West Point honors National Hispanic Heritage Month

Story and photo by Kathy Eastwood Staff Writer

October 5th, 2017 | News, News and Features
 Brigade Respect Chair Class of 2018 Cadet Carolyn Kehn presents guest speaker Maj. Gen. Marion Garcia, U.S. Military Academy Class of 1987, a token of the Corps’ appreciation for accepting the invitation to speak at the annual National Hispanic Heritage Month luncheon Sept. 27. Garcia holds a bachelor’s degree in science from West Point, Master of Strategic Studies from the Army War College, Master of Science in Veterinary Epidemiology and Public Health from the Royal Veterinary College at the University of London and a Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine from Colorado State University. In her civilian career, Garcia is the chief veterinary officer for the American Humane Association in Washington, D.C.

West Point recognized National Hispanic Heritage Month Sept. 27 at the West Point Club with a luncheon featuring a demonstration of salsa dancing.

NHHM runs through Oct. 15 to recognize the important contributions by Hispanic and Latino Americans to the United States, as well as celebrate their heritage and culture.

Class of 2018 Cadet Vincent Hale and Class of 2019 Cadet Carla Figueroa-Matos, two members from the Cadet Dancing Club, represented their culture with a spirited salsa dance.

Maj. Gen. Marion Garcia, U.S. Military Academy 1987 graduate, was the guest speaker.

Garcia holds a bachelor degree in science from the U.S. Military Academy, a Master of Strategic Studies from the United States Army War College, a Master of Science in Veterinary Epidemiology and Public Health from the Royal Veterinary College at the University of London. She received her Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine from the College of Veterinary Medicine at Colorado State University.

In her civilian career, Garcia has been a production veterinarian working for major food producing companies in the U.S. and in support of US efforts abroad. She is currently the chief veterinary officer for the American Humane Association in Washington, D.C.

Garcia spoke about Hispanic heritage and memorable and heroic Hispanic Medal of Honor recipients.

“According to the Congressional Medal of Honor Society, 59 persons of Hispanic heritage have been awarded the Medal of Honor, America’s highest military decoration. Of those 59 recipients, 44 were Soldiers, 13 Marines and two sailors. And I’d like to say, ‘Go Army,’ Garcia explained. “I would like to take a moment to highlight some of these national treasures.”

One fairly recent Medal of Honor recipient Garcia mentioned is now retired Master Sgt. Leroy Petry, a career U.S. Army Soldier.

On May 26, 2008, then Staff Sgt. Petry and his unit were on a mission in Paktia Province, Afghanistan.

At the time, Petry was assigned to D Company, 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment and was on an unusual daylight raid to capture a high-value target from the Taliban, Garcia explained.

“Almost immediately after getting out of the helicopters that delivered the unit to the site, the Rangers came under heavy fire,” Garcia said. “Three Taliban fighters were in the courtyard, which had a chicken coop within it. The Taliban fired on Petry and two other Soldiers. Petry was wounded by one round that went through both his legs.

“Petry and the men with him took cover in the chicken coop. A Taliban fighter threw a grenade at their position landing 10 meters from them, it detonated and the blast knocked the Soldiers to the ground.

“Another grenade was thrown landing a few feet from the Soldiers. Petry picked up the grenade and attempted to throw it. The grenade exploded, completely severing his hand and spraying his body with shrapnel.

“Even though wounded, Petry re-enlisted using his prosthetic right hand to take the oath,” Garcia added.

In another example, Garcia told of a Hispanic Soldier who went beyond the call of duty.

“From the humblest beginnings, then Pfc. Joseph Rodriquez, a native of San Bernardino, California, enlisted in the Army as a combat infantryman in the early 1920’s,” Garcia said.

“While Rodriquez was reminiscing about his father in an interview before he died in 2005, retired Col. Rodriquez said, ‘Dad is from the old country, Mexico; you know, that macho machismo stuff. He had it. He raised me up saying son, be a man. You be a man and don’t be afraid to die if it takes it. Of course, dad wasn’t in the front lines when he said it,’” Garcia said.

On May 21, 1951, Rodriquez was assigned to Company F, 17th Infantry Regiment, 7th Infantry Division and was assigned the mission of occupying some high ground near the Korean village of Munye-ri.

Garcia spoke about the situation that Rodriguez faced that led to his heroic actions.

Rodriguez distinguished himself in Korea as an assistant squad leader of the 2nd Platoon when they were participating in an attack against the enemy occupying well-fortified positions on rugged terrain.

The squad’s advance was halted approximately 60 yards from a barrage of automatic weapons and small-arms fire from five emplacements directly to the front, right and left flanks, and grenades that the enemy rolled down the hill toward the advancing troop.

Rodriquez leaped to his feet, dashed 60 yards up the fire-swept slope, and, after lobbing grenades into the first foxhole with deadly accuracy, ran around the left flank, dispatched an automatic weapon with two grenades and continued his ferocious assault to the top of the peak, wiping out two more foxholes.

Then, reaching the right flank, he tossed grenades into the remaining emplacement destroying the gun and annihilating its crew.

“After recovering from his injuries, Rodriquez insisted on rejoining his troops in Korea through the end of that year,” Garcia explained. “At the time of his retirement, Rodriquez attained the rank of colonel. By his own admission later, Rodriquez stated that during the presentation of the Medal of Honor by President Harry S. Truman, he did not fully appreciate the magnitude of being awarded the Medal of Honor, in fact, he didn’t know one medal from another. But on further reflection, he said receiving the MOH made him a better person. And that he realized the great responsibility including being invited to speak to, what he called the “kids” of the country who he would tell, “you got to start with yourself, you got to love yourself, you have to believe in yourself. You don’t realize how lucky we are, so appreciate it. Be proud of your heritage, you are an American, you are America.”