Photo courtesy of Hispanicize

Although many prefer to enjoy Memorial Day as if it were a vacation — especially if it falls on a Monday — at Hispanicize, we want to recognize those who fought for an ideal, especially Latino heroes.

Did you know them? 

Latinos in U.S. Military History

The contribution of the Hispanic American community to the U.S. military history is undeniable. In fact, they have been actively serving since the civil war. The U.S. military’s historical records show that Latino participation, both men and women, have been over 500,000 since World War II. According to current studies, more than 17% of the active-duty military are Latinos, and the numbers will increase between 8% and 16% in the coming years.

The courage of Latinos does not go unnoticed. These are five examples of service members who honorably defended the United States and did their duty until the last moment of their lives:

Joseph Pantillion Martinez

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Private Joseph Pantillion Martinez was born in New Mexico and was the first Latino to receive a posthumous Medal of Honor for his actions during World War II. Martinez enlisted in the army when he was only 21 years old, and in 1943 he was at the end of the Battle of Attu in the Aleutian Islands.

On May 26 of that year, enemy forces cornered Martinez along with his regiment and, in an attempt to eliminate the last trench occupied by the enemy, was mortally wounded. Martinez’s heroic actions led to the end of the battle.

David M. Gonzales 

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Born in Pacoima, California, David M. Gonzales was a Mexican-American soldier in the United States Army who was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously. 

In 1944, when Gonzales was only 21 years old, he joined the Army. On April 25, 1945, Gonzales was in combat with his company on the Villa Verde Trail on Luzon Island in the Philippines. He came under attack by enemy forces and was fatally wounded in an explosion while trying to rescue other soldiers buried due to other blasts.

Angel Mendez

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Born in New York and the son of Puerto Rican parents, Angel Mendez was a United States Marine. She was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross and promoted to sergeant.

Mendez joined the U.S. Navy in 1964 and three years later would be sent to fight in the Vietnam War as part of Operation Desoto. 

On March 16, 1967, Mendez was conducting a mission with his battalion when they came under attack, and in an attempt to save their commander, he was wounded and used his body as a shield to save him.

Maria Ines Ortiz 

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The daughter of Puerto Rican parents, Maria Ines Ortiz, was a Bronze Star and Purple Heart decorated nurse and the first American nurse to die in combat since the Vietnam War.

In 2004 Ortiz was assigned to the Kirk U.S. Army Health Clinic and two years later would be reassigned as a nurse at the 28th Combat Support Hospital in the so-called “Green Area” of Baghdad, Iraq. A year later, during an attack on the Green Area, Ortiz was mortally wounded for not wearing body armor while returning to the hospital.

Humbert Roque ‘Rocky’ Versace

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Of Puerto Rican-Italian descent, Humbert Roque ‘Rocky’ Versace was a member of the U.S. Army Special Forces and the first member of the armed forces to be awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroic actions in South Asia.

Versace began his service in December 1959, and in 1962 he was sent to Vietnam as an intelligence advisor. A year later, he would be captured by enemy forces, just two weeks before his scheduled return home. He tried to escape four times without success, but not without making a fool of his captors.

According to soldiers captured with him, Versace proudly sang ‘God Bless America’ the night before his execution on September 26, 1965.

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