Not On This Memorial Day

Latino Medal of Honor recipients ignored once again

By Jorge Mariscal
Published on LatinoLA: May 24, 2002

Not On This Memorial Day

Another May day in which we honor those who died in the service of their country.

"To serve one's country."

What can this mean to a community that has not been served by this country? Isn't patriotic service reciprocal? Doesn't answering the call to duty entitle every community asked to sacrifice its youth to the right of recognition and respect?

The other day, I happened to turn to CNBC. Tim Russert is interviewing Allen Mikaelian and Mike Wallace. They have just published a book called "Medal of Honor: Profiles of America's Military Heroes from the Civil War to the Present." As a veteran, I am interested in the topic and pay close attention. I know that Mexican Americans have won more Congressional Medals of Honor than any other "minority" group.

I wonder: Which Chicano or Latino will they honor? Russert gushes over the fifteen medal winners featured in the book, Wallace is the mature wise man, Mikaelian an earnest young scholar without affect. Together they take us through the book -- the only woman medal winner, a Japanese American soldier killed in Korea, two African American heroes.

As the program hits the half hour I say to my wife, "They can't possibly do this show without mentioning one Latino, can they? Could this high-profile book have been published without reference to a single Latino medal winner?"

The program ends and I have the answer to my questions -- a resounding "yes."

Yes, they could do an entire book and TV show on the Medal of Honor and not mention one Mexican American or Puerto Rican.

I shake my head in disgust, my anger dissolved in disbelief. Am I being "politically correct" by asking that our community and its history not be erased?

Oh, I know.

"We couldn't include everyone. We had to make hard choices," the authors will say.

But how can a community with so (too?) many heroes be excluded from the national memory? Where are the stories of all those medal winners with Spanish surnames?

The honor roll is long: Joe Martinez (World War II), Manuel Perez (World War II), Marcario Garcia (World War II), David Gonzales (World War II), Eugene A. Obregon (Korea), Benito Martinez (Korea), Roy P. Benavidez (Viet Nam), Everett Alvarez (Viet Nam), Hector Santiago-Colon (VIet Nam), Daniel Fernandez (Viet Nam), Euripides Rubio (Viet Nam), and all the rest.

As Raul Morin put it in his classic book, these men deserve their place among the valiant.

Another May day when we honor those who died.

It seems we have only traveled a short distance on the long road to equality of treatment for Mexican Americans. Old questions persist: How will our children learn their history if it is ignored? How will our neighbors overcome the tendency to view us as foreigners if our stories are not told? When will this country treat us with the dignity we have earned?

If not on Memorial Day, then when?

About Jorge Mariscal:
Jorge Mariscal was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1968 and served in Viet Nam the following year. His father was a U.S. Marine in World War II; his tios fought in the Pacific and Korea.

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