Honoring Hispanic heroes
Have you ever been to El Paso or Los Angeles? Have you ever eaten tamales, tacos, black beans, paella or huevos rancheros? Do you ever say adios? Have you ever celebrated Cinco de Mayo?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, then you have a pretty good idea of just how universal the creative spirits and influence of our 39 million Hispanic-American friends and neighbors have become in the United States.
These 39 million fellow citizens have brought the cultural wealth and bounty from such countries as Mexico, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Spain, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Columbia, Panama and many other nations throughout South and Central America.
There are more than 36,000 Hispanic-American physicians and surgeons, almost 52,000 university-level educators, more than 35,000 chief executives of businesses, almost 29,000 lawyers, more than 5,000 news analysts, reporters and correspondents and 650 legislators at the federal and state level.
One of the important aspects of the cultural wealth they all bring to America is intense loyalty - to family, friends, community and nation. Loyalty, as it turns out, is also a key ingredient of heroism.
Let me tell you about a special street in Silvis, Ill., steeped in the traditions of loyalty, heroism and sacrifice. Silvis is a small town of about 7,000 people in northwest Illinois. It's about two miles from the Mississippi River. If you want to go shopping in a mall, you have to go out of state to Davenport, Iowa, across the river.
Second Street in Silvis wasn't anything special. In fact, during World War II, it was mostly mud and ruts. But, that was when it was Second Street. In May 1967, former Mayor Bill Tatmen officially renamed the street Hero Street.
Hispanic Americans have a rich military heritage in defense of the United States, and Hero Street in Silvis explains the basis of that heritage.
Hero Street has sent more than 110 men and women to serve in the U.S. armed forces. That's more than any other American street of comparable size anywhere in our country.
One hundred and ten people isn't a very large number, you may be thinking - just a drop in the bucket as far as the Department of Defense goes. But, here's the key - Hero Street is only a block and a half long and has only 25 homes on it. Yet, out of those 25 homes, out of that block-and-a-half have come sons and daughters, husbands and wives, fathers and mothers who have unselfishly served in the defense of our nation.
They join the ranks of all those of Hispanic heritage who came before them - heroes all - especially the eight young Hispanic-American men of Mexican descent from Silvis, Ill., who gave their lives in World War II and Korea fighting for the American ideals of freedom and justice for all. Hero Street was named for them and here's their story.
The Heroes' History
Private First Class Joseph Gomez was born in 1929, so his parents, Ambrosio and Amanda Gomez, knew all about the horrors of living during the Depression. At the age of 17, Joe enlisted in the Army, serving briefly in Europe during the end of World War II. He was recalled to active duty five years later for Korea. He was awarded two Purple Hearts, but he didn't come home - the second medal was awarded posthumously.
Private First Class Peter Masias was older than PFC Gomez when he went to war with the 139th Airborne Engineering Battalion. But he was younger when he made the ultimate sacrifice - only 20. His parents, Agapito and Epifania Masias, would always remember his laughter and sense of humor.
Isabel and Victoria Mu'os sent their son, John, off to war in Korea not knowing that they would never see him again.
On Aug. 27, 1951, on a cold, muddy hillside halfway around the world from Silvis, Ill., Pfc. John Mu'os gave his life for the sake of his 38th Regimental Combat teammates.
Sgt. Tony Pompa volunteered right away when Pearl Harbor was attacked in 1941. He was assigned to the 449th Bombardment Group in the Army Air Corps and served in the skies over war-torn Europe. On Jan. 31, 1944, only 14 days after celebrating his 20th birthday, he did what heroes do - gave everything he had for his country and his comrades.
A Family's Sacrifice
Frank Sandoval was a year younger than his brother, 23-year-old Joe, but that didn't stop either of them from enlisting after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Frank went to the 209 Combat Engineering Battalion and served in the Pacific. Joe went to Africa, the Middle East and Europe with the 41st Armored Infantry Division.
Edubigis and Angelina Sandoval received Frank's flag-draped coffin first and Joe's a year later. By this time, the families of Second Street in Silvis were used to the sad days.
Private Bill Sandoval enlisted with his parents' approval and headed for Europe with the 82nd Airborne Division. On October 6, 1944, he made his last jump. Joseph and Carmen Sandoval became the parents of another hero from Second Street.
Gabino and Manuela Soliz knew their son, Claro, was destined for great things when he joined the Army. Claro rose quickly through the ranks to Staff Sergeant, earning two campaign stars for the European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign, as well as a Bronze Star. In 1945, he earned the Purple Heart - posthumously.
As the families of Second Street gathered time after time to mourn the loss of their brave sons, they knew their sacrifices were not in vain.
Freedom and justice, courage and loyalty are values held in high esteem by the mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles of the short thoroughfare that would become known as Hero Street.
The Land of Heroes
Yes, America's future is bright because of the diversity of her people and the incredible mix of ideas and cultures everyone brings to these shores. At MSC we're proud of our Hispanic-American shipmates, as we are proud of all our people.
America is a salad of citizens of different cultures and ethnicities - the land of opportunity - the land of heroes.
This month, we celebrate the heroism and heritage of our Hispanic brothers and sisters - we celebrate the unity, faith, diversity and loyalty they bring to us. Ultimately, we celebrate the sacrifices they've made for a nation we all call home.
D.L. Brewer III
Vice Admiral, U.S. Navy
Commander, Military Sealift Command