This Memorial Day, as we honor the soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who risk their lives in combat at this very writing, it's fitting and proper to remember the many Hispanics among them. And, as veterans of World War II approach the ends of their natural lives -- the youngest of them are in their mid-80s now -- it's also fitting and proper to take particular note of their heroism and sacrifice.
U.S. Hispanics saw action in all theaters of WWII, from the infamous Bataan Death March to the postwar occupation of Germany. They also fought on both sides of the Spanish Civil War, where fascists and communists fought in a prelude to both the World War in Europe and the Cold War that followed.
Separate demographic records weren't kept during World War II for U.S. Hispanic servicemen, but several units were made up primarily of Hispanics. Among them were the 65th Infantry Regiment from Puerto Rico, the 158th Regimental Combat Team from Arizona, and the 200th and 515th battalions of the New Mexico National Guard.
The 65th saw action in Italy and France, where they helped relieve the heavily decorated 442nd Regimental Combat Team of Japanese-American soldiers. By coincidence, Col. Virgil Miller, the 442nd's commander, was a native of Puerto Rico, and first saw service with the Puerto Rico Home Guard during World War I.
The 158th, who were trained in jungle warfare and whose nickname was the Bushmasters, fought in New Guinea.
The 200th and 515th, artillery units, helped defend the Philippines against the Japanese invaders. They were captured at Bataan and were among the soldiers brutalized in the infamous Bataan Death March.
Related story: "Candlelight Vigil Slated for Memorial Day"
A number of Hispanics served as aviators as well. They included 1st Lt. Oscar Perdomo, USAAF, who was the last American pilot of the war to become an "ace in a day" -- that is, to shoot down five enemy planes in one day -- and Cmdr. Eugene Valencia Jr., USN, who shot down 23 Japanese planes. Valencia also became an ace in a day, and remains one of the Navy's top aces of all time.
High-ranking Hispanic officers included Maj. Gen. Pedro del Valle, whose 11th Marine Regiment provided artillery support for the 1st Marine Division on Guadalcanal, and who later commanded the division in the invasion of Okinawa.
Thirteen Hispanic fighting men won the Medal of Honor during the war as well.
So, as we hoist a cerveza or five this weekend, let's remember our honored Hispanic veterans. Thanks, fellas, and bless you.
Most Popular Stories
- Marketo Makes a Mint in IPO: Stock Shoots Up More than 50 Percent
- Bieber Booed at Billboard Awards
- Georgia GOP Preaches Minority Outreach
- GM Joins Nissan to Supply Small Cargo Vehicle
- Ford's Supplier Diversity Program Turns 35
- Ford Trucks See Boost as Roadshow Reaches Saudi Arabia
- Kerry Concerned Over Blasphemy Laws, Anti-Semitism
- GM to Rejoin S&P 500, Akerson Says
- Ladies in White Group Needs Help From Abroad
- NTSB Wants to Lower Blood Alcohol Limit to 0.05