September 15th marks the beginning of Hispanic Heritage Month, and there certainly is a lot to celebrate. From the renowned art, music and architecture, to the Missions in El Paso and San Antonio, the Hispanic culture and community has left an everlasting impact on our state and nation.
From the fight for Texas Independence, to the War on Terror, Hispanics have fought and died to protect our shared American values. With several military installations such as Laughlin Air Force Base and Camp Bullis, and major installations such as Joint Base San Antonio and Ft. Bliss nearby, there is no better place to revere the selfless sacrifices of Hispanic service members than the 23rd Congressional District of Texas.
Corporal Benito Martinez of Fort Hancock was one of the countless Mexican-American soldiers who paid the ultimate price for our country. At the age of 18, Martinez joined the United States Army and was stationed in Hawaii until the North Korean Communist Forces invaded the Republic of Korea in 1950.
While deployed in Korea, Martinez’s outpost was attacked by North Korean soldiers. Under heavy enemy fire, Martinez chose to stay behind alone, inflicting numerous casualties on the attacking troops before being mortally wounded, so that his unit could reorganize, counterattack, and regain their ground. Corporal Martinez was awarded the Medal of Honor for his courage and is buried with full military honors at Fort Bliss Cemetery.
His memory lives on through the elementary schools that bear his name in both Fort Hancock and El Paso.
Another incredible example of heroism and uncommon valor is Private Marcelino Serna, a Mexican immigrant and the most decorated WWI Veteran from Texas. In a single firefight, Serna’s exceptional heroism allowed him to single-handedly kill 26 Germans and capture an additional 24, for which he was awarded two Purple Hearts and the Distinguished Service Cross.
Serna is currently being reviewed to posthumously be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his dedication and fearlessness serving the United States of America.
Hispanic representation in our Armed Forces has been rapidly increasing since the late 1980’s. Heroes like Private Serna and Corporal Martinez paved the way for thousands of Hispanic service members who now make up over 12 percent of post-9/11 veterans. In 2011, almost 17 percent of all new recruits were of Hispanic descent.
To honor Private Serna and the tens of thousands of Hispanic Americans who followed in his footsteps, I introduced a bill to rename the Tornillo Port of Entry after him. This bill passed the House with unanimous support and is currently awaiting action in the Senate. The Tornillo-Marcelino Serna Port of Entry will not only honor this extraordinary man’s service to our nation, it will serve as a reminder of the countless Hispanic American immigrants that have fought valiantly to keep our nation safe. Their sacrifices will not be forgotten.
As Texans, we should embrace the lasting impact that Hispanic Americans have made on our lives and communities. Hispanic Heritage Month offers us an opportunity to celebrate, spread awareness about, and pay tribute to Hispanic Americans who have contributed so much to preserve our way of life. I am grateful for the future generations who will continue the tradition.
A former undercover CIA officer, entrepreneur and cybersecurity expert, Will Hurd is the U.S. Representative for the 23rd Congressional District of Texas. In Washington, he serves as Vice Chair of the Maritime and Border Security Subcommittee on the Committee for Homeland Security, and as the Chairman of the Information Technology Subcommittee on the Oversight and Government Reform Committee.