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Puerto Rico Profile: Hector Santiago-Colon

November 5, 1999
Copyright © 1999 THE PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.

This article is the final 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.

Specialist Fourth Class Hector Santiago-Colon "distinguished himself at the cost of his life while serving as a gunner in the mortar platoon of Company B." Santiago-Colon was born in Salinas, Puerto Rico, and the short life he led has left a permanent positive imprint on his hometown. Born in the midst of the Second World War, December 20, 1942, he sacrificed his life on June 28, 1968, at the age of 25, to save the lives of those who fought beside him in the Vietnam War.

Santiago-Colon was the fourth Puerto Rican to be recognized by the President of the United States with the Congressional Medal of Honor and the second soldier to have a military installation on the Island of Puerto Rico named after him in recognition of his bravery and patriotism.

In July, 1975, the United States National Guard base "Camp Salinas," near his birthplace, was renamed "Camp Santiago" in memory of Hector Santiago-Colon, who the National Guard History book reports, "died in heroic circumstances and who has attained the highest recognition of valor and patriotism that the United States can confer on a soldier."

At a time in the late 1960's, when many citizens were protesting against the war and, among other things, were claiming that minorities were being sent into battle in disproportionate numbers, Santiago-Colon volunteered for service in spite of this perceived discrimination. He enlisted in the army in New York and reported his race on the application as "Negro."

[In a recently published book , All That We Can Be, Sociologists Charles C. Moskos and John Sibley Butler, claim to have analyzed reports that blacks were used like "cannon fodder" during Vietnam and reported that "this charge is untrue. Black fatalities," they say, "amounted to 12 percent of all Americans killed in Southeast Asia -- a figure proportional to the number of blacks in the US population at the time and slightly lower than the proportion of blacks in the Army at the close of the war."]

Santiago-Colon's bravery was well documented. He was serving as a perimeter sentry when he heard distinct movement in the heavily wooded area. He alerted his fellow sentries in the area to move to their foxholes and to remain alert for any enemy scouts that may be in the area. Suddenly, heavy automatic enemy fire sprayed from the woods around his position and the extreme darkness made it almost impossible to discern the precise location and identification of the hostile force.

Santiago-Colon, along with the other members of his position immediately began to repel the attackers, utilizing hand grenades, antipersonnel mines and small-arms fire. Because of the heavy volume of enemy fire and exploding grenades around them, they were caught off guard when a North Vietnamese soldier crawled close enough to their position to lob a hand grenade into their foxhole.
Santiago-Colon realized that there was no time to throw the grenade out of the foxhole so he grabbed the grenade, "tucked it in to his stomach and turning away from his comrades, absorbed the full impact of the blast.

"His heroic self-sacrifice saved the lives of those who occupied the foxhole with him and provided them with the inspiration to continue fighting until they had forced the enemy to retreat from the perimeter."

Hector Santiago-Colon, single, 25-years-old, died in the Quang Tri province of South Vietnam. He had served only eight months of his tour of duty, but his unselfish bravery and heroic sacrifice will not be forgotten.