Ramstein Air Force Base, Germany. (October 1, 2023): In this photo by Senior Airman Edgar Grimaldo, Air Force Staff Sergeant Andrew Flint, and Airman 1st Class Andrea Medranda, 37th Airlift Squadron loadmasters, sit on a C-130J Super Hercules ramp during a simulated cargo drop during a Hispanic heritage flight over Germany. The 37th Airlift Squadron celebrated the contributions of Spanish Americans to our nation’s defense by flying an all-Hispanic crew including the loadmasters, pilots, maintainers, and medical personnel who participated in an aeromedical flight training sortie.
From the Spanish-American War to Operation Enduring Freedom, Latinos have served with great distinction. According to the Department of Defense, Hispanics represent 19% of the U.S. population and make up 17% of our active duty servicemembers. In a testament to their toughness, the Marine Corps has the highest percentage (23%) of Latino members among all the services. According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, there are nearly 1.3 million Latino veterans, or about 8 percent of the veteran population. By 2045, this figure is projected to reach 12 percent.
Soldiers of Spanish or Latin American heritage have fought in every U.S. conflict since the Revolutionary War. The first Hispanic recipient of the Medal of Honor was awarded to Joseph H. De Castro who served in the Civil War. As a member of the Massachusetts Infantry, Castro served as a color-bearer, the flag he was carrying making him a visible target of Confederate forces. In total there have been over 60 Hispanic Medal of Honor winners in American history.
Several thousand Hispanic Army volunteers, mostly from the Southwest, fought with distinction in Cuba during the Spanish-American War in 1898. Among them was Capt. Maximiliano Luna, the only Mexican American officer in the 1st U.S. Volunteer Cavalry — better known as the Rough Riders — led by Col. Theodore Roosevelt.
A historically all-Hispanic unit, the 65th Infantry Regiment, served in several major conflicts including World War I, World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. Members of the unit received four Distinguished Service Crosses and 125 Silver Stars and the 65th Infantry was awarded a Presidential Meritorious Unit Commendation.
It is estimated that some 85,000 Latinos have served in Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom and more than one hundred have been killed and over four hundred injured in combat. Hispanic troops continue to make a vital contribution to protecting our nation and we celebrate their extraordinary accomplishments throughout our history.