It was 79 years ago today (Dec. 7) when 21-year-old Rudolph “Rudy” Machado Martinez, a Mexican-American sailor with the U.S. Navy, became the first Latino casualty of WWII when he died at Pearl Harbor. Martinez was one of approximately 500,000 Latinos who served their country in WWII.
Martinez, who was raised in San Diego, was stationed at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii when his battleship, the USS Utah, was hit by two Japanese torpedoes. Fifty-eight men, including Martinez, died on the vessel when it sank that day.
The former high school wrestling champion and boxer received the Purple Heart and WWII Victory Medals posthumously for his service to the United States. The American Legion Post 624 in Mansfield, Texas, was renamed in his honor.
It is noted that the last correspondence Martinez had with his family included a request for them to send him a picture of his mother, Amelia.
The telegram to Martinez’s mother reads: “The Navy Department deeply regrets to inform you that your son Rudolph Machado Martinez…was lost in action in the performance of his duty and in the service of his country. The department extends to you its sincerest sympathy in your great loss.”
The Martinez family donated his Purple Heart, the telegram that announced his death and other items to the Pearl Harbor National Museum.
“These personal mementos started to build a story of who Rudy was and in that short life what he gave to his family in the way of love and remembrance,” says historian Daniel Martinez.