They came to celebrate freedom and recognize the role Latino veterans in America have played in that effort.
“We want to highlight the experiences and contributions that Latinos have made in this country; contributions not taught in our history books,” event speaker Jeanette Fierro, told about 150 Odessa residents gathered for a patriotic luncheon held Thursday at St. Joseph’s Hall, 907. S. Dixie Blvd. “Our history is also part of history.”
Thursday’s event, which was hosted by Hispanic Heritage of Odessa, a Project of L.U.L.A.C. of Odessa, was also an opportunity to recognize local Latino veterans whose images will be featured on a large billboard that will be erected next week at 2760 N. Andrews Hwy.
Those veterans, who were also recognized during Thursday’s event, included Tibicio Mata Garcia, a U.S. Army veteran who saw combat during World War II, Eleno Galindo, a Sgt. in the U.S. Air Force, during the Vietnam War, and Cindy Luna, an E4 combat veteran in the U.S. Marines from 1992-96.
Luna said joining the military was a difficult decision because there were still not many women serving in combat roles at the time. Her parents were proud of her, but very nervous when she enlisted.
“I don’t feel as though I’m as deserving as a veteran as those who didn’t make it back home,” Luna said. “But it was an honor to serve.”
Also recognized were Father Frank Chavez, who served as a chaplain in the U.S. Air Force for 8 years, and three generations of Odessa’s Morales’ family -Augustin Morales Sr. (1943), Augustin Morales Jr. (1965-67), and Danny Morales (1988-90). All three served in the U.S. Army.
U.S. Army Veteran Isaac Belanger offered a short presentation of notable Latinos from throughout the country who also served, including Joe P. Martinez, the first Latino to receive the Medal of Honor for his actions in WW II and Carmen Contreras-Bozak, a Puerto Rican from New York City who was the first Latina to serve in what would later be known as the Women’s Army Corps.
Richard Edward Cavazos was the first Mexican American to reach the rank of brigadier general and the first Hispanic American four-star general in the U.S. Army, Belanger said. Cavazos, who began his military career during the Korean War, also earned a Silver Star, two Legion of Merit Awards, five Bronze Stars with valor, a Purple Heart and a Combat Infantry Badge by the time he retired in 1984.
Father Chavez said although the military has made a lot of progress when it comes to diversity, Latinos are still the forgotten minority.
“There’s still a lot of injustices,” Chavez said. “There’s no Latinos in the upper staff. We need Hispanics up there. We’re just as worthy of a four-star as anybody else.”