As Veteran’s Day approaches on Wednesday, Nov. 11, it’s important to step back and honor those who have and who are fighting to protect our freedom. Undoubtedly, it is impossible to pay homage to all veterans without recognizing the Latinos and Latinas who served and who are serving in the United States military.
Take Arizona’s National Guard’s 158th Infantry Regiment for example. The unit was mainly comprised of Mexican Americans and Indigenous people from at least 20 tribes. Known as the “Bushmasters,” fought in critical battles during World War II to open the Visayan passages for allied shipping in the Pacific, according to the U.S. Army Center of Military History. Gen. Douglas MacArthur called the Arizona National Guard’s 158th Infantry Regiment one of the greatest fighting combat teams ever deployed for battle. About 400,000 to 500,000 Hispanics served in the U.S. Armed Forces during the war.
The Korean War saw Hispanic-Americans turn out to defend the United States again with many of them serving in the 65th Infantry Regiment, an all-Hispanic U.S. Army unit. In August of 1950, two months into the war, the regiment was among the units selected for combat assignment, marking a change in the U.S. military’s racial and ethnic policy. The regiment was responsible for winning a battle in Yongam-ni that involved 400 enemy troops. Members of the regiment won four Distinguished Services Crosses and 125 Silver Stars. They were also awarded the American Presidential and Meritorious Unit Commendations, two Korean Presidential Unit Citations and the Greek Gold Medal for Bravery.
It is unclear how many Hispanic-Americans served in the military during the Vietnam War because the government didn’t keep an official count as Latinos were combined together with white troops in official documentations. However, the military estimates that at least 80,000 Hispanic-Americans served in the military during the Vietnam era. In 2002, the National Defense Authorization Act started a review of Jewish-American and Hispanic-American veteran war records from World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. That same year, the National Defense Authorization Act allowed for some Jewish, Black and Hispanic-American soldiers to be honored with the Medal of Honor. They were presented with the award in 2014 by President Obama.
Our Latino/Latina soldiers served and defended their country, many at the young age of 18, just out of high school. Many war veterans returned with both physical and mental injuries and still face their war demons today. Suicide, homelessness and PTSD are the top concerns veterans face after returning home. Vietnam-era veterans experienced rejection and an undeserving welcome when the conflict ended.
We salute all veterans for their sacrifices, their bravery and their perseverance. May your lives and those of your families reflect the pride that America feels about your service to our country.
This Veterans Day offers well-deserved deals to those who have served our country. Restaurants like Arby’s, Bacon Social House, BJ’s Restaurant & Brewhouse, Buffalo Wild Wings and others are offering free food to military veterans. Sport Clips is offering free haircuts to veterans in participating locations while Starbucks is offering free cups of coffee to veterans and their spouses. Other places like Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., Carrabba’s Italian Grill, Bonefish Grill and other establishments are offering discounts to veterans. Bring proof of service or call ahead for details.