements. Attacking prepared positions on a wooded hill, which could be approached only through meager cover. 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. S/Sgt. (then Pvt.) Garcia’s conspicuous heroism, his inspiring, courageous conduct, and his complete disregard for his personal safety wiped out two enemy emplacements and enabled his company to advance and secure its objective.
He was later personally awarded his Medal of Honor by President Truman and was congratulated later by President Kennedy and the First Lady while he worked in the Veterans’ Administration. He was also awarded by the Mérito Militar by Mexico.
Private First Class Eugene A. Obregon
Eugene was born to Mexican parents in Los Angeles, California. After graduating from Theodore Roosevelt High, he joined the Marine Corps in 1948. At the outbreak of the Korean War, his unit was sent to the infamous Pusan Perimeter in 1950. He saw action all throughout August 1950 and the famous Inchon Landing. On September 26th, he courageously sacrificed his life for his fellow Marine and was killed in action. His citation reads:
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving with Company G, Third Battalion, Fifth Marines, First Marine Division (Reinforced), in action against enemy aggressor forces at Seoul, Korea, on September 26, 1950. While serving as an ammunition carrier of a machine gun squad in a Marine Rifle Company which was temporarily pinned down by hostile fire, Private First Class Obregon observed a fellow Marine fall wounded in the line of fire. Armed only with a pistol, he unhesitatingly dashed from his covered position to the side of the casualty. Firing his pistol with one hand as he ran, he grasped his comrade by the arm with his other hand and, despite the great peril to himself, dragged him to the side of the road. Still under enemy fire, he was bandaging the man’s wounds when hostile troops of approximately platoon strength began advancing toward his position. Quickly seizing the wounded Marine’s carbine, he placed his own body as a shield in front of him and lay there firing accurately and effectively into the hostile group until he himself was fatally wounded by enemy machine-gun fire. By his courageous fighting spirit, fortitude and loyal devotion to duty, Private First Class Obregon enabled his fellow Marines to rescue the wounded man and aided essentially in repelling the attack, thereby sustaining the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life for his country.
Lieutenant Colonel Alfred Velasquez Rascon
Alfred was born to Alfredo and Andrea Rascon in Chihuahua, Mexico. His family immigrated to the United States and ended up living in Oxnard, California. After graduating from Oxnard High, he enlisted in the United States Army in 1963 and was deployed to the Republic of Vietnam in 1965 where he was then Specialist Rascon, serving medic to a platoon of paratroopers. When a nearby battalion was under superior enemy fire in the Long Khánh Province, Rascon’s platoon was sent in to provide support. During the engagement, Rascon risked his life to save the lives of multiple soldiers and to keep his platoon in the fight. He was wounded so severely he was given last rites as it was assumed he would soon die. He later recovered and became a naturalized citizen in 1967 after graduating college. While he had been nominated for the Medal of Honor while recuperating in the hospital, he had never been awarded it and after 34 years he was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Clinton. His citation reads:
Specialist Four Alfred Rascon, distinguished himself by a series of extraordinarily courageous acts on March 16, 1966, while assigned as a medic to the Reconnaissance Platoon, Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion (Airborne), 503rd Infantry, 173rd Airborne Brigade (Separate). While moving to reinforce its sister battalion under intense enemy attack, the Reconnaissance Platoon came under heavy fire from a numerically superior enemy force. The intense enemy fire from crew-served weapons and grenades severely wounded several point squad soldiers. Specialist Rascon, ignoring directions to stay behind shelter until covering fire could be provided, made his way forward. He repeatedly tried to reach the severely wounded point machine-gunner laying on an open enemy trail, but was driven back each time by the withering fire. Disregarding his personal safety, he jumped to his feet, ignoring flying bullets and exploding grenades to reach his comrade. To protect him from further wounds, he intentionally placed his body between the soldier and enemy machine guns, sustaining numerous shrapnel injuries and a serious wound to the hip. Disregarding his serious wounds he dragged the larger soldier from the fire-raked trail. Hearing the second machine-gunner yell that he was running out of ammunition, Specialist Rascon, under heavy enemy fire crawled back to the wounded machine-gunner stripping him of his bandoleers of ammunition, giving them to the machine-gunner who continued his suppressive fire. Specialist Rascon fearing the abandoned machine gun, its ammunition and spare barrel could fall into enemy hands made his way to retrieve them. On the way, he was wounded in the face and torso by grenade fragments, but disregarded these wounds to recover the abandoned machine gun, ammunition and spare barrel items, enabling another soldier to provide added suppressive fire to the pinned-down squad. In searching for the wounded, he saw the point grenadier being wounded by small arms fire and grenades being thrown at him. Disregarding his own life and his numerous wounds, Specialist Rascon reached and covered him with his body absorbing the blasts from the exploding grenades, and saving the soldier’s life, but sustaining additional wounds to his body. While making his way to the wounded point squad leader, grenades were hurled at the sergeant. Again, in complete disregard for his own life, he reached and covered the sergeant with his body, absorbing the full force of the grenade explosions. Once more Specialist Rascon was critically wounded by shrapnel, but disregarded his own wounds to continue to search and aid the wounded. Severely wounded, he remained on the battlefield, inspiring his fellow soldiers to continue the battle. After the enemy broke contact, he disregarded aid for himself, instead treating the wounded and directing their evacuation. Only after being placed on the evacuation helicopter did he allow aid to be given to him. Specialist Rascon’s extraordinary valor in the face of deadly enemy fire, his heroism in rescuing the wounded, and his gallantry by repeatedly risking his own life for his fellow soldiers are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself, his unit, and the United States Army.
Rascon would continue serving in the Army, eventually reaching the rank of lieutenant colonel, and also serving in Iraq and Afghanistan with the Medical Corps.
However let’s not assume that all of these veterans who contribute so much are all natural born Americans or even legal immigrants. Some of them are even undocumented immigrants who, nonetheless, valiantly served their adopted country. Consider the case of Joseph Medina who immigrated from Mexico to the United States at the age of 5. His family settled in Minnesota, where he eventually joined the US Army to defend his country after the Pearl Harbor attack. It was only until after he joined that he learned that he was in fact illegally present in the US as his family did not have their proper documents. The United States Army decided to then grant amnesty to Medina, allowing him to legally become a citizen before being sent off to fight in Europe.
Today immigrants, both legal and otherwise, defend this country all over the world and thus contribute to the great immigration tradition of military service. This Veteran’s Day let’s remember those who gave supremely to this country.
Joseph Laughon is a lifelong Republican and a proud Mexican-American. He has worked as campaign consultant to Republican campaigns and was both the Vice Chairman of the College Republicans at Concordia University and the President of Nuestra Voz. Today he works in the transportation industry. He lives and writes in Long Beach, California.