September 14, 2001

National Hispanic Heritage Month

Hispanics play vital role in past, present, future military

By Felix J. Chavez, PhD.

The theme for this year's Hispanic Heritage Month, which begins September 15, is "Hispanics-A Diversified Work-force to Change the Future."

Hispanic-Americans play a important role in the military services. Hispanic-Americans are individuals who can trace their roots to Latin America and Spain, U.S. Census Bureau officials said. The three largest Hispanic groups in the United States today are the Mexican-Americans, Puerto Ricans and Cubans. Other Hispanic groups include Spaniards, Dominicans, Colombians and Nicaraguans.

In today's Army, there are 1,754 Hispanic officers, which is 2.2 percent of the officer corps; 378 warrant officers, 2.8 percent; and 24,354 enlisted member, 4.8 percent.

A further breakdown of the figures show Hispanic women play an ever-expanding role in the service as 270 are officers, 20 are warrant officers and 2,169 serve in the enlisted ranks.

The Navy's figures indicate 1,745 Hispanic officers, or 2.6 percent; 52 warrant officers, 1.7 percent; 32,664 enlisted members, 7 percent. There are 4,201 Hispanic women in the sea service, with 223 officers, one warrant officer and 3,977 enlisted.

The Marine Corps has 14,365 Hispanics on active duty. Statistics indicate 476 officers, or 2.8 percent; 80 warrant officers, 4.3 percent; and 13,089 enlisted members, 7.9 percent. Thirteen Hispanic women and officers, 11 are warrant officers and 646 are enlisted Marines.

Two percent of Air Force officers, or 1,832 people, are Hispanics, while in the enlisted ranks there are 14,202, or 3.8 percent. There are 280 Hispanic women officers, with 1,948 Hispanic women serving in the enlisted ranks.

In the Coast Guard, Hispanics number 158 officers, or 2.6 percent; 20 warrant officers or 1.2 percent and 1,624, or 5.3 percent enlisted members.

Hispanics make up almost 10 percent of the U.S. population, currently estimated at 250 million. By the end of the century, Census Bureau figures estimate the Hispanic population will be about 30 million. Also, estimates show that by the year 2020, Hispanic-Americans will be the country's largest minority group.

Military and American history details the sacrifices Hispanics have made in the defense of the nation, starting with the American Revolution and continuing through today.

One well-known Hispanic-American in the U.S. military was Navy SDM David Farra-gut. A veteran of the War of 1812 and the Civil War, he is remembered for his actions during the Civil War Battle of Mobile Bay. When the battle was going badly he yelled to his crew on board the USS Hartford, "Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!"

An important, but little known figure during the Revolutionary War was the Spanish governor of Lousiana, Bern-ardo de Galvez. He sought and received permission from the Spanish government to aid the Americans in their defense against the British in the Gulf of Mexico and Mississippi River valley. He also played a crucial role in the 1780 Battle of Mobile.

It wasn't just Texans originally from the United States who were killed defending the Alamo in 1836 during the Texan war for independence. Many Texicans, men like Antonio Fuentes and Carlos Espalier, fought alongside Jim Bowie and Davy Crockett and were killed by Mexican soldiers.

Military historians estimate that almost 10,000 Mexican-Americans served in the Civil War, fighting for both the Union and the confederacy. Four companies raised in California in 1863 successfully defeated a Confederate invasion into the New Mexico territory. Confederate units with Mexican-Americans on their rosters included the 10th Texas Cavalry, the 55th Alabama Infantry and the 2nd Texas Mounted Rifles.

Thirty-seven Hispanic-Americans have received the Medal of Honor, including eight during the Korean War and 13 during the Vietnam conflict. The first Hispanic soldier to receive the medal was Pvt. David Barkley for actions during World War I, but his heritage wasn't discovered until 71 years later.

In World War II, the first Hispanic Medal of Honor recipient was Pvt. Jose Martinez for his heroism during the invasion of the Aleutian Islands in 1943.

Admiral Horacio Rivero participated in the landings at Guadalcanal -Tulagi, a lone raid on the Gilbert Islands, the Battle of Santa Cruz Islands, the attack on Bougainville in the Solomons, the capture of the Gilbert Islands, a series of carrier raids on Rabaul, and in the attacks on Kwajalein in the Marshalls. He was also present at the Iwo Jima and Okinawa campaigns and in the first carrier raids on Tokyo, on June 5, 1945, during operations against the enemy in the vicinity of Nansei Shoto. In 1968, he commanded NATO forces as Commander in chief of Allied forces, Southern Europe. On June 1, 1972, Admiral Rivero retired after 41 years of distinguished service. He was later named as U.S. Ambassador to Spain.

General Pedro del Valle participated, as the Eleventh Marines (Artillery) Commanding Officer, in the seizure and defense of Guadalcanal as part of the First Marine Division, reinforced, in 1942. For this, he was awarded the Legion of Merit. He also served as Commander of Marine Forces, less aviation, on Guadalcanal, Tulagi, Russel, and Florida Islands. When he returned to the United States, he became president of the Marine Corps Equipment Board. He returned to the Pacific in April, 1994, as Commanding General, Third Corps Artillery, Third Amphibious Corps. He participated in the Guam operation in July and August, 1944, and was award-ed a Gold Star in Lieu of a second Legion of Merit.

Hispanic-Americans military units that have made history include the mostly Hispanic Arizona National Guard's 158th Regimental Combat Teams during World War II and the all Puerto Rican 65th Infantry Regimen, which fought in the Korean War.

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