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PUERTO RICO HERALD
A Tribute to Puerto Rican
November 11, 1999
Copyright © 1999 THE PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.
On November 11, our nation celebrates Veteran's Day. We remember
the achievements of all the men and women who have served in the
United States military, and we thank these heroes - living and
dead, warriors and peacekeepers, generals and privates - for their
courage and self-sacrifice.
This year, it is more appropriate then ever to recall the contribution
of Puerto Ricans to the defense of the United States. 100 years
ago, in 1899, the first regiment of Puerto Rican soldiers was
organized by the U.S. Army. During the century since then, the
people of Puerto Rico have played an ever increasing role in the
service of their country. They have fought enemies abroad and
distinguished themselves as true American heroes.
The first significant entry of Puerto Ricans into the U.S.
Armed Forces came during World War I. In 1917, just weeks before
American entry into the war, the Jones Act granted citizenship
to the people of Puerto Rico. Soon after, Antonio R. Barcelo,
the first President of the Puerto Rican Senate, asked President
Wilson to apply the draft to the new American citizens on the
island of Puerto Rico. 8,000 were drafted, but few saw active
duty. In the segregated armed forces of that time, Puerto Ricans
were relegated to a minor role: most were stationed in the Panama
65,000 Puerto Ricans fought in World War II, including 23,000
volunteers. That war marked an expansion in the strategic importance
of Puerto Rican soldiers. Their traditional duty had been defending
the Caribbean region; now Puerto Rican men were sent to fight
in Europe, where they served with distinction. The women of Puerto
Rico did their part as well, serving in the Women's Army Corps.
During the Korean War, Puerto Rican soldiers played a crucial
part in several major campaigns. Most notable were the 43,434
Puerto Ricans in the 65th Infantry Regiment. They came to the
rescue of a division of marines trapped deep inside North Korea,
averting a potential disaster. Their commander, Gen. William W.
Harris, later wrote, "No ethnic group has greater pride in
itself and its heritage than the Puerto Rican people. Nor have
I encountered any that can be more dedicated and zealous in support
of the democratic principles for which the United States stands.
Many Puerto Ricans have fought to the death to uphold them."
For his service in Korea, Fernando Luis Garcia became the first
Puerto Rican recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor. He
sacrificed his life for his fellow soldiers, jumping on a hand
grenade and absorbing the blast.
In Vietnam, Puerto Ricans once again demonstrated their valor
and loyalty. As in Korea, Puerto Rico lost proportionally more
men in battle than any of the states of the United States. During
the conflict, three Puerto Ricans were awarded the Medal of Honor
in recognition of their heroism.
Euripides Rubio was killed while moving a smoke grenade - used
by bomber pilots to locate enemy positions - behind the lines
of the Vietnamese Liberation Army. Despite multiple gunshot wounds,
he succeeded in strategically placing the smoke grenade at the
cost of his life. Thanks to his courage, U.S. pilots were able
to locate and bomb the enemy position.
Carlos James Lozada also lost his life in Vietnam. During a
surprise attack, he single-handedly held off North Vietnamese
troops and allowed his company to retreat. He sacrificed his life
to save those of his comrades.
Hector Santiago-Colon, another soldier in Vietnam, was the
fourth Puerto Rican to receive the Medal of Honor. When a grenade
was thrown into his foxhole, he clutched it to his stomach and
saved the men around him.
These men are heroes, but they are only four of the many Puerto
Ricans to be honored this year, and every year, on Veteran's Day.
In the past hundred years, the island of Puerto Rico has contributed
197,100 combatants to the armed forces of the United States. In
that time, 6,220 have been wounded; and 1,225 Puerto Ricans have
died serving their country.
Complete profiles of all
four Puerto Rican Medal of Honor recipients are available on the
Herald's Puerto Rico Profiles page.