Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Latino/Latina Veterans

The following is an email opinion I received via El Diario La Prensa (impre.com) (opinion@eldiariony.com). For the record, I thank and commend ALL veterans, I have served among far too many who have given and continue to give selflessly of themselves. All without regard to race, creed, color, etc...Thank You.

A battle for history and respect

Bravery and sacrifice know no color or language. But too many of the veterans who fought for our nation have been treated as footnotes to history. It is time for the U.S. Armed Forces and White House to give proper recognition to these patriotic men and women.

As many as 750,000 Latinos and Latinas served in the armed forces during World War II, according to the U.S. Latino & Latina WWII Oral History Project. During the Korean War, the 65th Infantry of Puerto Rico won the praise of legendary military commanders such as General Douglas MacArthur. Yet, in the telling of U.S. history, Latino soldiers have received little mention.

Correcting this virtual invisibility is a matter of historical accuracy. And the service of Hispanics—which dates as far back as the revolt of the 13 colonies—must be placed in its context. Latinos have enlisted during periods in which brutal racial segregation was the status quo and their rights as citizens were denied. Others served as immigrants, a tradition that continues to this day.

Many veterans of World War II and Korea have passed on or are in their golden years. The clock is ticking on our nation letting them know that they will be meaningfully reflected in books, articles and documentaries beyond those that some Latinos have worked so hard to produce and write. This includes Col. Gilberto Villahermosa’s book on the 65th, “Honor and Fidelity.” The book was recently published by the U.S. Army's Center of Military History but has been only quietly announced.

Hispanics have distinguished themselves and served throughout conflicts and in times of peace, but for the sake of our elderly veterans, we highlight some units here for formal recognition by the White House, including overdue medal upgrades by the armed forces:

Latinas with the Women's Army Corps and in general war effort

We learned during the recent judicial hearings that Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s mother Celina was a member of this Corps during World War II. She is one among many Latinas whose service deserves full salute.

The 65th Infantry

More than 61,000 Puerto Ricans served in the Korean War, the bulk of them with this unit. Despite showing great heroism, no member of the 65th has ever been awarded a Medal of Honor. In Korea, the 65th was also subjected to the largest mass courts-martial that has yet to be fully acknowledged as a consequence of the Army’s bad and unfair policies.

El Escuadrón 201

Nicknamed the “Aztec Eagles,” this Mexican fighter squadron was attached to a unit of the U.S. Army Air Forces during World War II. In 1945, the squadron aided the Allied effort during the liberation of Luzon in the Philippines.

The Congressional Hispanic Caucus and the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda, along with veterans groups, historians and educators must make sure these men and women are paid tribute.

There is certainly plenty of precedent for this. Only last month, President Obama cited an Army unit that had been overlooked for decades. During that ceremony, Obama said “Today also reminds us of our obligations to all our veterans, whether they took off the uniform decades ago or days ago -- to make sure that they and their families receive the respect they deserve…”

We could not agree more.

1 comment:

  1. Many of my uncles, who then lived in Puerto Rico, served honorably during WWII. My brother was an Army veteran. My nephew is currently in Iraq. It is good that you and others are highlighting their service. Thank you.

    ReplyDelete