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Hispanic troops struggled on two fronts: combat and discrimination

One Hispanic soldier from South Texas fought both an enemy and discrimination
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Posted at 3:00 PM, Sep 27, 2022
and last updated 2022-09-27 23:56:31-04

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — As we celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, we also spotlight the struggles of discrimination that Hispanics endured while fighting for our freedom.

Jose Mendez — a decorated World War II hero who fought in the Battle of the Bulge — will never forget another battle he fought: discrimination.

"They took a little advantage of us," recalled Mendez of senior white officers who he claims sent Hispanics disproportionately to the front lines to fight. "We were good soldiers. We were obeying orders."

As a sergeant in charge of the lives of 19 men, Mendez remembers a few white soldiers from South Texas who told other soldiers not to listen to him.

"They didn't obey my orders because I was a Mexican," Mendez said.

Even after he returned home from the war, he said he and other Hispanics were mistreated.

"There were signs around small towns, around here saying 'no Hispanics,' 'no Mexicans,' 'no dogs allowed,'" Mendez said.

Even his brother, who was killed in the war, was not welcomed home with honors.

"He was not received well," he said. "They didn't want to bury him because he was a Mexican."

That's the same account as to what happened to Army Private Felix Longoria, a decorated Mexican-American soldier who died in combat.

But a Three Rivers funeral home refused to bury him.

That prompted civil rights leader Hector P. Garcia to get involved and have Longoria buried at Arlington National Cemetery, instead.

"If you think about it, the Felix Longoria case was the beginning of the Mexican-American civil rights movement," said Cecilia Garcia Akers, the daughter of Hector P. Garcia. "That one case (...) but he knew there were other cases. He'd seen it from his patients (...) from veterans who had come to see him."

Mendez was one of them. He traveled with Garcia as an activist for equal rights with the American GI Forum and League of United Latin American Citizens.

Mendez wants to see the estimated 500,000 Hispanics who served in WWII and countless others from other wars — like Korea and Vietnam — to be recognized for the sacrifices they made during and after the wars.

"They're still saying that only the Anglos fought the war, I guess," Mendez said. "We (Hispanics) don't have no heroes."

Mendez wants this taught in schools.

He wants the truth to be told in schools for future generations to understand.

"I've got it going because I don't have too long to be here, and I need to tell the people what went on," said Mendez

One book that Mendez believes should be taught in schools: Hispanic Military Heroes by Virgil Fernandez.

It includes stories about 42 Hispanic Medal of Honor recipients and other distinguished military members.

"It's important that they know what we had to do to make a better country," Mendez added.

One of the ways we can learn from the past is to study it.

Cecilia Garcia Akers' book "The Inspiring Life of Dr. Hector P. Garcia" shares the struggles and strides made to improve civil rights.

Akers is holding a book signing at Heritage Park Market Days on Saturday Oct. 1st from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

More Veterans In Focus stories are available here, along with resources for local veterans.

Contact Veterans In Focus reporter Pat Simon at pat.simon@kristv.com