Defense Department Honors Hispanic Heroes
By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service
ANAHEIM, Calif., Oct. 17, 2003 Hispanic heroes of the past and present were honored during an Oct. 16 welcome reception for the Defense Department's National Hispanic American Heritage Month observance at the Hyatt Regency Orange County Hotel here.
Officially, National Hispanic American Heritage Month ended Oct. 15, but DoD officials decided to hold the department's annual observance here Oct. 16 and 17, in conjunction with the 17th Annual National Conference of the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities Symposium.
Mexican Col. Carlos Garduno, World War II Aztec Eagles pilot, at podium, said only 10 of more than 300 Mexican pilots who fought with the U.S. Army Air Forces in the Pacific are still alive. He and former pilot Capt. Miguel Moreno Arreolla, left front, and ground crewman, Capt. Manuel Cervantes Ramos, center, were able to attend a DoD Hispanic American Heritage Month observance at the Hyatt Regency Orange County Hotel in Anaheim, Calif., Oct. 16. At right is Charles Abell, principal deputy undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness. Photo by Rudi Williams
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
In addition to the DoD summit and the HACU technical assistance workshop, DoD also hosted a program and two student career fairs and expositions -- one for high school students and the other for college- level students.
The Air Force kicked off the two-day observance by honoring past and present Hispanic military heroes, including the Aztec Eagles -- Mexican fighter pilots of Squadron 201 -- and Hispanics returning from Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. Hispanic veterans of the Korean, Vietnam and Persian Gulf wars also were recognized.
More than 300 Aztec Eagles, who were attached to the Army Air Forces, played a pivotal role in defeating the Japanese war machine in the Philippines during World War II.
"Only 10 of us are still alive, and only two pilots and one member of the ground crew are here," said a former Aztec Eagles pilot, retired Mexican air force Col. Carlos Guarduno. He was accompanied by a fellow Aztec pilot, World War II Capt. Miguel Moreno Arreolla, and ground crewman former Capt. Manuel Cervantes Ramos.
Also honored were World War II Army Air Forces pilot Lt. Col. Henry Cervantes and a Korean War hero and former enlisted man, retired Army Maj. Gen. Gustavo "Gus" Hernandez.
"As in previous conflicts and wars, Hispanics have contributed to our national security and defense with distinction and honor," said Shirley Martinez, deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force for equal opportunity, as she introduced 10 Hispanic veterans of the war in Iraq, including two Coast Guardsmen. "Operation Enduring Freedom and the war in Iraq posed new challenges to our national security, and have been opportunities for Hispanics to fight and defend our country."
The event was hosted by Michael L. Dominquez, assistant secretary of the Air Force for manpower and reserve affairs.
Charles Abell, principal deputy undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, told the gathering in welcoming remarks that the events are important for DoD in many ways.
"They represent our continued effort to link educational events with student career fairs and a special observance program, and to do all those things outside the Pentagon," said Abell, who presented the two Aztec Eagles and the ground crewman a coin in recognition of their contributions in support of the United States and its allies during World War II.
Abell said such events are important because even though the Hispanic population in the U.S. increased by 58 percent from 1990 to 2000, most Americans don't know much about the more than 460-year history of Hispanics in North America, or about their contributions to the nation's culture.
"Perhaps that deficiency is due to the fact that the national Hispanic population is clustered; half live in California and Texas, and 76 percent live in the west and south," the secretary noted. "Or perhaps it's because the role of Hispanics is rarely or poorly covered in most textbooks used in our nation's schools.
"No matter what the reason," he continued, "that's why joint events like this are so important -- to educate all our citizens regarding the contributions of Hispanics to our nation's history and its defense, as well as to inform each of us about contemporary issues of concern to Hispanics."
He pointed out that since the nation's founding, Hispanics have played important roles in its defense, many making the ultimate sacrifice of their lives in the process. For example, Abell said, Bernardo de Galvez, governor of the Spanish colony of Louisiana, captured the important ports of Mobile and Pensacola from the British in 1780-1781, thereby greatly aiding the cause of the American Revolution.
Nearly 10,000 Mexican Americans fought to preserve the Union during the Civil War, and between 250,000 and 500,000 Hispanics served in the armed forces during World War II, Abell said. "Twelve were awarded the Medal of Honor," he noted. "In three years of service, the 65th Infantry Regiment from Puerto Rico participated in nine major campaigns, earning two Presidential Unit Citations, a Meritorious Unit Commendation and two Republic of Korea Unit Citations. Individual members of the unit received four Distinguished Service Crosses and 124 Silver Stars for heroism.
"Hispanics gallantly contributed during the war in Vietnam and 14 received the Medal of Honor," Abell continued. "Hispanic Americans have continued to proudly serve in all our post-Vietnam deployments and conflicts, including Afghanistan and Iraq today."