Memorial Day is an America day honoring the men and women who died while serving in the United States military. Memorial Day this year is on Monday, May 31. Memorial Day, which began after the Civil War, became an official holiday in 1971. Before then, the day was commemorated as Decoration Day. Decoration Day was created by General John Logan, leader of the Northern Civil War veterans organization, on May 5, 1868. Logan wanted a day for Americans to visit the graves of fallen Civil War soldiers. Decoration Day originally remembered the Civil War dead, but after World War I, it evolved into remembering American soldiers who died serving their country.
Often overlooked in the remembrance celebrations are the many immigrants who have died serving in the American military.
Foreign born American soldiers have fought alongside U.S.-born soldiers in every major war since the American Revolution. It is estimated that around 5,000 immigrants enlist each year into the U.S. armed forces. Over 700,000 immigrants have served in the U.S. military in the last 100 years, according to the U.S. government. Twenty percent of the Union Army during the Civil War were immigrants.
Today, about three percent of America’s veterans are foreign born. About eight percent of today’s American armed forces members are immigrants.
Died While Not Citizens
Many of the immigrants who have died serving in the United States were not citizens when they died for America.
Two recent examples are:
On May 12, 2015, U.S. Marine Corporal Sara A. Medina, who was born in México, died at the age of 23 in a helicopter accident while serving her adopted country.
Lance Corporal Jose Gutierrez, an immigrant from Guatemala, was killed in Iraq on March 21, 2003. Gutierrez was granted U.S. citizenship after his death. Gutierrez is one of about 100 immigrants granted citizenship posthumously after dying during combat in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The Medal of Honor
The Medal of Honor is the highest award the United States can bestow on any soldier for bravery in the face of battle. Latinos outpace all others as recipients of the Medal of Honor. Almost 60 of the approximately 3,400 Medal of Honor awarded have been to Hispanics.
Of those, seven Mexican citizens have been awarded the Medal of Honor.
Among the Mexican-born Medal of Honor recipients are Pedro Cano, Jesus S. Duran, Marcario García, Silvestre S. Herrera, José F. Jimenez and Issac Payne.
On February 8, 2000, Mexican citizen Alfredo V. Rascon was also awarded the Medal of Honor. Rascon retired as a lieutenant colonel. He was born in Chihuahua.
World War II Mexicans
Large numbers of Hispanics served during World War II. However, in addition to Latinos, many of Mexican descent fighting under the American flag, there was also the Mexican Expeditionary Air Force Squadron 201 that was deployed to the Philippines to fight the Japanese alongside their American counter parts. The Mexican squadron was one of only two Latin American countries to deploy forces during World War II. Brazil was the other country.
Hispanics, especially Mexican, and immigrants have contributed to America’s national defense since the founding of the country. Their contributions and bravery have made America safer today.
As Americans remember their fallen soldiers this Memorial Day, the immigrants who fought and died alongside citizens should also be remembered because their sacrifice was for a country, they adopted instead of being born into.