Honoring Latino Military Heroes on Memorial Day

Memorial Day is May 31, 2021.

We at Salud America! are excited to honor all U.S. military personnel, including the Latinos, who have served and died for our country.

Latinos in the Military: History

Latinos have a “proud and indeed enviable” record of military service that dates back all the way to the Civil War, according to a U.S. Army historical website.

latino military army service memorial day
An illustration of Puerto Rico’s 65th Infantry Regiment, “The Borinqueneers” in South Korea, Feb. 2, 1951 (via U.S. Army Center of Military History, https://www.army.mil/hispanics/history.html).

About 20,000 Latino serviceman and women participated in Operation Desert Shield/Storm in 1990-1991, 80,000 in the Vietnam War in 1959-1973, and more than 400,000 in World War II in 1939-1945.

Latinos have earned more than 40 Medals of Honor, according to the Department of Defense.

“Whether their heritage can be traced to Spain, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Mexico, or one of dozens of other Spanish-speaking countries or cultures, they’ve answered the ‘call to duty,’ defending America with unwavering valor and honor,” according to the website.

Latinos in the Military: Today

Latino percentage of military personnelRacial/ethnic minority groups made up 40% of Defense Department active-duty military in 2015.

That number is up from 25% in 1990, according to a Pew Research report in April 2017.

The Latino share of the active-duty force has continued to rise.

In 2015, 12% of all active-duty personnel were Latino.

That is three times the share in 1980, according to Pew Research.

Two Latinos’ Heroic Stories: Humbert Roque Versace and Marcelino Serna

Pvt. Marcelino Serna was an undocumented Mexican immigrant who joined the U.S. Army and fought in World War I.

He was the first Latino to be awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.

“[In 1918, Serna] stood out for single-handedly capturing 24 German soldiers after a German bullet had grazed his head,” according to the Army’s website. “Perhaps even more impressive, Serna prevented another American Soldier from summarily executing all the captives in the heat of the moment.”

Latino advocates are petitioning the U.S. Army and federal government to posthumously award Serna the Medal of Honor.

Capt. Humbert Roque ‘Rocky’ Versace, of Puerto Rican-Italian descent, was a member of U.S. Army Special Forces.

Latino military heroes memorial day
Humbert Roque Versace (left) and Marcelino Serna

Viet Cong guerrillas captured Versace, 27, two weeks before he was due to return home, Versace, on Oct. 29, 1963.

He mounted four escape attempts, ridiculed his interrogators, swore at them in three languages, and confounded them as best he could, according to two U.S. Soldiers captured with him, according to the Army’s website.

“The witnesses said the unbroken Versace sang ‘God Bless America’ at the top of his lungs the night before he was executed, Sept. 26, 1965. His remains have never been recovered,” according to the Army’s website. “Versace was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor, July 8, 2002.”

Latino Contributions to Society

Latinos are powering the U.S.economy. Immigrants, too.

They are promoting vaccine confidence, too. Like these heroes:

  • Rosa Herrera read on Facebook that the COVID-19 vaccine would inject her with a microchip. She learned that was a myth. See how she changed her heart and got the vaccine! (en español)
  • Jesus Larralde was nervous about the COVID-19 vaccine’s possible side effects. His wife got the vaccine and was fine. See how he changed her heart and got the vaccine! (en español)
  • Helen Cordova thought the COVID-19 vaccine was rushed. But the ICU nurse did her research. She learned the vaccine’s safety, and volunteered to be the first person in California to get the vaccine! See how she changed her heart and got the vaccine! (en español)

“We want our families to be able to get back together. We want to visit our sisters and brothers, parents, and abuelos and abuelas. And we want to be able to do our jobs and go to school safely. The best way to achieve what we want is to get the vaccine right when it is available. Vaccines help our bodies become immune to a virus without becoming ill from it,” said Dr. Amelie G. Ramirez, director of the Salud America! Latino health communication program at UT Health San Antonio.

You can help, too!

Download the free Salud America! “Handle With Care Action Pack” to start a Handle With Care program. In the program, police notify schools when they encounter children at a traumatic scene, so schools can provide support right away.

Over 65 U.S. cities have started such a program.

GET handle with care!

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