Mexican Americans in WWII

During WWII–despite much racism and social turmoil throughout the 1930’s against Mexican Americans, many eagerly joined the war effort and fought for their country. The first Coloradan to receive the Medal of Honor was Joe P. Martinez who led troops on an attack up a snowy mountain range in the Aleutian Islands on May 26th, 1943. He died during this attack.


Another was Silvestre S. Herrera who overcame massive challenges on the battlefields in France. He was born in Mexico and his parents died when he was a baby. His uncle smuggled him into the states to grow up with relatives in Arizona. Silvestre believed he had been born in El Paso rather than Mexico. However, he did not have documentation to prove this so was essentially an undocumented immigrant throughout his early years. Despite this he was drafted into the Army and joined the 142nd Infantry. In an attack on a forward position he crossed a minefield and lost both of his legs in two separate explosions. After which he continued to support the advance with suppressive machine gun fire.  He returned to the States to recover from the loss of his legs. Despite this, he was still not a US citizen and not granted citizenship until he was awarded the Medal of Honor.

This photo is of Silvestre Herrera receiving the Medal of Honor from Harry S. Truman.


There are countless stories of Mexican Americans who felt very passionately about serving their country. Hispanic culture has a strong sense of duty, belief in hard work, and a warrior spirit influenced many soldiers to join the war effort. The League of United Latin American Citizens LULAC also promoted citizenship and assimilation for Americans. After the war Alonso S. Perales, one of the LULAC’s founding members, wrote a book in 1948, Are We Good Neighbors? documenting the racism facing Hispanics throughout the States. The project has been restored online and can be found here. It’s definitely worth reviewing some of the stories he collected.


A landmark incident was the burial of Felix Longoria— a soldier who died in combat in the Philippines. In 1949 his body was recovered and returned to the States for burial. When his widow went to the funeral home she was turned away–Mexicans were not allowed to be have a wake in the funeral home. Eventually the family reached out to then Texas Senator Lyndon Johnson who supported the family and offered to have the burial at Arlington National Cemetery–although without a wake. What is further exasperating about the story is that the State of Texas then investigated the incident with a formal review board of five members and came to the conclusion that the whole incident was not motivated by racism, it was just tradition to keep Mexicans out of the funeral parlor…

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