The following is a guest post by Christy Chason, Liaison Specialist for the Veterans History Project (VHP).
Until recently, Dr. Héctor P. García was someone about whom I knew precious little. In fact, knowing what I know now, I am embarrassed to say that I had only ever heard his name in the context of my work environment. And that is a shame.
It’s time to burn his name into your memory cells, because Dr. Héctor P. García – a Mexican-born American civil rights pioneer, loving father, decorated World War II veteran and Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient, physician, surgeon and champion for equality, education and voting rights – helped to change the face of this country. I think it’s fitting that we pause to recognize him today, the first day of Hispanic Heritage Month.
A few months ago, VHP collaborated with the Library’s Office of Equal Employment Opportunity & Diversity Programs and the Librarian’s Hispanic Initiative to host a book talk with Dr. García’s daughter, Cecilia García Akers. On May 20, 2016, she shared her memories and discussed her late father’s legacy in her new biography, “The Inspiring Life of Texan Héctor P. García.” You can see the webcast of that event in the player below:
At the end of event, Akers presented the Project with a collection of 15 original photographs of her father’s military service which have been added to the archive and made accessible to researchers, students, educators and the general public, including his loved ones.
In her talk, Akers described the book as “a daughter’s perspective on his personal struggles that accompanied his advocacy,” versus the usual historical analysis of his life. She drove home themes of rising up from struggle, overcoming great hardships to care for others and her father’s deep values that led him to his calling.
He understood the values of trust and love for his fellow man; he never forgot that he was called to serve all the people around him.
She went on to say that he “desired to achieve the American dream,” and gave his life to his country and humanity. “We can all learn from his determination to succeed,” she added. And I couldn’t agree more.
In 1948, Dr. García founded the American G.I. Forum, a group aimed at promoting Hispanic veterans’ civil rights – an organization that still flourishes today. He cared for tens of thousands of soldiers as a doctor in the U.S. Army’s 307th Infantry Medical Corps. Decades later, Dr. García made efforts every single day to comfort the families of fallen soldiers during the Vietnam War. He worked long hours as a physician and surgeon, but still made time to attend veterans’ funerals, comfort their families and provide healthcare for veterans struggling financially.
They say a picture paints a thousand words, and one look at the sepia-tinged image of a young Major Hector P. García in uniform – a waist-up shot that draws your eyes to his crisp, neat lapels adorned with medical caduceus pins – and you can see the determination, of which his daughter spoke, in his wide-eyed stare.
If you have a veteran in your life, or are a veteran yourself, consider participating in the Veterans History Project. The Library of Congress needs you to ensure that veterans’ voices are collected and heard. When donating a collection to the Veterans History Project, as with all participating veterans, we encourage you to self-identify your race or ethnicity on the Biographical Data Form. By doing so, historic evidence of your personal experience will not be lost, and a fuller picture of your service will be reflected.
In her talk, Akers said she didn’t want her father’s life to ever be forgotten, “because he deserves better.” Now that his collection is housed at the Library of Congress Veterans History Project, his life and legacy will be remembered for generations to come.