Today, we begin our annual celebration of National Hispanic Heritage Month. When first declared on Sept. 17, 1968, the law allotted only one week of recognition and celebration. However, throughout the years, it has grown into a significant occasion in our country’s history.
The purpose of National Hispanic Heritage Month is to share history, heritage and contributions of Hispanic and Latino Americans of past and present, while honoring their culture, which is rooted in all Latin American countries.
Every year, National Hispanic Heritage Month begins on Sept. 15. This date is significant because it coincides with five central American nations declaring their independence from Spain on Sept. 15, 1821. Mexico declared their independence from Spain more than a decade earlier on Sept. 16, 1810.
Although the dates are significant, the accomplishments of many Hispanic Americans are of far greater importance. As our mission at VA involves taking care of our nation’s Veterans, we cannot forget the service and sacrifices of our Hispanic American Veterans.
For example, Cpl. Joseph De Castro was a soldier with the 19th Massachusetts Infantry during the Battle of Gettysburg at the height of our nation’s Civil War. On July 3, 1863, he attacked a Confederate flag bearer from the 19th Virginia Infantry and captured its flag. His heroic actions resulted in him being awarded the Medal of Honor for his valor. More importantly, today, he is recognized as the first Hispanic American to receive our nation’s highest military medal for valor in combat.
Since then, another 60 Hispanic American service members have received the Medal of Honor, to include the most recent recipient, Sgt. 1st Class Leroy Petry, an Army Ranger with the 75th Ranger Regiment. Petry received the Medal of Honor for gallantry during the war in Afghanistan. Sustaining several injuries, Phe saved several of his fellow service members when he retrieved and threw an enemy grenade back in the direction of the enemy. The grenade exploded soon afterwards and Petry lost his hand in the engagement. Nearly all his teammates survived the onslaught.
These stories, and so many others, are just a few of the reasons we honor Hispanic Americans – and specifically Hispanic American service members and Veterans past and present. Please join us in recognizing Hispanic Americans everywhere as we celebrate National Hispanic Heritage Month.