The Veterans History Project (VHP) joins the nation in recognizing September 15 through October 15 as National Hispanic Heritage Month. In so doing, VHP celebrates the heritage and culture of Hispanic- and Latino-American veterans, who number an estimated 1.4 million. A few years ago in an Experiencing War Web Feature, VHP highlighted the digitized collections of 12 veterans who self-identified as Hispanic or Latino. Now is the perfect time to take a look back.
One of the featured veterans is Eva Romero Jacques, who stood 4’11” tall–one inch short of the minimum height requirement–when she enlisted to serve in World War II. But the Army Air Forces waived its height requirement and allowed Jacques to serve two years as an administrative aide in the Pacific Theater because she had three years of college under her belt and was fluent in Spanish and English.
Also in the VHP archives is a collection of materials from Raymond Lugo Ayon. In 1945, then 16-year-old Ayon was so fascinated with his older brothers’ letters home during World War II that he dropped out of high school to enlist in the Merchant Marines. After being discovered as under age a year later, he returned to school, graduated and enlisted in the Air Force in 1948. Ayon trained with a fighter bomber squadron and later became a medical corpsman responsible for loading Korean War casualties onto transport planes bound for Japan.
Gary Villereal was drafted by the Army to serve in Vietnam in 1968, a year after he graduated from high school. Determined to serve his country, he made it through basic training with some difficulty, and even declined a medical discharge. Later, while carrying out a mission at an isolated Special Forces camp on the Cambodian border, Villereal was knocked unconscious during a mortar attack and temporarily lost his hearing. But by then it was too late to take that medical discharge, and he was not allowed to evacuate.
To all Hispanic and Latino Americans who served in the U.S. military, more than 900 of whose stories can be accessed on the VHP online database here, thank you for your service!