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Hispanic Military history

Posted 9/26/2007   Updated 10/3/2007 Email story   Print story


by 355th Fighter Wing
Public Affairs

9/26/2007 - DAVIS-MONTHAN AIR FORCE BASE -- Gen. Richard E. Cavazos: Born Jan. 31, 1929, in Kingsville, Texas, Richard E. Cavazos would become the Army's first Hispanic four-star general. He received a Bachelor of Science degree in geology from Texas Technological University and was commissioned a second lieutenant June 15, 1951, through the Reserve Officers Training Course. 

He was a decorated platoon and company commander in the Korean War and served as a battalion commander in the Vietnam War. From March 1, 1982, until his retirement June 17, 1984, General Cavazos served as Commander of the United States Armed Forces Command at Fort McPherson, Ga. Under his command, combat troops were deployed to Granada. During his distinguished career, he received 13 outstanding decorations.

Adm. Horicio Rivero: Born in 1910 in Puerto Rico, Horicio Rivero became the first Hispanic four-star admiral in 1964. He received his commission June 4, 1931, after graduating from the Naval Academy with distinction (3rd out of 441). As a junior officer, he served aboard the USS Northampton, USS Chicago, USS New Mexico, USS California and the USS Pennsylvania. He later attended the Naval postgraduate school and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he earned a Master of Science in Electrical Engineering. In 1964, he was promoted to admiral and became vice chief of naval operations. In 1968, Admiral Rivero commanded North Atlantic Treaty Organization forces as Commander in Chief of Allied Forces, Southern Europe. He retired in 1972.

65th Infantry Regiment "Borinqueneers": The 65th Infantry Regiment, based in Puerto Rico, was the only all-Hispanic unit to serve during the Korean War. Nicknamed the "Borinqueneers" in honor of a native Puerto Rican Indian tribe, the 65th displayed true heart and valor during the Korean War. During a three-year period from 1950 - 1953, the unit participated in nine major campaigns, earning a Presidential Unit Citation, a Meritorious Unit Commendation, and two Republic of Korea Unit Citations. Individual unit members earned four Distinguished Service Crosses and 124 Silver Stars.

Pfc. Guy Gabaldon: Marine Pfc. Guy "Gabby" Gabaldon, World War II hero, has the distinction of capturing more enemy soldiers than anyone else in the history of U.S. military conflicts. A Hispanic American, Private Gabaldon was taught the Japanese language by his adoptive parents. When the U.S. entered WWII, Private Gabaldon joined the Marine Corps, and served as a mortar crewman, Japanese translator and scout observer. While serving as a Japanese interpreter on Saipan, he received a Silver Star for obtaining vital information and capturing more than 1,000 enemy personnel in the face of direct fire. Private Gabaldon was able to persuade the weakened Japanese soldiers to surrender, in spite of their orders to fight to the last man. His Silver Star was elevated to a Navy Cross in December of 1960.

158th Infantry Regiment "Bushmasters": During WWII, the 158th Infantry Regiment was one of the first units to see combat in the Pacific. The Arizona National Guard unit was referred to as "the greatest fighting combat team ever deployed for battle," by Gen. Douglas MacArthur. The unit was originally called into service for WWII in September of 1940 and sent to Fort Sill, Okla., for training. When the U.S. officially entered the war after the Dec. 7 bombing of Pearl Harbor, the 158th was sent to Panama for jungle training and to guard the Panama Canal. It was there that they adopted the Bushmaster snake for their insignia. The unit saw combat in New Guinea, the Philippines and, finally, occupation duty in Yokohama, Japan.

200th Coast Artillery (NG): The 200th Coast Artillery, a New Mexico National Guard unit, was sent to the Philippines before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor to bolster the Philippine defenses. The unit was selected because of the high number of unit members who spoke Spanish, the principle language of the Philippines. Six hours after the Japanese struck Pearl Harbor, the Japanese attacked the Philippines. Responding with anti-aircraft fire, the 200th became the "first to fire" in the Pacific theater. The 200th eventually surrendered on April 9, 1941 and began the infamous 12-day, 85-mile "Bataan Death March" to a Japanese prison camp. They remained prisoners of war for three and a half years. Only half of the unit's members survived. The 200th was honored with four Presidential Unit Citations and the Philippine Presidential Citation.

Pvt. David Barkley: Pvt. David Barkley was born in Laredo, Texas, in 1899. During World War I, serving the U.S. Army, Barkley went above and beyond the call of duty and won the Medal of Honor for his actions. On Nov. 9, 1918, Barkley swam across the icy, turbulent Meuse River, risking his life to locate the enemy's position. Courageously, Barkley mapped the locations of enemy artillery units by crawling 400 yards behind enemy lines. As he and an accomplice swam back across the river, the enemy discovered the two men and opened fire. Sadly, the raging river pulled Barkley under as he succumbed to cramps. His partner made it safely to shore with the intelligence and maps. Because of the efforts of Barkley and his partner, the unit was able to launch a successful attack against the enemy. During Hispanic Heritage Week in September of 1989, Barkley was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.

141st Infantry Regiment (36th Infantry Division): The 141st Infantry Regiment was a unit of the 36th Infantry Division from Texas. The 141st had a high concentration of Hispanics. The men of the 141st experienced 362 days of combat during WWII - 137 days in Italy, 204 in France, 17 in Germany and four in Austria. Because of this intensive combat, the 141st sustained over 6,000 casualties; including over 500 missing in action, 5,000 wounded and 1,126 killed. In recognition of their extended service and valor, members of the 141st received 3 Medals of Honor, 31 Distinguished Service Crosses, 12 Legion of Merits, 492 Silver Stars, 11 Soldier's Medals, 1,685 Bronze Stars and numerous commendations and decorations.

1st Lt. Oscar Perdomo: Born of Mexican parents June 14, 1919, in El Paso, Texas, Oscar Perdomo holds the distinction of being the last "ace" of World War II. What makes this remarkable is he earned the title of "ace" in one day. The term "Ace" has been used since WWI. It designates a fighter pilot who destroys five or more enemy aircraft in aerial combat. As a member of the 464th Fighter Squadron, 507th Fighter Group USAAF, Lieutenant Perdomo recorded five kills Aug. 13, 1945. This was his 10th and last sortie of the war. With this, he received the distinction of being the last "ace" of the war. For his actions, Lieutenant Perdomo received the Air Medal and the Distinguished Service Cross.

Lt. Gen. Edward D. Baca: On Oct. 1, 1994, Lt. Gen. Edward D. Baca was assigned as chief of the National Guard Bureau, making him the first Hispanic to hold the position. In this position, he served as the senior uniformed National Guard officer responsible for all programs, policies and plans affecting more than 500,000 Army and Air National Guard personnel. His previous positions include adjutant general, secretary of the general staff, state assistant G-1, and state military personnel officer - all with the New Mexico National Guard. General Baca graduated from State University of New York with a Bachelor of Science in Liberal Arts. He retired in July of 1998.

Brig. Gen. Carmelita Vigil-Schimmenti: Carmelita Vigil-Schimmenti was born in 1936 in Albuquerque, where she lived at her family's ranch between Edgewood and Moriarty. In 1985, she became the first Hispanic female to attain the rank of general and was the first female general from New Mexico. She received her nursing diploma from Regina School of Nursing in Albuquerque. Because of her work on the base, she decided to join the military as a nurse. She joined the Air Force in 1958 and held clinical, teaching and administrative positions all over the world. She obtained a Bachelor of Science in nursing in 1966 and a Masters of Arts in public health in 1974. She attended the prestigious Air Force Flight Nurse School, the Air War College and the Inter-Agency Institute. She began her military career as a hospital nurse at Wright Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, and served in the Pacific Theater during the Vietnam War. Her many military decorations include the Distinguished Service Medal and the Legion of Merit Medal.

Pvt. Marcelino Serna: In 1918, Private Marcelino Serna received the Distinguished Service Cross for his single-handed capture of 24 German soldiers. After their capture, he prevented other soldiers in his unit from killing the prisoners, which would have been against the rules of war. His other decorations included the French Croix de Guerre, the Victory Medal with three bars, and two Purple Hearts. Private Marcelino Serna of Albuquerque, New Mexico, was the first Hispanic to be awarded for his actions in WWII.

Adm. David Farragut: "Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!" - one of the most famous battle cries in Navy history - was shouted by Adm. David Farragut during the battle for control of the port to Mobile, Ala., during the Civil War. The torpedoes were actually anchored mines that blocked the entrance to the Mobile Bay. In the course of the battle, Farragut led his fleet into battle and into the bay with that cry. The union fleet, under Farragut's direction, went on to defeat the Confederate forces and took control of Mobile. Farragut was commissioned as Admiral of the Navy on July 26, 1866. The most famous Hispanic participant in the Union forces, David Farragut was born on July 5, 1801. His father, a Spaniard, had come to the United States in 1776 and had participated in the American Revolutionary War and the War of 1812.

Hon. Edward Hidalgo: Appointed by President Carter in 1979, the Honorable Edward Hidalgo was the first Hispanic to serve as Secretary of the Navy (1979-1980). Previously, he served as the assistant secretary of the Navy (Manpower, Reserve Affairs and Logistics). Secretary Hildalgo was born in Mexico City, Mexico, Oct. 12, 1912. He became a resident of the United States at an early age. He received a Bachelor of Arts, Magna Cum Laude, from Holy Cross in 1933, and a Juris Doctor from Columbia Law School in 1936. In 1959, he received a degree in civil law from the University of Mexico. Secretary Hildalgo served as an air combat intelligence officer on the USS Enterprise (CV 6) during WWII and was awarded a Bronze Star for that service. During his tenure as Secretary of the Navy, he implemented new recruiting techniques and television advertising campaigns to inform Hispanic Americans about careers in the Navy.

Hon. Louis Caldera: Born in El Paso, Texas, on April 1, 1956, the eldest son of Mexican immigrants, Louis Caldera became the 17th Secretary of the Army in July 1998. He was the first Hispanic to hold the position. He was commissioned in the Military Police Corps in 1978 and served as platoon leader, battalion intelligence officer and battalion executive officer before resigning his commission in 1983. He earned a law degree and a Master of Business Administration from Harvard in 1987 and entered private law practice for three years. After representing Los Angeles County as deputy county counsel for one year, he served for five years as an assemblyman in the California State Legislature. Before he became the Secretary of the Army, Caldera moved to Washington to serve as the managing director and chief operating officer for the Corporation for National Service. As Secretary of the Army, he managed a work force of more than 1 million soldiers and 270,000 civilian employees. During his tenure, the Army began its historic transformation from a Cold War legacy force to a rapidly deployable, information-age Army. Mr. Caldera is currently vice chancellor at California State University.

Information provided by U.S. Army Reserve Maj. John Williams. Major Williams served as a participant in the Topical Research Intern Program at the Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute from Aug. 16 to Sep. 13, 2002, when he originally compiled the information.

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