Undocumented Immigrants in the Military? One Who Lived in Phoenix Received Medal of Honor

medal-of-honor.jpg
D. Myles Cullen


House Republicans in Washington have blocked a vote on a bill that would allow certain undocumented immigrants to serve in the military, and the Pentagon is reportedly considering doing that without congressional approval.

The idea's apparently not agreeable to everyone, but at least one undocumented immigrant has served in the military before, and he was awarded the Medal of Honor.

That immigrant was Silvestre Santana Herrera, the namesake of Herrera Elementary School in Phoenix, and S. Herrera Way, a stretch of street west of the Phoenix VA hospital.

According to the U.S. Army's Soldier's Guide, Herrera was 27 when he found out during World War II that he wasn't born in the United States:
The day the draft notice came, Silvestre S. Herrera learned for the first time that he was not a US citizen. Even more shocking, the man he thought was his father wasn't. Herrera was born in Camargo, Mexico. After his parents died, his uncle brought the infant Silvestre to El Paso, Texas and raised him as his own son. Because he was a citizen of Mexico, he didn't owe service to the United States. Besides, he was 27, married with three kids, and another on the way. But he went anyway because, in his words, "I didn't want anybody to die in my place.

He joined the 36th Infantry Division of the Texas National Guard. Months later, on 15 March 1945, Private First Class Herrera was with his unit, E Company, 142d Infantry Regiment, near Mertzwiller, France. As his platoon was moving down a road, they came under heavy enemy fire from the woods, forcing most of the men to seek cover. But PFC Herrera charged the enemy alone and neutralized the position, capturing eight enemy soldiers.

With that threat ended, the platoon continued down the road. They soon came under enemy fire again from a second stronghold, pinning down the platoon. This time a minefield stood between the soldiers and the enemy gun emplacement. Disregarding the danger, Herrera rose to his feet and entered the minefield to attack the enemy. Mines exploded around him, but he continued to attack the enemy and draw their fire away from his comrades. Then a mine exploded under him, severing his leg below the knee. Still determined to stop the threat to his fellow soldiers, he struggled back up on his good leg to continue the attack.

Another mine exploded, this one severing his other leg below the knee. Despite intense pain and the unchecked bleeding of his wounds he lay in the minefield, firing to suppress the enemy while others of his platoon skirted the minefield to flank the enemy position.

His courage and fighting spirit reflected honor upon his adopted nation and that of his birth. Private First Class Silvestre S. Herrera received the Medal of Honor.
Several people have clarified that Herrera was in the country illegally, including the curator of the Military Times Hall of Valor, as well as U.S. Army Command and General Staff College associate professor Prisco Hernandez, who wrote the following in an entry on Herrera in the book, America's Heroes: Medal of Honor Recipients from the Civil War to Afghanistan:
In many ways, Silvestre Herrera's life story is the quintessential Mexican American immigrant story carried to heroic proportions. His illegal immigrant status, work ethic, love for both his Mexican heritage and his chosen country, and life centered on traditional values such as family and faith are all central to the Mexican American defining narrative and its members' self-identity.
Nowadays, Herrera would be what's called a DREAMer, or a person brought to the United States illegally by their parents when they were young. Herrera wouldn't have been qualified to serve in the military, nor would he have been granted citizenship due to his service, which ended up being the case.

truman-herrera.jpg
U.S. Army
President Truman with Herrera.
The bill in Congress, which may or may not get a vote, would allow people brought to the United States illegally before the age of 15 to serve in the military, and would also provide a pathway to citizenship.

It seemed to work pretty well in the case of Herrera's service.

In addition to the Medal of Honor, Mexico also awarded him the Premier Merito Militar. According to the Military Times Hall of Valor, this made Herrera "the only person in history ever awarded the highest medals for valor of both the United States and Mexico."

After the war, Herrera moved to Phoenix, and he died in Glendale in 2007.

Got a tip? Send it to: Matthew Hendley.

Follow Valley Fever on Twitter at @ValleyFeverPHX.
Follow Matthew Hendley at @MatthewHendley.




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34 comments
soulalibi
soulalibi

Some immigrants did proven themselves while serving in our U.S. military while engaging in unpopular and costly conflicts overseas. If dying for this country, its U.S. Constitution and freedom is not enough, what more do they need? They have proven themselves to be more American than the racist neo-Nazis that are in the military for the sole purpose of antigovernment extremism ideals and "race war" mentality that were unearthed several years ago.

jonnyquest
jonnyquest topcommenter

Good move, AssHotey.

Phillip Robertson
Phillip Robertson

I'm going to guess that not one person that commented negatively has put on the uniform or held a weapon in the name of this great country. If you had then tell us your MOS; I'm going to say supply or kitchen mess as a real soldier just doesn't care about race or status accept alive and fighting for my/his brother next to him.

Lou Peña
Lou Peña

Marco you must be out of your god damn mind! This is what America was built on immigrants!! You sir are a fucking idiot if you really think that!

Angie Rivera
Angie Rivera

It was a different time when Silvestre Herrera served in the military. Get over yourselves, self-righteous people!

Lou Peña
Lou Peña

This shows that not all Mexicans are criminals!

JoeArpaioFan
JoeArpaioFan

No there shall not be illegal aliens allowed in the military.

danzigsdaddy
danzigsdaddy topcommenter

Just saying Matt, it's commendable what Herrera did, but with memorial day coming up......maybe you could highlight or name some of the other medal of honor recipients from out here too?

anacleta
anacleta

we'll all manage somehow without illegal aliens. john is right, if mexicans want to do something important, they should clean up their mess of a country and society. I'm tired of having a third-world landfill right next door. maybe they can look to canada for tips on how to be a decent neighbor.

john043012
john043012 topcommenter

Our government is in the process of ratcheting down our military there is no need to employee illegal immigrants in that sector. We have more then enough citizens willing to join up but they are being turned away. If the Mexican citizens here want to fight for a cause they should join up with the militias and fight the drug cartels . Herrera comes from a different time when Mexico was not helping the world to get rid of Hitler .

MaskedMagician1967
MaskedMagician1967 topcommenter

Herrera is a true patriot. I thank him for his service in helping defeat Adolf and the Nazis this Memorial Day weekend. RIP Slivestre Herrera.

Ponder
Ponder

Nice story.

Yet despite this anecdotal observation there is obvious wisdom in not allowing non US citizens into the US military.

MaskedMagician1967
MaskedMagician1967 topcommenter

I was a heavy machinery operator Phillip. Hope this helps.

MaskedMagician1967
MaskedMagician1967 topcommenter

Be quiet Robert. Mr. Herrera lost both his legs fighting the Nazis and their anti-Semitic ways as well as defending the Constitution of the United States. He is more of a patriot and an American than you'll ever be you sad sack of shit.

danzigsdaddy
danzigsdaddy topcommenter

Too late. And he proved himself more of an American than you

Original-American
Original-American

@anacleta Then you should pack your shit up, haul your ass in that mobile RV trailer you lurk in and move on to Canada. Arizonians are sick and tired of racist simpletons who dishonor those who served valiantly in our U.S. military. We got a Mexican here who did a good job killing those racist Nazis in Germany. He will be honored for his services.

Bnbk
Bnbk

@MaskedMagician1967 Indeed. I think we should all take a little time away from our cook outs and swimming pools this upcoming Memorial Day and pay tribute to ALL of our military men and women.

jonnyquest
jonnyquest topcommenter

Legal residents (non us citizens) can lawfully serve in the US Military.

mazatzal55
mazatzal55

You suppose George Washington should have told Lafayette to take a hike?

MaskedMagician1967
MaskedMagician1967 topcommenter

Zigs, we ought to thank all our veterans for their service this memorial day.

john043012
john043012 topcommenter

@Bnbk The only reason communist Mexico got involved was due to Germany invading Russia had that not happened Mexico and the majority of its citizens would have continued supporting Hitler.

john043012
john043012 topcommenter

@Bnbk So you want to pay tribute, well then if you haven't already why not reach down deep into your pockets and give to the wounded warriors program our vets would appreciate that more then the likes of you standing at attention with your hand over your heart listening to the star spangled banner.

Ponder
Ponder

You are correct. I meant to say illegal aliens.

Bnbk
Bnbk

@john043012 @Bnbk I agree, people should contribute to the Wounded Warriors Project. People should also contribute to the other veterans assistance programs out there..... Just for your info there are many ways to pay tribute to our Veterans, attending the Memorial Day Services is just one of them. We choose to attend because we have family and friends that were laid to rest at the Veterans Cemetery. We visit them often,not just on Memorial Day. Paying tribute is as easy as observing a moment of silence for the National Moment of remembrance at 3:00 pm on Memorial Day, I'm sure we can all at least sacrifice a minute of our time considering the ultimate sacrifices some of our Veterans have made. 

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