Latino Heroes Deserve Their Own Monuments
The significant Latino contribution to the U.S. military to be acknowledged at Junipero Serra Park
Lucille Roybal-Allard and Bill Lansford
We will never know what went through the mind of Angeleno Pfc. Eugene Obregon when he looked up and saw Bert Johnson, a fellow Marine and close friend, collapse in a street on the outskirts of Seoul, his body riddled with bullets from a North Korean ambush.
Published on LatinoLA: May 27, 2008
But those who were there that September afternoon in 1950 never forgot what Obregon did.
"Hang on, Bert, I'm coming!" he yelled.
"Don't try it!" his friend called back.
But Obregon was already sprinting up the street, in full view of the enemy, armed with only his pistol. He made it to Johnson, and pulled his friend into a ditch on the side of the road.
As he began bandaging the injured Marine's wounds, the North Koreans attacked. Obregon shielded his friend's body with his own and turned his pistol on what appeared to be a full platoon of advancing forces. His pistol empty, he grabbed Johnson's carbine and continued firing, one man against dozens.
It was only after the carbine was empty, and Obregon had turned to his grenades, that enemy bullets caught him, killing him instantly.
But Obregon's efforts were not in vain. Twenty-two North Koreans lay dead. With time to regroup, the Marines rallied, routing the rest of the enemy. The next night, the American flag was raised over Seoul.
And Bert Johnson? He survived his injuries, recovered, came home, and lived for 44 more years. On August 30, 1951, he was there as Obregon's parents received his friend's posthumous Congressional Medal of Honor, the highest U.S. military distinction.
Unfortunately, the significant Hispanic contribution to the U.S. military has often gone overlooked. Just last year, the original version of Ken Burn's 15-hour PBS documentary, "The War" was justly criticized for not covering the Hispanic experience. It took pressure from several community and veteran organizations, and members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus before 28 minutes of footage from Hispanic veterans was added.
It is time that we honor these brave soldiers and remind our community of the proud tradition of Latino sacrifice for this nation and courage in the line of duty.
The Eugene A. Obregon Congressional Medal of Honor Memorial Foundation was created to finance and construct a monument in downtown Los Angeles to honor the 40 Latino recipients of the Congressional Medal of Honor. The monument, which has the unanimous support of the Los Angeles City Council, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and other community leaders, will educate and inspire Angelenos and visitors about the heroic Hispanic contributions to our nation's armed services.
The monument will also honor the spirit of unity that is found in the best of military traditions and community ideals - ideals that were championed nearly 150 years ago by the creator of the Congressional Medal of Honor, President Abraham Lincoln. It will depict Obregon, a 19-year old Latino from East Los Angeles, crouching over the body of his close friend, Johnson, a 19-year-old Anglo from Texas. The names of all 40 Latino Medal of Honor recipients will be engraved in the side of the memorial, and a wall next to the memorial will display the names of every Congressional Medal of Honor recipient.
Obregon was a 17-year-old senior at Roosevelt High School in Boyle Heights when he shipped out from Union Station 60 years ago. Now the park across from Union Station, named after Father Junipero Serra, has been selected to house the memorial honoring him and the other Congressional Medal of Honor recipients. Obregon's journey has come full circle.
Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-Los Angeles, is member of the U.S. House of Representatives. Bill Lansford is president of the Eugene Obregon Congressional Medal of Honor Memorial Foundation, www.obregoncmh.org.
Lucille Roybal-Allard and Bill Lansford:
Originally published in the LA Daily News. Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-Los Angeles, is member of the U.S. House of Representatives. Bill Lansford is president of the Eugene Obregon Congressional Medal of Honor Memorial Foundation, www.obregoncmh.org.