of Hispanic Americans in the U.S. Coast Guard may be traced as far
back as early 1800's. Hispanic Americans performed duties at light
house stations as keepers and assistant keepers. Others served on
board Revenue Service cutters and as surfmen at Life-Saving Service
stations along the coast. Many gave their lives in the performance
of their duties and others were decorated for their heroism.
In 1914, Hispanics sailed on the Revenue Cutter Algonquin. The cutter
was stationed in the Caribbean and assisted the city of San Juan
twice. In 1920, after the formation of the Coast Guard, two Hispanic
crewman of the cutter Acushnet, Mess Attendant First Class Arthur
J. Flores and SN John E. Gomez, volunteered to save survivors of
the schooner Isaiah K. Stetsen, which sank off the coast of Massachusetts
during a storm. The Treasury Department awarded both of them the
Silver Lifesaving Medal for their heroism.
Many served with distinction during World War II as well. The Sanjuan
family, including the father, Vivencio, and two of his sons served
in the Coast Guard. Vivencio Sanjuan served on board the Coast Guard-manned
attack transport USS Samuel Chase during the invasions of North
Africa and then Salerno, Italy. His son, Pedro, was stationed on
board the attack transport USS Bayfield and saw service during the
Normandy invasion and the invasion of Southern France as well. Another
son, Ramon, served on board four Coast Guard cutters during his
career and retired from the service in 1969. Another son, William,
served in the Coast Guard in the Vietnam conflict. He was awarded
the Purple Heart for a combat injury received while under a mortar
attack by a Viet Cong unit.
Other incidents and persons of note:
17, 1893: Nicholas Servas and Albert H. Cariher, both surfmen from
the Cleveland Life Saving Station, were killed in the line of duty
when their lifeboat capsized during a rescue attempt. November 4,
1901: Bailey T. Barco, the Keeper of the Dam Neck Mills Life-Saving
Station, died from a disease contracted in the line of duty.
February 5, 1908: Francisco Silva, a surfman from the Woodend
Life-Saving Station, died from a disease contracted in the line
November 22, 1912: Albert Ocha, the Keeper of the Eagle
Harbor Life-Saving Station, died from a disease contracted in the
line of duty.
Two Hispanic American Coast Guardsmen, Richard E. Cordova
and Julius M. Vallon, gave their lives when their cutter, the USCGC
Tampa, was torpedoed and sunk with all hands by a German U-Boat
during World War I.
Leroy A. Choina was awarded a Navy & Marine Corps Medal
during World War II.
Valentin R. Fernandez, the coxswain of a landing craft, was
awarded a Silver Lifesaving Medal for "maneuvering a Marine
landing party ashore under constant Japanese attack" during
the invasion of Saipan.
Louis Rua was awarded the Bronze Star Medal for "meritorious
achievement at sea December 5-6, 1944, while serving aboard a U.S.
Army large tug en route to the Philippines. He craft went to the
rescue of another ship which had been torpedoed by enemy action
and saved 277 survivors from the abandoned ship."
Joseph Tezanos was awarded a Navy & Marine Corps Medal
during World War II.
Gilbert Cardenas and Thomas Cavadas were both awarded with
a Commandant's Letter of Commendation for service during World War
Heriberto S. Hernandez, a crewman of the USCGC Point Cypress,
was awarded the Purple Heart medal after sustaining a wound in combat
with the Viet Cong while the cutter served in the Vietnam conflict.
BM3 Pedro Albino, USCG, retired from the Coast Guard after
32 years of military and civilian government service. He was stationed
at six different lighthouses throughout Puerto Rico and the Caribbean
during his distinguished career. He was a champion for working and
salary improvements for lighthouse keepers throughout Puerto Rico
during his career. His dedicated service contributed greatly to
the success of the lighthouse service in Puerto Rico in the years
prior to World War II. He was commended for his assistance to the
crew of the grounded sloop Continente in 1929. He was born in 1886,
served in the U.S. Army for three years, joined the Lighthouse Service
in 1916 and he retired from the Coast Guard in 1944.
ENC Justo Gonzalez, USCG, had a distinguished career in both
the U.S. Lighthouse Service and the Coast Guard that stretched over
30 years. He was born in 1906 and joined the Lighthouse Service
on the tender Columbine in March 1926. After leaving the service
for a year, he rejoined the Lighthouse Service. On 29 June 1937
while off duty in San Juan, Gonzalez observed three men in the water
holding on to a capsized boat just off the coast near El Morro Castle.
Ignoring the obvious risks he entered the water and was able to
save one of the men (the other two were rescued by others). The
U.S. Lighthouse Service commended him for his meritorious and selfless
actions to save others. He entered the Coast Guard when the Lighthouse
Service merged with the Coast Guard in 1939. He survived the sinking
of his tender Acacia by a German U-boat in March, 1942. He became
the first Hispanic-American in the Coast Guard to be promoted to
chief petty officer when he was promoted to Chief Machinist's Mate
(acting) on 16 February 1944. The rank was made permanent on 16
October 1948. He served as Officer in Charge to the Mona Island
Light Station and retired after 30 years of honorable service on
1 April 1957.
SA William Ray "Billy" Flores died in the
line of duty while saving the lives of many of his shipmates when
his cutter, the Blackthorn, collided with the tanker Capricorn,
on January 28, 1980. The Blackthorn and the tanker Capricorn collided
near the entrance to Tampa Bay, Florida. The Blackthorn capsized
before all the cutters crew could abandon ship. Twenty-seven
of Flores shipmates did escape the sinking ship. After the
ships collided Flores and another crewmember threw lifejackets to
their shipmates who had jumped into the water. Later, when his companion
abandoned ship as the Blackthorn began to submerge, Flores
who was less than a year out of boot camp remained behind
and used his own belt to strap open the lifejacket locker door,
allowing additional lifejackets to float to the surface. Even after
most crewmembers abandoned ship, the 19-year-old Flores remained
aboard to assist trapped shipmates and to comfort those who were
injured and disoriented. He was posthumously awarded the Coast Guard
Medal. He received the Coast Guard's highest service medal posthumously
in a ceremony near Ft. Worth, Texas, Sept. 16, 2000.