Pentagon Hosts Salute to Hispanic World War II Veterans
By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sept. 15, 2004 Today's generation of Hispanic-Americans owes much to the brave veterans who went before them for paving their way and setting a standard, several Defense Department officials said here today to kick off Hispanic American Heritage Month.
"At a time of great trial, you give the country more strength," Air Force Assistant Secretary for Manpower and Reserve Affairs Michael L. Dominguez said during a ceremony in the Pentagon saluting such veterans. "Your stories and your accomplishments now inspire us as we confront this new enemy."
World War II Army veteran Ignacio Servin says he volunteered
for a dangerous mission to prove to his commander and fellow soldiers that
Hispanics are brave and willing to die for the United States of America. Servin
attended a Pentagon ceremony honoring Hispanic World War II veterans Sept. 15
to kick off Hispanic American Heritage Month. Photo by Sgt. Adam R. Mancini,
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Dominguez directed his comments directly to a group of nine Hispanic World War II veterans in attendance. "The inspiration from your stories and your example guides us and motivates us," he said. "Particularly as we go into this conflict now as a nation, it's (your) strength that gives us power that's unmatched by the enemy and, in fact, incomprehensible to the enemy."
Dominguez's sentiments were repeated in speeches throughout the ceremony. Another Air Force official, Michael Montelongo, assistant secretary for financial management and comptroller, said today's Americans have "these heroes, these warriors, these patriots" to thank for the liberties and freedoms enjoyed here today.
"You've paved the way for today's heroes -- heroes of Iraqi Freedom, heroes of Enduring Freedom, heroes of America," Montelongo told the men, who were wearing an assortment of uniform items, medals, patches and caps that made them readily identifiable as veterans.
Army Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, commander of 5th Corps in Germany and former commander of Combined Joint Task Force 7 in Iraq, said the veterans "exemplify the spirit of our heritage."
Hispanic veterans were at the core of some of America's most heroic campaigns and battles, Sanchez, the highest-ranking Hispanic in the U.S. military, said. "Their records are impeccable," he said, adding that honoring them helps set a standard for today's Hispanic youth to live up to.
"As members of this great generation, you have established that standard that will be difficult for us to maintain," Sanchez said. "But the young Hispanics of today are working very, very hard to ensure that we don't fail you."
To Andres Gallegos, one veteran present, today's young men and women have already met the standard. Gallegos served in the Army in Europe and the Pacific during World War II. When he spoke today, he said he was taken aback by being called part of the greatest generation.
"The greatest generation? No," he said, to instant applause. "The greatest generation is now."
Several other veterans captivated the crowd with stories of their service. Guy Gabaldon, a former Marine whose Japanese language skills helped him capture at least 1,000 Japanese soldiers during his service in the Pacific, got a great laugh when he said it only took one Japanese person to capture him, as he pointed out his Japanese wife.
But Gabaldon grew serious when telling the story of another Hispanic Marine he met briefly in Japan during World War II. Alfredo -- Gabaldon said he never found out his last name -- was determined to take out an enemy position in a former Japanese police station. And he did so, although it ended up being a suicide mission.
"He went up over the edge of this gully," Gabaldon said, recalling Alfredo's actions. "We all hollered, 'Get down! Hit the deck, you crazy bastard!' There was nothing he could possibly do.
"He threw his M-1 (rifle) down and grabbed a grenade off his belt, pulled the pin and held onto the spoon and kept running toward the enemy position," he continued. "They just chopped him down. He fell; the spoon (came) off and blew his arm off. He was dead by then."
Gabaldon said this was typical of the Hispanic Marines he had served with. "He gave his life for two other Marines," Gabaldon said, before apologizing unnecessarily for boring the crowd.
When it was his turn to make remarks, Frank Medina, a former corporal in the Army Air Corps, stood up and said he wanted to "thank the good Lord for making me a Latino." When the cheers quieted down, Medina explained that his ability to speak Spanish had allowed him to communicate with friendly Italians who helped him avoid capture for eight months behind enemy lines.
Medina was an aircrew member on a B-24 that was shot down over Italy. He was the only crewmember to evade capture. "So you see," he said. "There's an advantage to being a Latino."
Ignacio Servin, still trim and wearing his tan uniform, was all business as he explained why he had volunteered to blow up an ammunition-storage site 61 years earlier, an act his commander later said saved the lives of hundreds of soldiers and Marines.
"I didn't do it with the intention of getting a medal," he said, though the act earned him a Silver Star for gallantry in action. "I did it to show my commanding officer and my fellow soldiers that Hispanics are brave (and) they're willing to sacrifice their lives for the United States of America."