Hispanics in the Marine Corps

The Marine Corps, more so than any other branch of America's military, values and embraces its history. Beginning in boot camp, every Marine is educated on the Corps' proud and storied past as they learn what it means to be part of such a prestigious organization. In the spirit of the value the Marine Corps places on its history, we wanted to give you, Marine families and supporters, an opportunity to embrace and learn about this part of Marine Corps legacy as well.

Hispanic-Americans and persons of Hispanic descent have a long, proud history in the United States Marine Corps. According to Marines.mil, Hispanics accounted for approximately 12% of the Corps in 2013, the largest percentage of any minority group in the Marines. In 2002, President George W. Bush issued an order to speed up the process of citizenship for immigrants serving in the nation's military services in 2002, meaning that the percentage of Hispanic Marines will most likely increase moving forward.

While it is almost impossible to determine exactly when Hispanics first began serving in the Marine Corps, it is a verifiable fact that the answer is at least since the Boxer Rebellion (1899-1901), when Private France Silva became the first Marine of Hispanic descent to be awarded the Medal of Honor. In the years since, Hispanic Marines have participated in every major conflict our nation has participated in, including World War I, the "Banana Wars" in Latin America, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Gulf War and, most recently, in Afghanistan and Iraq.

In 1915, Lieutenant Pedro Augusto del Valle, from San Juan, Puerto Rico, became the first Marine of Hispanic descent to graduate from the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland and in World War I, he participated in the surrender of the German High Seas Fleet. In 1918, at the battle of Mont Blanc Ridge, Private Joe Nicholas Viera was awarded the Navy Cross and the Distinguished Service Cross, the second-highest honors the Navy and Army can bestow upon a person, for capturing three machine-gun nests and 40 enemy prisoners. Also in 1918, First Lieutenant Felix Rigau Carrera became the first Hispanic fighter pilot in the Marines.

In World War II, Hispanics served in great numbers and with great distinction in all branches of the military, and especially in the Marines. Hispanic Marines took part in every major battle in the Pacific Theater, earning one Medal of Honor and 15 Navy Crosses. Among the Marines to earn the Navy Cross was Pfc. Guy Gabaldon, who single-handedly captured (or persuaded to surrender) roughly 1,500 Japanese soldiers and civilians at the battles of Saipan and Tinian in 1944, exploits which were later commemorated in the film Hell to Eternity. In 1945, Pfc. Harold Gonsalves became the only Hispanic Marine during WWII to be awarded the Medal of Honor for sacrificing his life by throwing himself on top of an enemy grenade on Okinawa.

Gonsalves

Pfc. Harold Gonsalves lost his life and was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions during the Battle of Okinawa in WWII.
—Photo Courtesy of USMC

The Korean War saw another wave of Hispanics joining the military, primarily the Army and Marines, in large numbers. During the war, five Hispanic Marines were awarded the Medal of Honor and four more were awarded the Navy Cross. Additionally, due to cultural norms that had become more relaxed following World War II, the Korean War saw an influx of Hispanic women joining the Marines, including Rose Franco, who later became the first female Chief Warrant Officer in the Marine Corps.

As was the case in World War II and Korea, Hispanics Marines displayed galantry and bravery in battle in the Vietnam War as well, earning six of the 57 Medals of Honor awarded to Marines during the war, five of them coming posthumously. A further 19 Hispanic Marines were awarded Navy Crosses.

In the years since the Vietnam War, Hispanics have continued to join the Marine Corps in ever-increasing numbers. In 1983, 16 of the 241 servicemen who were killed in the Beirut bombing were Hispanic Marines. In 1991, a Marine aviator, Captain Manuel Rivera, Jr., became the first Hispanic service member to be killed in Operation Desert Shield. Two years later, in 1993, three of the 45 American military personnell killed in the Battle of Mogadishu (Somalia) were Marines of Hispanic descent. Since the beginning of the War on Terror in 2001, six Marines of Hispanic descent have been awarded the Navy Cross for actions in battle. In 2004, Brigadier General Joseph V. Medina became the first Marine general ever assigned commander of naval ships and MGySgt. Abigail D. Olmos became the first female Master Gunnery Sergeant in the history of the Marine Corps. Two years later, in 2006, Brigadier General Angela Salinas made history when she became the first Hispanic female to obtain the rank of "General" in the Marines.

To read the 2014 Hispanic Heritage Month MARADMIN, please click here...

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