Hispanics in the United States Navy By Tony (The Marine) Santiago

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Hispanics in the United States Navy




Hispanics in the United States Navy can trace their tradition of naval military service to the Hispanic sailors, such as Lieutenant Jorge Farragut Mesquida, who have served in the Navy in the American Revolution and have continued to serve in every major war and conflict that the United States has been involved since then.

Hispanics, such as Seaman Philip Bazaar and Seaman John Ortega have distinguished themselves in combat and have been awarded the Medal of Honor, the highest military decoration of the United States. Hispanics have also reached the top ranks of the Navy, serving their country in sensitive leadership positions on domestic and foreign shores. Among those who have reached the highest ranks in the Navy are Commodore Uriah Phillips Levy who participated in the War of 1812 as an assistant Sailing master, Admiral David Glasgow Farragut for whom the rank of Admiral in the U.S. Navy was created during the American Civil War and Admiral Horacio Rivero who led the Navy during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the estimated Hispanic population of the United States is 42.7 million (This estimate does not include the 3.9 million residents of Puerto Rico.), thereby making the people of Hispanic origin the nation's largest ethnic or race minority as of July 1, 2005.[1]

The United States Navy has implemented an aggressive recruitment programs directed towards this group. One of those programs is El Navy whose principal aim is to attract those who speak Spanish and as a consequence many Hispanics have applied for entrance to the Academy.[2]

According to the 2006 census report, more than 43,000 people of Hispanic origin are Sailors and civilians serving with the U.S. Navy.[3] As of April 2007, twenty two Hispanic-Americans have reached the rank of Rear Admiral and of this number two reached the rank of Admiral and thirteen were graduates of the USNA.




Hispanic American is an ethnic term employed to categorize any citizen or resident of the United States, of any racial background, of any country, and of any religion, who has at least one ancestor from the people of Spain or is of non-Hispanic origin, but has an ancestor from Mexico, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Central or South America, or some other Hispanic origin. The three largest Hispanic groups in the United States are the Mexican-Americans, Puerto Ricans and Cubans.[4][5][6]


The United States Navy traces its origins to the Continental Navy, which was established during the American Revolutionary War and was disbanded shortly thereafter. The United States Constitution provided the legal basis for a seaborne military force by giving Congress the power "to provide and maintain a navy."[7] Depredations against American shipping by Barbary Coast corsairs spurred Congress to employ this power[8] by passing the Naval Act of 1794 ordering the construction and manning of six frigates.

  American Revolution and the War of 1812

Lieutenant Jorge Farragut Mesquida

In 1779, Jorge Farragut Mesquida, a seaman born on the Spanish island of Minorca, joined the South Carolina Navy and fought at the battle of Savannah and at the second defense of Charleston. Farragut is thought to be one of the first Hispanic Revolutionary War heroes.[3]

Lieutenant Jorge Farragut Mesquida, (17551817) was a SpanishCatalan by descent and a Minorquin by birth. When he was a young man he joined the merchant marine and commanded a small vessel that traded goods between Havana, Cuba; Veracruz, Mexico and New Orleans. He immigrated to the American Colonies and participated in the American Revolution as a lieutenant in the South Carolina Navy. During the Revolution he fought the British at Savannah, Georgia and in 1780 was captured during the battle of Charleston, South Carolina. He was released in a prisoner exchange and volunteered in the militia which fought at the Battles of Battle of Cowpens and Wilmington, North Carolina. Farragut married Elizabeth Shine and had two sons,one of them was David Farragut.[3]

Commodore Uriah Phillips Levy

Commodore Uriah Phillips Levy (1792-1862), a Sephardic Jew of Hispanic descent born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, was the great grandson of Dr. Samuel Nunez.[9] A "Sephardi", is a Jew originating in the Iberian Peninsula (modern Portugal and Spain), including the descendants of those subject to expulsion from Spain by order of the Catholic Monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella (as codified in the Alhambra decree of 1492).[10] Levy was assigned as assistant Sailing master on the ship Argus, which interdicted English ships in the English Channel during the War of 1812. The ship confiscated more than twenty vessels, but itself was captured. Levy and the crew were taken prisoner until the end of the war. Upon his return to the United States, Levy was placed in charge of the 74-gun ship Franklin and in 1817 was elevated to the rank of Lieutenant. In 1855, Levy was promoted to the rank of Commodore, in recognition of his superior abilities, making him one of the Navy's highest-ranking officers and the first Sephardic Jew of Hispanic descent to reach the rank the rank. Prior to the American Civil War, the highest rank in the U.S. Navy was Commodore.[11][12][13]

American Civil War

During the American Civil War, the government of the United States recognized that the rapid expanding Navy was in need of admirals therefore, Congress proceeded to authorize the appointment of nine officers the rank of rear admiral.[14][15] On July 16, 1862, Flag Officer David Glasgow Farragut became the first Hispanic-American to be appointed to the rank of rear admiral.[16][17] Two years later (1864), Farragut became a vice admiral and in 1866 the Navy's first full admiral. The Civil War would also be the first and only conflict in which two seamen of Hispanic descent would be awarded the Medal of Honor.

Admiral David Farragut

Admiral David Glasgow Farragut (1801 – 1870) was born on at Campbell's Station, near Knoxville, Tennessee, to Jorge and Elizabeth Farragut. In 1808, Farragut's mother died from yellow fever and his father then gave him up for adoption. He was adopted by future-U.S. Navy Captain David Porter.[17]

Farragut entered the Navy as a midshipman on December 17, 1810. His first naval combat experience came in the War of 1812, when the ship to which he was assigned, the USS Essex, captured an enemy vessel and, at the age of 12 years old he was given the assignment to bring the ship safely to port.[17]

"Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!"

In April 1862, Farragut was the "flag officer" in command of the West Gulf Blockading Squadron. With his flag ship, the USS Hartford, he ran past Fort Jackson and Fort St. Philip and the Chalmette, Louisiana, batteries to take the city and port of New Orleans, Louisiana. This victory was an influential factor when in 1862, Congress created the rank of Admiral and named Farragut and eight other naval officers (which also included his foster brother David Dixon Porter) as rear admirals. Thus, Farragut became the first Hispanic-American admiral in the United States Navy.[17]

Battle of Mobile Bay by Louis Prang

Farragut's greatest victory was the Battle of Mobile Bay on August 5, 1864. Mobile, Alabama at the time was the Confederacy's last major port open on the Gulf of Mexico. The bay was heavily mined with tethered naval mines, also known as torpedoes. When the USS Tecumseh, one of the ships under his command, struck a mine and went down, Farragut shouted through a trumpet from his flagship to the USS Brooklyn, "What's the trouble?" "Torpedoes!" was the reply. Farragut then shouted his now famous words "Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!" The fleet succeeded in entering the bay. Farragut then triumphed over the opposition of heavy batteries in Fort Morgan and Fort Gaines to defeat the squadron of Admiral Franklin Buchanan.[18][17]

Farragut was promoted to vice admiral on December 21, 1864, and to full admiral on July 25, 1866, after the war, thereby becoming the first person to be named full admiral in the Navy's history.[19]

Medal of Honor

Medal of Honor (1862-1912 Navy version)

The Medal of Honor is the highest military decoration awarded by the United States government. It is bestowed on a member of the United States armed forces who distinguishes himself "…conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while engaged in an action against an enemy of the United States.[20]

Seaman John Ortega (born in 1840 in Spain), was the first Hispanic sailor to be awarded the Medal of Honor for having distinguished himself during the South Atlantic Blockade by the Union Naval forces during the American Civil War.

Ortega, a resident of Pennsylvania, was a Spanish immigrant who joined the Union Navy in his adopted hometown in Pennsylvania. Ortega was assigned to the USS Saratoga during the American Civil War. The USS Saratoga, commissioned in 1843, was the third ship of the 
United States Navy
baptized with that same name. It was a sloop-of-war under the command 
of Commander George Musalas Colvocoresses.[21]

USS Saratoga

On January 13, 1864, Secretary of the United States Navy Gideon Welles, ordered Commander Colvocoresses and the USS Saratoga to proceed to Charleston, South Carolina, and report to Rear Admiral Dahlgren for duty in the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron in what is known as the Union blockade. The Union blockade was a massive effort on behave of the Union Navy designed to prevent the passage of trade goods, supplies, and arms to and from the Confederate States.[22]

Ortega was a member of the landing parties from the ship who made several raids in August and September which resulted in the capture of many prisoners and the taking or destruction of substantial quantities of ordnance, ammunition, and supplies. A number of buildings, bridges, and salt works were destroyed during the expedition. For his actions Seaman John Ortega was awarded the Medal of Honor and promoted to acting master's mate.[21]

Seaman Philip Bazaar, born in Chile, South America, was a Navy seaman who was awarded the Medal of Honor for having distinguished himself during the battle for Fort Fisher.

U.S.S. Santiago de Cuba

Bazaar, a resident of Massachusetts, was a Chilean immigrant who joined the Union Navy at New Bedford, Massachusetts. He was assigned to the USS Santiago de Cuba during the American Civil War. Santiago de Cuba was a wooden, brigantine-rigged, side-wheel steamship under the command of Rear Admiral David D. Porter.[23]

On the latter part of 1864, Union General Ulysses S. Grant ordered an assault on Fort Fisher, a stronghold of the Confederate States of America. It protected the vital trading routes of Wilmington's port, at North Carolina.[23]

Rear Admiral Porter was in charge of the naval assault and General Benjamin F. Butler was in charge of the land assault. After the failure of the first assault, Butler was replaced by Major General Alfred Terry.[23]

A second assault was ordered for January 1865. Bazaar was aboard the USS Santiago de Cuba and served in both assaults on the fort. On January 12, 1865, both ground and naval Union forces attempted the second assault. Bazaar and 5 other crew members, under the direct orders from Rear Admiral Porter, carried dispatches during the battle while under heavy fire from the Confederates to Major General Alfred Terry. Philip Bazaar was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions.[24]

Latter part of the 19th Century

The first two Hispanic-Americans to graduate from the United States Naval Academy were Robert F. Lopez (1850s—1936), Class of 1879, who on September 29, 1874 received an appointed to the academy from Tennessee's, 9th Congressional District, and eventually reached the rank of Commodore and Fritz L. Sandoz, Class of 1894 who would become a Commander.[25][26][27] On May 1, 1898, Lopez, who was born in Davenport, Iowa, participated in the Battle of Manila Bay, the first major engagement of the Spanish-American War under the command of Admiral Dewey.[28]

World War I

On April 6, 1917, the U.S. Congress declared war on Germany and officially entered World War I. The military was rife with discrimination against Hispanics. Soldiers and sailors with Spanish surnames or Spanish accents were sometimes the objects of ridicule and relegated to menial jobs. Hispanics, however continued to join the military and serve their nation.[29]

Captain Robert F. Lopez retired from the Navy in 1911. During World War I, he was recalled to active duty and given the rank of Commodore (equivalent to a one star admiral rank, typically used during war time [25]) to command the Mare Island Naval Shipyard.[26][27]

RADM Frederick Lois Riefkohl

Lieutenant Frederick Lois Riefkohl (1889–1969), a native of Maunabo, Puerto Rico, who in 1911 became the first Puerto Rican to graduate from the USNA, served as Commander of the Armed Guard of the USS Philadelphia and on August 2, 1917 he was awarded the Navy Cross for engaging an enemy submarine. The Navy Cross is the second highest medal that can be awarded by the U.S. Navy and is awarded to members of the U.S. Navy or U.S. Marine Corps for heroism or distinguished service.[30]

USS Shaw (DD-68)
USS Shaw (DD-68)

Riefkohl was not the only Hispanic to be awarded the Navy Cross in World War I, George E. Fernandez a Water Tender aboard the U.S.S. Shaw was awarded the Navy Cross on October 9, 1918 when the U.S.S. Shaw collided with the H.M.S. Aquitania and the Shaw was cut in two and set on fire. The U.S.S. Shaw was escorting the giant British transport, Aquitania, when the Shaw's rudder jammed just as she was completing the right leg of a zigzag, leaving her headed directly towards the transport. A moment later, Aquitania struck the Shaw, cutting off 90 feet of the destroyer's bow, mangling her bridge and setting her on fire. Fernandez threw the ammunition piled on the deck of the Shaw within five feet of a blazing oil tank overboard, saving the saves of many of his fellow crewmen. [31]

After the war, the following men graduated from the naval academy: Jose M. Cabanillas, Class of 1924; Edmund Ernest Garcia, Class of 1927; Charles Mario Charneco, Class of 1930; George E. Garcia, USNA Class of 1930; Henry G. Sanchez, USNA Class of 1930; Horacio Rivero, Jr., USNA Class of 1931; Juan Paul (Pablo) Domenech, Class of 1932; Juan Bautista Pesante, Class of 1934; Marion Frederic Ramirez de Arellano, Class of 1936; Edmundo Gandia, Class of 1938; Rafael Celestino Benitez, Class of 1939; Ramon Manuel Perez, Class of 1941 and Rene E. Gonzalez, Class of 1943.

World War II

On December 7, 1941, when the Empire of Japan attacked the United States Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor, many sailors with Hispanic surnames were among those who perished.[32] When the United States officially entered World War II, Hispanic Americans were among the many American citizens who joined the ranks of the Navy as volunteers or through the draft. Hispanics served actively in the European and Pacific Theatres of war. Five Hispanics who served would eventually earn the rank of Rear Admiral and above.

Pacific Theatre

USS San Juan
USS San Juan

Admiral Horacio Rivero, Jr. served aboard the USS San Juan (CL-54) and was involved in providing artillery cover for Marines landing on Guadalcanal, Marshall Islands, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa. For his service he was awarded the Bronze Star with Combat “V”. Rivero was reassigned to the USS Pittsburgh (CA-72). The Pittsburgh’s bow had been torn off during a typhoon and Rivero’s strategies saved his ship without a single life lost. For his actions he was awarded the Legion of Merit. He also participated in the Battle of Santa Cruz Islands, the attack on Bougainville in the Solomons, the capture of the Gilbert Islands and a series of carrier raids on Rabaul. On June 5, 1945, Rivero was present during the first carrier raids against Tokyo during operations in the vicinity of Nansei Shoto.[33]

Rear Admiral Frederick Lois Riefkohl served as Captain of the USS Vincennes during World War II. The Vincennes was engaged in combat against a fleet of Japanese ships just off Guadalcanal and received 85 direct hits. Riefkohl ordered his men to abandon ship. The sailors manned the life rafts; among them was Ensign C. Kenneth Ruiz, who later become a submarine commander.[34]

Medical Corpsman Antonio F. Moreno

On February 23, 1945, Antonio F. Moreno witnessed the first flag raising photographed by Staff Sergeant Louis R. Lowery and the second flag raising photographed by Joe Rosenthal on Mount Suribachi. On March 8, 1945, Moreno, a Navy medical corpsman assigned to the 2d Platoon, Company E, 27th Marine Regiment, tried to save the life of Lt. Jack Lummus after he (Lummus) had stepped on a land mine a few feet away from Moreno. Lt. Lummus, was a former Baylor University and New York Giants football player who was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.[35][36]

Rear Admiral Henry G. Sanchez commanded (as a Lieutenant Commander) VF-72, an F4F squadron of 37 aircraft, onboard the USS Hornet from July to October 1942. His squadron was responsible for shooting down 38 Japanese airplanes during his command tour, which included the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands.[37]

Captain Marion Frederic Ramirez de Arellano

Captain Marion Frederic Ramirez de Arellano (1913–1980) was the first Hispanic submarine commanding officer,[38] participated in five war patrols. He led the effort to rescue five Navy pilots and one enlisted gunner off Wake Island, and contributed to the sinking of two Japanese freighters and damaging a third. For his actions, he was awarded a Silver Star Medal and a Legion of Merit Medal.[39]

After a brief stint at the Mare Island Naval Shipyard, he was reassigned to the USS Skate, a Balao-class submarine. He participated in the Skates first three war patrols and was awarded a second Silver Star Medal for his contribution in sinking the Japanese light cruiser Agano on his third patrol. The Agano had survived a previous torpedo attack by submarine USS Scamp.[39]

USS Balao, October 25, 1944

In April 1944, Ramirez de Arellano was named Commanding Officer of the USS Balao. He participated in his ship's war patrols 5, 6 and 7. On July 5, 1944, Ramirez de Arellano led the rescue of three downed Navy pilots in the Palau area. On December 4, 1944, the Balao departed from Pearl Harbor to patrol in the Yellow Sea. The Balao engaged and sunk the Japanese cargo ship Daigo Maru on January 8, 1945. Ramirez de Arellano was awarded a Bronze Star Medal with Combat V and a Letter of Commendation.[39]

Captain C. Kenneth Ruiz was a crew member of the cruiser USS Vincennes (CA-44), during the Battle of Savo Island. After being rescued at sea and sent to Pearl Harbor, he was invited by Admiral Chester Nimitz to join the Submarine Service. He served with distinction aboard the submarine USS Pollack and participated in eight war patrols in the hostile waters of the Pacific during WWII.[40]

Admiral Horacio Rivero, Jr., served as a technical assistant on the Staff of Commander Joint Task Force One for Operation Crossroads from February 1946 to June 1947, and was on the Staff of Commander, Joint Task Force Seven during the atomic weapons tests in Eniwetok in 1948.[41]

European Theatre


USS Sloat

Rear Admiral Edmund Ernest Garcia was the commander of the destroyer USS Sloat and saw action in the invasions of Africa, Sicily, and France.[42] The USS Sloat (DE-245) was an Edsall-class destroyer escort which was launched on January 21, 1943 and commissioned on August 16, 1943, under the command of then Lieutenant Commander Garcia.

On November 11, Sloat, was assigned to the Escort Division (CortDiv) 7, and sailed out of New York Harbor with convoy UGS-24 bound for Norfolk and North Africa. The convoy arrived at Casablanca on December 2, and returned to New York on December 25, 1943. On January 10, 1944, the Sloat sailed to Casablanca and returned to New York on March. That same month the Sloat joined a convoy, consisting of 72 merchant ships and 18 LST's, which was guarded by Task Force (TF) 64. En route to Bizerte, Tunisia, the convoy was attacked by the Luftwaffe on April 1, approximately 56 miles west of Algiers. Two planes were shot down and two damaged while only one ship in the convoy was damaged. The convoy arrived at Bizerte on April 3. Eight days later, Sloat joined another convoy and returned to New York on May 1. [43]From June 15 to July 15, the Sloat operated in the Caribbean Sea and Atlantic Ocean in search of German U-boats.[43]

USS Texas

Rear Admiral Jose M. Cabanillas, was assigned Executive Officer of the USS Texas (BB-35). The USS Texas was the oldest remaining dreadnought, and was one of only two remaining ships to have served in both world wars at that time. On November 8, the Texas participated in the invasion of North Africa. by destroying an ammunition dump near Port Lyautey. Cabanillas also participated in the invasion of Normandy on (D-day). On June 6, 1944, her secondary battery went to work on another target on the western end of "Omaha" beach.[44]

In 1945, Cabanillas became the first Commanding officer of the USS Grundy (APA-111), which was commissioned on January 3, 1945. The Grundy helped in the evacuation of Americans from China during the Chinese Civil War. In December 1945, he was reassigned to Naval Station Norfolk located in Norfolk, Virginia, as Assistant Chief of Staff (Discipline), 5th Naval District.[45] [46]

Rear Admiral Rafael Celestino Benitez was a Lieutenant Commander who saw action aboard submarines and on various occasions weathered depth charge attacks. For his actions, he was awarded the Silver and Bronze Star Medals.[47]

Lieutenant Edward Hidalgo (birth name: Eduardo Hidalgo) was born in Mexico City. After immigrating to the United States, he joined and served in the U.S. Naval Reserve. In this capacity he held several positions. From 1942 to 1943 he served in Montevideo, Uruguay, as a legal advisor to the ambassador to the Emergency Advisory for Political Defense. For the remainder of the war he was assigned to the carrier USS Enterprise as an air combat intelligence officer and was awarded a Bronze Star Medal for his service. In October of 1979, Hidalgo became the first Hispanic to serve as U.S. Secretary of the Navy.[48]

Of the 2,889 Navy Crosses which were awarded to the members of the Navy during World War II, two were awarded to Hispanic sailors, they were: Elguterio Joe Marquez, Pharmacist's Mate Third Class and Lieutenant Eugene Anthony Valencia, both from San Francisco, California [49]


Prior to World War II, traditional Hispanic cultural values expected women to be homemakers, thus they rarely left the home to earn an income. As such, women were discouraged from joining the military. Only a small number of Hispanic women joined the military before World War II.[50] However, with the outbreak of World War II, cultural prohibitions began to change. With the creation of the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC), predecessor of the Women's Army Corps (WAC), and the U.S. Navy Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVES), women could attend to certain administrative duties left open by the men who were reassigned to combat zones.[51] While most women who served in the military joined the WAACs, a smaller number of women served in the Naval Women’s Reserve (the WAVES).

LTJG Maria Rodriguez  Denton

Among the first Hispanic women to serve in the "WAVES" were: Maria (Ferrell) Menefee and Maria (Rodriguez) Denton, a native of Guanica, Puerto Rico.

Maria Menefee, was born in Guadalajara, Mexico, she joined the WAVES in 1944 and was assigned to Bronson Field, Florida. LTJG Maria Rodriguez Denton was the first woman of Puerto Rican descent who became an officer in the United States Navy as member of the WAVES. The Navy assigned LTJG (Lieutenant Junior Grade) Denton as a library assistant at the Cable and Censorship Office in New York City. It was LTJG Denton who forwarded the news (through channels) to President Harry S. Truman that the war had ended.[52]

On June 12, 1948, The Women's Armed Services Integration Act was passed. It is a law which enabled women to serve as permanent, regular members of the United States Navy. Prior to this act, women, with the exception of nurses, served in the military only in times of war. However, it excluded women from Navy vessels and aircraft that might engage in combat.[53]

After the war, the following men graduated from the naval academy: Robert Delgado, Class of 1945 and John R. Arguellas, Class of 1947.

Cold War Era

The "Cold War" was the period of conflict, tension and competition between the United States and the Soviet Union and their respective allies from the mid-1940s until the early 1990s. Throughout the period, the rivalry between the two superpowers was played out in multiple arenas: military coalitions; ideology, psychology, and espionage; sports; military, industrial, and technological developments, including the space race; costly defense spending; a massive conventional and nuclear arms race; and many proxy wars. [54]

The Cochino incident

Rear Admiral R.C. Benitez

During the latter part of 1949, in the era which is commonly known as the Cold War Era, Rear Admiral Rafael Celestino Benitez was given the command of the submarine USS Cochino. On August 12, 1949, the Cochino, along with the USS Tusk, departed from the harbor of Portsmouth, England. Both diesel submarines were reported to be on a cold-water training mission. However, according to Blind Man's Bluff: The Untold Story of American Submarine Espionage,[47] the submarines — equipped with snorkels that allowed them to spend long periods underwater, largely invisible to an enemy, and with electronic gear designed to detect far-off radio signals — were part of an American intelligence operation.

The mission of the Cochino and Tusk was to eavesdrop on communications that revealed the testing of submarine-launched Soviet missiles that might soon carry nuclear warheads. This was the first American undersea spy mission of the cold war.[47]

On August 25, one the Cochino's 4,000-pound batteries caught fire, emitting hydrogen gas and smoke. Unable to receive any help from the Tusk, Commander Benitez directed the firefighting. He ordered the Cochino to surface and had dozens of crew members lash themselves to the deck rails with ropes while others fought the blaze. Benitez tried to save his ship and at the same time save his men from the toxic gases. He realized that the winds were about to tear the ropes and ordered his men to form a pyramid on the ship's open bridge, which was designed to hold seven men.

USS Cochino

The Cochino suffered two casualties, Lt. Cmdr. Richard M. Wright, who survived despite the fact that he was severely burned and Robert Philo, a civilian sonar expert, who attempted to reach the Tusk on a raft to report on the conditions of the Cochino, but was knocked overboard along with 11 of the Tusk's crew members. As a result, Philo and six of the Tusk's crew perished.[47]

The ocean waters became calmer during the night and the Tusk was able to approach the Cochino. All of the crew, with the exception of Commander Benitez, boarded the Tusk. Finally, the crew members of the Tusk convinced Benitez to board the Tusk, which he did two minutes before the Cochino sank off the coast of Norway.[47]

In 1952, Benitez was named chief of the United States naval mission to Cuba, a position which he held until 1954. In 1955, Rear Admiral Benitez was given the command of the destroyer USS Waldron. The Waldron resumed normal operations along the east coast and in the West Indies under his command after having completed a circumnavigation of the globe. Rear Admiral Rafael Celestino Benitez was the recipient of two Silver Star Medals.[47]

Korean War

The Korean War was an escalation of a civil war between two rival Korean regimes, each of which was supported by external powers, with each trying to topple the other through political and guerrilla tactics.[55] The conflict was expanded by the United States and the Soviet Union's involvement as part of the larger Cold War. The main hostilities were during the period from June 25, 1950 until the armistice (ceasefire agreement) was signed on July 27, 1953.[56]

USS Noble (APA-218)

In August 1950, the USS Noble, under the command of Admiral Horacio Rivero, Jr., steamed to Korea to participate in the September Inchon amphibious assault. Rivero's ship assisted in the transport of U.S. and foreign troops and equipment to and from the Korean combat zone. In July 1953, she participated in Operation Big Switch, moving Communist North Korean prisoners from Koje Do to Inchon pursuant to the armistice agreement. Rivero studied at the National War College and in 1954 he became Assistant Chief of Staff for Naval Operations. In 1955, he was promoted to the rank of Rear Admiral and was a member of the Staff of the Commander in Chief, Western Atlantic Area.[57]

Of the 46 Navy Crosses awarded by the Navy during the Korean War, one went to a Hispanic sailor, Robert Serrano, a Hospital Corpsman from El Paso, Texas.

Navy Cross  Medal

On September 12, 1951, Medical Corpsman Serrano was serving with the 3rd Battalion, Seventh Marines, 1st Marine Division (Reinforced), in Korea. The Battalion came under heavy enemy attack and fearlessly dashed through the heavy enemy fire to reach a wounded Marine, he accidentally tripped the wire of a hidden anti-personnel mine. Hearing the snap of the fuse primer, and realizing that his wounded comrade lay helpless beside the deadly explosive, he courageously and with complete disregard for his own personal safety threw himself on the man to shield him from the explosion. Although he was seriously wounded in the back and legs by fragments, and was blown several feet by the concussion, he crawled back to his comrade and administered first aid to him. Although suffering severe pain from his multiple wounds, he refused to seek medical aid for himself until he had completed treatment of his comrade, and then, refusing a stretcher, crawled part of the way to the aid station.[58]

Cuban Missile Crisis

Admiral Horacio Rivero, Jr. 

The Cuban Missile Crisis was a tense confrontation between the Soviet Union and the United States over the Soviet deployment of nuclear missiles in Cuba. On October 22, 1962, Admiral Horacio Rivero was the commander of the American fleet sent by President John F. Kennedy to set up a quarantine (blockade) of the Soviet ships. On October 28, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev ordered the removal of the Soviet missiles in Cuba, and Kennedy ordered an end of the quarantine of Cuba on November 20, bringing an end to the crisis.[57]

Vietnam War

The Vietnam War, was a conflict between the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRVN, or North Vietnam) and the Republic of Vietnam (RVN, or South Vietnam), which eventually involved their respective allies including the United States.

Rear Admiral Benjamin Montoya

On July 31, 1964, Horacio Rivero became the first Puerto Rican, and first Hispanic to become a four-star Admiral in the modern era US Navy. During the Vietnam War, Rivero oversaw the day-to-day work of the Navy as the Vice Chief of Naval Operations. He was a stern supporter of a “brown-water navy,” or riverine force, on the rivers of South Vietnam.[59]

In 1964, Lieutenant Commander Benjamin F. Montoya was deployed to Guam with the Naval Mobile Construction Battalion Three. He led an advance party in Vietnam to supervise the construction of the first base camp built by SeaBees in Da Nang. He returned in 1966 to Chu Lai, and was responsible for the construction of a base camp, supply point, hospital and a Marine Corp helicopter base.[60]

A-4 Skyhawk - type of aircraft flown by Alvarez

Lieutenant Commander Everett Alvarez Jr. endured one of the longest periods as a prisoner of war (POW) in American history. The grandson of immigrants from Mexico, Alvarez joined the United States Navy in 1960 and was selected for pilot training. On August 5, 1964, during Operation Pierce Arrow, Ensign Alvarez's A-4 Skyhawk was shot down over North Vietnam and he became was the first American POW of the Vietnam War. Alvarez endured eight years and seven months of brutal captivity in which he was repeatedly beaten and tortured.[61]

The USS Bon Homme Richard

Captain C. Kenneth Ruiz commanded the aircraft carrier USS Bon Homme Richard (CVA-31) in the Vietnam War. The Bon Homme Richard was sent to Vietnam as the war escalated in early 1965. Ruiz, who commanded the aircraft carrier was deployed on five Southeast Asia combat tours over the next six years. Under Ruiz's command, the Bon Homme Richard's aircraft battled North Vietnamese MiGs on many occasions, downing several, as well as striking transportation and infrastructure targets. Ruiz was awarded the Bronze Star Medal with Combat V and other awards for service in Vietnam.[62]

Hospitalman Third Class (then Hospitalman) Phil Isadore Valdez, from New Mexico, was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross for his actions on January 29, 1967. On that date Petty Officer Valdez ran over seventy-five yards of open terrain, under constant enemy fire, to aid a fallen Marine. He then moved the wounded man to a safe area and, quickly and competently, rendered medical assistance. Again exposing himself to enemy fire, Petty Officer Valdez moved across approximately fifty yards of open ground to another Marine. While treating the second Marine, he positioned himself between the man and the hostile fire. It was at this time that Petty Officer Valdez was mortally wounded by enemy small-arms fire.[63]

Lieutenant Diego E. Hernandez flew two combat tours in Vietnam during the war. He also served as Aide and Flag Lieutenant to Commander, Carrier Division 14. At sea, he was the commander of a fighter squadron, a carrier air wing, and a fleet oiler (the USS Truckee).[64]

NATO commander

Admiral Horacio Rivero Jr., was the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's commander in chief of the Allied Forces in Southern Europe from 1968 until his retirement from the Navy in 1972. He was responsible of the land, sea and air forces of five nations deployed in the Mediterranean area: Italy, Greece, Turkey, Britain and the United States. During his years as commander, there were some 215,000 of the 310,000 American troops in Europe stationed in West Germany.[65]

Recent events

The past 20 years have witnessed dramatic increases in the percentage of Latinos (of both sexes) among active duty enlisted personnel. Latino representation in the Navy has been rising.

In 1981, four women of Hispanic descent became the first women of their heritage from the U.S. Naval Academy. Among the four women was Commander Lilia L. Ramirez (Ret.) who is currently the Director of the International Programs Office, for the Department of Homeland Security, Science and Technology Directorate. [66]

By September 2006, Hispanics constituted 14 percent of Navy enlisted personnel, about the same as in the Marine Corps that year . The various recruitment efforts do have critics, both within and outside the Hispanic community, particularly during this time of war and a growing number of reported Hispanic casualties.[67]

Skirmish with Libyan Air Force

USS John F. Kennedy

On June 27, 1980, Captain Diego E. Hernandez took command of the aircraft carrier USS John F. Kennedy (CVA/CV-67). The Kennedy is one of two non-nuclear aircraft carriers still on active duty with the United States Navy (the other is the USS Kitty Hawk ). It is capable of anti-submarine warfare (ASW), making it an all-purpose carrier. On September 19, 1980, Libyan Air Force planes engaged in an unprecedented number of sorties in the vicinity of USS John F. Kennedy’s Battle Group over international waters. F-14’s under E-2 control intercepted two Libyan sections, and six and eighteen sections, respectively, on September 20 and 21.[68]

Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm

Many Hispanic servicewomen served overseas during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. Among the many women wo served was Captain Haydee Javier Kimmich from Cabo Rojo, Puerto Rico. Capt. Kimmich was assigned as the Chief of Orthopedics at the Navy Medical Center in Bethesda and she reorganized their Reservist Department during the war.[52]

During Operation Just Cause in December 1989, Navy Reserve Commodore Maria Morales from Puerto Rico was deployed to Panama and served at Rodman Naval Station. According to Morales, in Panama she had her first real experience with the anguish and impact of an armed conflict, not only on military service members, but on families as well.[52]

Rear Admiral Jose Luis Betancourt, Jr. served as commanding officer of the USS Merrill (DD-976), during its deployment to the Persian Gulf during Operation Desert Storm, where during extensive mine clearance operations his ship served as flag ship.[69]

Operation Iraqi Freedom

USS Belleau Wood commanded by Brigadier General Joseph V. Medina

Even though Brigadier General Joseph V. Medina of the Marine Corps was not a member of the Navy, he made naval history when on June 10, 2004 he became the first Marine general ever assigned commander of naval ships. During Operation Iraqi Freedom, Medina oversaw the manning and equipping of ESG-3. From his flagship, the USS Belleau Wood, he then led the Belleau Wood Strike Group (BWDESG) through a 6-month deployment in support of where he was assigned as Commander Task Force 58.[70]

Hospitalman Apprentice Luis E. Fonseca

Hospitalman Apprentice Luis E. Fonseca was awarded the Navy Cross. According to his citation, Fonseca was serving as Corpsman for the Amphibious Assault Vehicle Platoon, Company C, First Battalion, Second Marines, Regimental Combat Team TWO, Task Force Tarawa, First Marine Expeditionary Force, in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom on March 23, 2003. During Company C's assault and seizure of the Saddam Canal Bridge, an amphibious assault vehicle was struck by a rocket-propelled grenade inflicting five casualties. Without concern for his own safety, Hospitalman Apprentice Fonseca braved small arms, machine gun, and intense rocket propelled grenade fire to evacuate the wounded Marines from the burning amphibious assault vehicle and tend to their wounds. He established a casualty collection point inside the unit's medical evacuation amphibious assault vehicle, calmly and methodically stabilizing two casualties with lower limb amputations by applying tourniquets and administering morphine. He continued to treat and care for the wounded awaiting evacuation until his vehicle was rendered immobile by enemy direct and indirect fire. Under a wall of enemy machine gun fire, he directed the movement of four casualties from the damaged vehicle by organizing litter teams from available Marines. He personally carried one critically wounded Marine over open ground to another vehicle. Following a deadly artillery barrage, Hospitalman Apprentice Fonseca again exposed himself to enemy fire to treat Marines wounded along the perimeter. Returning to the casualty evacuation amphibious assault vehicle, he accompanied his casualties South through the city to a Battalion Aid Station. After briefing medical personnel on the status of his patients, Hospitalman Apprentice Fonseca returned North through the city to Company C's lines and to his fellow Marines that had been wounded in his absence.[71]

Hispanics in sensitive domestic leadership positions

The following Hispanics (in alphabetical order) either have or are currently serving their country in sensitive domestic leadership positions:

  • Rear Admiral Jose Luis Betancourt, Jr. (Surface Warfare) (Ret.), was Commander, Mine Warfare Command, headquartered at Naval Air Station (NAS) Corpus Christi, Texas.[69]
RADM Jay A. DeLoach
  • Rear Admiral Jay A. DeLoach (Ret.) was the Assistant Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Resources, Requirements and Assessments. DeLoach played an instrumental role in implementing a visionary "Memorandum of Understanding" between the Submarine Force Active component and the Reserve component. He helped pioneer many key initiatives that have since been adopted Navy-wide.[73]
  • Rear Admiral Alberto Diaz, Jr. (Medical Corps) (Ret.), was the first Hispanic to become the Director of the San Diego Naval District and Balboa Naval Hospital.[74][75]
  • Rear Admiral Philip A. Dur (Ret.) was the Director, Political Military Affairs on the staff of the National Security Council.[76]
  • Rear Admiral Albert Garcia, Civil Engineer Corps, is assumed the duties of Deputy Commander of the First Naval Construction Division.[77]
  • Rear Admiral Rodrigo C. Melendez (Dental Corps) (Ret.), served as Assistant Chief for Education, Training and Personnel, Bureau of Medicine and Surgery in Washington D.C.[80][81]
  • Rear Admiral Marc Y.E. Pelaez, from 1990 to 1993, he served as the Executive Assistant to the Assistant Secretary of the Navy and from 1993 to 1996 as director of submarine technology at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), and Chief of the Office of Naval Research.[82][83]
  • Rear Admiral Will Rodriguez is the Chief Engineer for the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (SPAWAR 05). [84]
Capt. Kathlene Contres
  • In March, 2005, Capt. Kathlene Contres, the Navy’s highest ranking female Hispanic Line Officer on active duty, became the first Hispanic woman and the thirteenth Commandant to lead the Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute (DEOMI) since it was established in 1971. She oversees a joint-service school supporting all Department of Defense and U.S. Coast Guard equal opportunity and equal employment opportunity (EO/ EEO) program and research requirements.[85]
MCPON Joe R. Campa

Further increases likely

Hispanic immigrants have played an important role in the military of the United States since the American Revolution when Lieutenant Jorge Farragut Mesquida, an immigrant from Spain fought in the Battle of Charleston, South Carolina to the present conflict Iraq.[87][88]

On July 3, 2002, President George W. Bush issued an order to speed up the process of citizenship for immigrants serving in the nation's military services. Immigrant service members can now qualify for citizenship after serving honorably for one year in the armed forces or for serving on active duty during an authorized period of conflict, among other qualifications listed under the Immigration and Nationality Act, Section 328.[89]

Trend of Hispanic enlistment
(Source: Department of Defense, Population Representation in the Military Services, Fiscal Year 2004; and data provided by the Office of the Deputy Under Secretary of Defense).

One of the privileges that goes with American citizenship is the opportunity to become a commissioned officer in the Navy. You can be drafted as a resident alien, when there’s a draft, or you can join in the ranks as a foreigner, but you can’t be an officer unless you’re a U. S. citizen.[90][91]

The number of Hispanics in the Navy over-represent their percentage of the population. Today the United States Department of Defense faces a nationwide problem in recruiting men for the all volunteer Armed Forces because of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, yet Hispanic recruiting numbers have not decreased into that service.[92]

Navy recruitment poster directed towards Hispanics

The United States Navy has implemented an aggressive recruitment programs directed towards this group. One of those programs is El Navy whose principal aim is to attract those who speak Spanish and as a consequence many Hispanics have joined the Navy as enlisted personnel and many others have applied for entrance to the Naval Academy.[93]

United States Naval Academy

The United States Naval Academy (USNA) is an institution for the undergraduate education of officers of the United States Navy and Marine Corps. Hispanics in the United States Naval Academy account for the largest minority group in the institution. According to the Academy, the Class of 2009 includes 271 (22.2%) minority midshipmen. Out of these 271 midshipmen, 115 are of Hispanic heritage.[94] According to the July 2004 issue of LATINA Style magazine, of the total of 736 female midshipmen, 74 (10%) of the female midshipmen were of Hispanic descent.[95]

The first Hispanic-American to graduate from the academy was Commodore Robert F. Lopez, Class of 1879. The first Hispanic to graduate from the academy and to reach the rank of admiral was a Puerto Rican, Rear Admiral Frederick Lois Riefkohl. Class of 1911.[26] Commander Lilia L. Ramirez was one of the first four Hispanic female graduates of the academy in 1981.[66] According to the Association of Naval Service Officers (ANSO) 31 Americans of Hispanic descent who served in the Navy were alumni of the naval academy.[96]

Hispanic Heritage Month

On September 17, 1968, President Lyndon B. Johnson designated a week in mid-September as National Hispanic Heritage Week. In 1988, President Ronald Reagan extended that week to a month-long observance. The National Hispanic Heritage Month is a time for Americans to educate themselves about the influences Hispanic culture has had on society.[3] The Navy has realized that the fastest growing group in both the United States and the Navy are Hispanics, and have joined the rest of the United States in the celebration of the contributions which Hispanics in the United States Navy have made to that military institution by celebrating National Hispanic Heritage Month from September 15 through October 15.[3]

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External links


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