Hispanic Heritage Month was created to recognize the contributions of American citizens with ancestors from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central and South America. To honor the month, Team Rubicon is recognizing a handful of Hispanic women and men for their historic contributions to the U.S. military and humanitarian causes.
Some of these leaders have accomplished firsts, like becoming the first Hispanic female General in the Marine Corps. Others have done important humanitarian work like, providing aid to Nicaraguans following an earthquake in 1972. Each is impactful in their own unique way.
Meet five Hispanic Americans whose legendary service has shaped the military and humanitarian relief.
Angela Salinas enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps in May of 1974. At that time, of the 180,000 Marines, less than 2,000 were women. Salinas was among the first to attend gender-integrated officer training, and in 1989 she become the first woman to command a Marine Corps recruit station. Salinas served in the U.S. Marine Corps for 39 years and was the first Hispanic woman to become a General. When she retired in 2013, she was the highest-ranking female officer in the Marines.
Carmen Contreras-Bozak was the first Hispanic American to serve in the Women’s Army Corps. During the 1940’s, she enlisted along with other women who were stepping into new roles to serve their country. During WWII, she worked in cryptology, communications, and interpretation. She was discharged as a technical sergeant, known as an E-4 today, but during her time in the Army she earned the European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal, two Battle Stars, a World War II Victory Medal, an American Campaign Medal, a WAAC Service Medal and the Good Conduct Medal.
Héctor P. García
Dr. Héctor Perez García was a surgeon, physician, World War II veteran, and civil rights activist. He was often known as the “doctor to the barrios.” He fought and lead others to fight for the inclusion of Hispanic Americans. In 1984, Dr. García was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, making him the first Mexican American to receive the highest award an American civilian can earn.
Joe P. Martínez
Joe P. Martinez was the first Hispanic American to receive the Medal of Honor for his actions during WWII. After being drafted into the U.S. Army, he was sent to defend Alaska when the Japanese invaded.
In May of 1942, while making an attempt to take Fish Hook Pass near Alaska’s Holtz Bay, Martinez and his men were pinned in a foxhole. Soon, Martinez was charging with his Browning Automatic Rifle, clearing out foxholes as he went. The unit was able to make it through the pass. Martinez wasn’t done. After replenishing his ammo, he “climbed atop a small 15-foot cliff that overlooked another Japanese trench system and started pouring fire down on the Japanese in a trench.” The heroic actions cost him his life, and he was buried with full military honors in his hometown of Ault, Colorado.
Roberto Clemente was a well-loved and accomplished baseball player with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Clemente wasn’t only known for his skills on the field, he also spent his career advocating for equitable treatment of Latin baseball players. As a generous humanitarian, he lead relief efforts for Nicaraguans following a devastating earthquake in December of 1972.
When Clemente heard Nicaraguan army had stolen supplies meant for the people, he decided to accompany the next supply mission. Unfortunately, his plane crashed shortly after takeoff, killing Clemente.
Clemente was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1973 in a special election that waived the mandatory five-year waiting period. The Roberto Clemente Award, named in his honor, is bestowed annually to the player who best represents the game of baseball through extraordinary character, community involvement, philanthropy, and positive contributions, both on and off the field.