1 in 5 Medal of Honor Winners Were Immigrants


The Medal of Honor, the nation's highest military award, has gone to more than 3,500 of America's "bravest Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen since the decoration's creation in 1861."

More than 700 of those brave souls -- approximately one out of every five -- were immigrants, according to the U.S. government.

That fact is newly relevant this week after The Associated Press reported late Thursday that the U.S. Army has been quietly discharging immigrant recruits without explanation -- the latest step in a reported series of actions that appear to target immigrant servicemembers. Past reports have indicated that some combination of bureaucratic hurdles and security concerns could be to blame, but military officials have refused to go on the record to provide an explanation.

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Margaret Stock, a retired Army officer who led creation of an immigration recruitment program, told The Washington Post in September that the military's move was a "dumpster fire ruining people’s lives."

But beyond the effect on each individual life, the Pentagon may also be turning away some of the bravest would-be soldiers, sailors, airmen or Marines, if history is any guide.

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For instance, here's the story of Staff Sgt. Marcario Garcia, the first immigrant of Mexican heritage to win the Medal of Honor for his actions during the Second World War:

Garcia was born in Villa de Castano, Mexico and came to Texas with his parents when he was just three years old. 

"Garcia worked the fields throughout his young life, often missing school and only achieving the equivalent of a third-grade education," reads a profile of Garcia in the Pentagon's NCO Journal. "On Nov. 11, 1942, Garcia was inducted into the U.S. Army. He was not an American citizen but would later say he felt obligated to do something for his adopted country."

Garcia "was part of a tank division led by Gen. George S. Patton that was among the first wave of American Soldiers to make landfall in Normandy in June 1944." He was wounded days later and spent months recovering before rejoining his old unit.

On Nov. 27, 1944, the then-24-year-old private was with his platoon when they were pinned down by machine gun and mortar fire near Groshau, Germany, according to the award citation.

"Although painfully wounded, he refused to be evacuated and on his own initiative crawled forward alone until he reached a position near an enemy emplacement," the citation says. "Hurling grenades, he boldly assaulted the position, destroyed the gun, and with his rifle killed three of the enemy who attempted to escape. When he rejoined his company, a second machinegun opened fire and again the intrepid soldier went forward, utterly disregarding his own safety. He stormed the position and destroyed the gun, killed three more Germans, and captured four prisoners. He fought on with his unit until the objective was taken and only then did he permit himself to be removed for medical care."

A photo taken just under a year later shows a smiling President Harry Truman putting the Medal of Honor around Garcia's neck, as he stands at attention at the White House. Garcia became an American citizen on June 25, 1947, the Journal said.

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