A Terrible Reality of Names and Numbers

Latinos contributed inmeasurably in the War on Iraq

By Fernando Oaxaca
Published on LatinoLA: April 21, 2003

A Terrible Reality of Names and Numbers

"There's no honorable way to kill, no gentle way to destroy. There is nothing good in war. Except its ending."
-- Abraham Lincoln

There is no easy way to say it?.as of Easter Sunday, 2003, no less than 128 young Americans have died in the war effort called "Operation Iraqi Freedom."

There are 23 Latinos on the Department of Defense list of confirmed deaths in Iraq. There are 23 African-Americans on that list; two Filipinos; one woman, a Hopi Indian; and as important, almost 80 Americans in the categories (mostly "white") usually excluded from racial or ethnic "preferences" in various activities in American life.

It is a grim reality that violent death in a war zone happens on an equal opportunity basis; bullets and rocket-propelled grenades and land mines do not discriminate.

Our prominent Iraq War Coalition partners, the British, also suffered war-related deaths, perhaps over 40. Our media has also given great importance to the other war fatalities. More than a dozen journalists have died. And much media focus has been, of course, on the Iraqi deaths, military and civilian. Without specificity, reports on the killing of thousands of Iraqi soldiers and innocent and not-so-innocent "non-combatants" (at least non-uniformed) by American tanks, bombs and bullets have been prominent in press coverage of this war. No credible statistics exist.

Let me focus on the Latino dead:

AVILES, Andrew Julian, 18, Lance Cpl., Marine Reserves; Palm Beach, Fla.; Fourth Division.

CONTRERAS, Aaron J., 31, Capt., Marines; Sherwood, Ore.; Aircraft Group 39.

ESTRELLA-SOTO, Ruben, 18, Pvt., Army; El Paso; 507th Maintenance Company.

FERNANDEZ, George A., 36, Master Sgt., Army; El Paso; Special Operations Command.

GARIBAY, Jose A., 21, Cpl., Marines; Orange, Calif.; Second Regiment.

GARZA, Juan Guadalupe Jr., 20, Pfc., Marines; Temperance, Mich.; First Division.

GONZALEZ, Armando Ariel, 25, Cpl., Marines; Hialeah, Fla.; Second Aircraft Wing.

GONZALEZ, Jesus A., 22, Cpl., Marines; Indio, Calif.; First Division.

GONZALEZ, Jorge A., 20, Cpl., Marines; Los Angeles; Second Regiment.

GUTIERREZ, Jose, 22, Lance Cpl., Marines; Los Angeles; First Division.

LIVAUDAIS, Nino D., 23, Staff Sgt., Army; Ogden, Utah; Third Battalion, 75th Rangers.

MARTINEZ-FLORES, Francisco A., 21, Pfc., Marines; Los Angeles; First Division.

MATA, Johnny Villareal, 35, Chief Warrant Officer, Army; Amarillo, Tex.; 507th Maint. Co.

MEDELLIN, Jesus Martin Antonio, 21, Cpl., Marines; Fort Worth; First Division.

MERCADO, Gil, 25, Specialist, Army; Paterson, N.J.; Third Battalion, 187th Infantry.

PADILLA-RAMIREZ, Fernando, 26, Sgt., Marines; San Luis, Ariz.; Wing Support Group 37.

RINCON, Diego Fernando, 19, Pfc., Army; Conyers, Ga.; Third Infantry Division.

RIOS, Duane R., 25, Sgt., Marines; Hammond, Ind.; First Division.

RIVERO, John Travis, 23, Cpl., Army; Gainesville, Fla.; 124th Infantry Division.

RODRIGUEZ, Robert M., 21, Cpl., Marines; Queens; First Division.

SILVA, Erik H., 22, Cpl., Marines; Chula Vista, Calif.; First Division.

SUAREZ, Jesus A. Del Solar, 20, Lance Cpl., Marines; Escondido, Calif.; First Division.

TEJEDA, Riayan A., 26, Staff Sgt., Marines; New York; Third Battalion, Fifth Regiment.

I chose to list only the Latinos who made the final sacrifice in Iraq?.because in this final, sad event in their all too short, interrupted lives?..THEY ARE NOT A MINORITY! And?in this regrettable instance, they deserve a shot at prominence, given their usual not-too-favorable "image" as promulgated by the anti-immigrant/Latino elements in our society.

Overall in the United States Marines, Latinos represent 14% of the Corps (blacks, 16%; "whites," 73%). 45 non-Hispanic Marines died in Iraq; 8 were black; 34 were "white."

Of the 23 Latinos killed in Iraq, 16 were United States Marines. They made up 70% of all Latino fatalities! Of the 128 total killed in Iraq, 61 or 47% were United States Marines; Latinos were 27% of all Iraq Marine fatalities (blacks were 13% of all Marine fatalities.). The remaining 67 fatalities were all United States Army except for two Navy and three Air Force men.

Perhaps the most heart-rending aspect of this story of sacrifice and patriotism is in the ages of those who are gone. The average age when they died, of the 23 Latinos?.was 23. Three were 30 or more, the oldest was 36, two were 18 and one was 19 years old when he died.

There is no message intended here other than that which readers may formulate in their mind as they absorb the story of these young people and what they did for all of us. So much has been written, discussed and, at times, screamed, about the reasons, or lack thereof, for this war. Some define the justice of the mission, most speak of the dangers that regime change in Iraq was to eliminate or alleviate.

Some, cynical and with pre-conceived notions of venal or purely political or avaricious intentions on the part of our national leadership, continue to express bitter and unforgiving allegations directed at the very idea of Iraqi liberation through the violence of war.

Now that military victory is all but complete, the debate, inexplicably, still consumes the public here and abroad. The grim predictions of future actions by us or supporters of the defeated, leading to more violence or instability, still feed the Sunday talk shows and print press pundits.

Nevertheless, what now seems wise and not debatable is to reflect for a moment on the tragedy, tinged with glory, now better known to a grateful nation?.as it remembers 128 brave Americans. They and their 250,000 comrades-in-arms have served their country honorably and with distinction. By their almost unprecedented excellence, it seems that all our troops will come home sooner, By their valor, dedicated service and performance, they have given pause to those who would do us harm in the style of 9/11.

Let us also take a moment to remember grieving families and loved ones of those who are gone. America has a deep and abiding debt to them and, also, to those wounded or hurt while serving. They are part of a new family of war veterans who must not be forgotten or abused as we have from time to time forgotten or abused past phalanxes of veterans.

It is time to recognize, again and again, what our Armed Services, male, female, white, black, Latino, Filipino, Asian-American, Native American, whatever their origin, have done for others. The relatively few who died and the hundreds of thousands of uniformed Americans who continue to serve?.also liberated the Iraqi people and gave hope to those others suffering brutal, confining governments. Those still serving must know that they helped make an incalculable step forward for stability in the region. And, in extension of that, contributed immeasurably to the greater War on Terror?..which, to the dismay of the nay-sayers and cynics, America is winning.

As they say in Tel Aviv: "Lest We Forget!"

About Fernando Oaxaca:
Oaxaca may be reached at

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