In the United States, Veteran’s Day is a day we remember all the sacrifices that military servicemen and women have made in order to fight for and preserve the American ideals of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
Latinos have been part of the American military as far back as the Revolutionary War, the very birth of this nation, but rarely have been recognized for their heroism.
On this day, we remember 5 Latino military heroes, and the many others who served throughout America’s history.
Private Marcelino Serna
Serna was not an American citizen when he first enlisted to fight on behalf of the United States during World War I. At just 21 years old, Serna begged U.S. officials to let him enlist, to show his dedication at becoming a naturalized citizen. He became the first Latino to earn the Distinguished Service Cross, and was the most decorated soldier from Texas, ultimately becoming a citizen in 1924. There is currently an initiative to posthumously award him a Medal of Honor.
Seaman Philip Bazaar
Yes, Latinos fought in the Civil War too! Seaman Bazaar was the first Hispanic Congressional Medal of Honor recipient for his service aboard the USS Santiago de Cuba, which assaulted a Confederate stronghold and was one of six men assigned to the generals ashore.
Tech4 Carmen Contreras-Bozak
Contreras-Bozak was a woman ahead of her time. Not content with the traditional gender roles placed on Latina women to be domestic workers or housewives, this boricua was inspired by the War Department and her patriotism. She became the first Hispanic American to serve in what would later be known as the Women’s Army Corps. During WWII, the Army specifically recruited bilingual Hispanic women to work in cryptology, communications and interpretation. Contreras-Bozak volunteered to go to North Africa where she served in the Signal Corps.
Overall, Contreras-Bozak received the European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal, two Battle Stars, a World War II Victory Medal, an American Campaign Medal, a WAAC Service Medal and the Good Conduct Medal throughout her time in the Army.
General Richard Edward Cavazos
To say that Cavazos is one of the top ranking Latino military leaders is putting it mildly. Not only was Cavazos the first Mexican American to reach the rank of brigadier general, but he was also the first Hispanic American four-star general in the U.S. Army. He has a long legacy of service that includes carrying five of his men behind friendly lines, refusing treatment for his own wounds until he was sure that the outpost was clear. Even General Colin Powell wrote in his biography that Cavazos “saved his career.” A legend, for sure.
Major Marisol Chalas
Dominicana Chalas is a lesson in bad-ass women. Chalas was the first in her class at Fort Rucker Army Aviation School and earned more than a dozen awards, including the Senior Aviator Badge. Chalas is the first Latina National Guard Black Hawk pilot and has served for close to thirty years. She is also an Army Congressional Fellow.