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Puerto Rico Profile: Congressional Medal of Honor Recipient Fernando Luis Garcia

August 27, 1999
Copyright © 1999 THE PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.

This article is the first in a series of four profiles on Puerto Ricans who have been recognized by the most distinguished award offered to military service personnel by the United States government.

When the grenade landed near the two young marines, Fernando Luis Garcia didn't even stop to think about the implications of what he was doing. He "unhesitatingly chose to sacrifice himself and immediately threw his body upon the missile, receiving the full impact of the explosion." His Congressional Medal of Honor Citation tells the story of a young soldier in the Korean War whose valor was not limited to this single act of bravery. As a Puerto Rican, he didn't question his place among "American" soldiers. This "American" simply lived in such a way that his death would be honored by the country for which he so bravely gave his life.

The Congressional Medal of Honor has been awarded 3,428 times in the history of the United States. The Medal of Honor is awarded by the President of the United States on behalf of Congress. The recipients are military persons who are recognized as conspicuously distinguishing themselves at the risk of their lives "above and beyond the call of duty." With gallantry, they have been engaged in actions against an enemy of the United States. The deed for which the person is recognized must have been one of personal bravery or self-sacrifice. It must clearly distinguish the individual above his comrades and must have involved the risk of life. In fact, many of those who receive the award have lost their lives in the very act that qualified them for recognition. Incontestable proof of the act of service is gathered and each recommendation for the award is held to a strict standard of extraordinary merit.

On September 5, 1952, Private first class Garcia was named the recipient of this prestigious award for his service in the Korean War -- the first of four Puerto Ricans to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.

Fernando Luis Garcia was born in Utuado, Puerto Rico, on October 14, 1929, and joined the United States Marines in San Juan. Joining the marines was not something new for many Puerto Ricans and the Puerto Rican contribution to the U.S. military has not been a small one. 197,100 Puerto Ricans have served as combatants; 6,220 have been wounded; and 1,225 have been killed in the service of their country. Puerto Ricans have served in every major conflict of this century.

Garcia was involved in several hostile conflicts during his service as a marine. His citation described the night of intense fighting where Garcia proved himself not only as a good soldier, but as a humanitarian as well. He was involved in the defense of a combat outpost one mile inside enemy lines. During a hostile attack by the enemy force, grenades, mortars and artillery rained down on the soldiers. Despite his wounds, Garcia made his way through the intense hail of hostile fire to secure the supply point of hand-grenades.

He was recognized in his Medal of Honor Citation for his patriotism: "His great personal valor and cool decision in the face of almost certain death sustain and enhance the finest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life for his country."

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