3/15/1945 - Oh My ... here is an immigrant story that should make your hearts swell and bring tears to your eyes!
Growing up on a farm near El Paso, Texas, Silvestre Santana Herrera moves to Phoenix, Arizona, where he starts a family with his wife, Ramona ... three children follow, with a fourth on its way when due to WWII, Herrera is drafted into the Texas National Guard, 36th Division. Headed for the war, he decides to tell his parents about his drafting so they can keep an eye on his family while he is gone ... and gets the surprise of his life when his father confesses that he is really Silvestre's uncle, and the shocks keep coming as he learns he was actually born in Camargo, Chihuahua, both his parents died from an influenza epidemic when he was only a year old, and that for the chance for a better life for the youngster, his uncle takes the 18-month-old baby to his farm in Texas. "Son, you don't have to go, they can't draft you ... you aren't an American citizen," his uncle tells him. But he is an American in his heart, so he goes.
In 1945, on this day in March, Herrera is in France, serving as Private First Class as a member of the U.S. Army's 142nd Infantry. Finding his platoon under attack near the town of Mertzwiller (near the country's border with Germany), while most of the unit pulls back to find cover, Herrera single-handedly charges an enemy machine gun emplacement, firing his M-1 rifle from his hip and throwing grenades, eliminating the position and taking eight German soldiers prisoner. Free to advance again, the platoon runs into another machine gun position later in the day, this time one protected at its front by a large minefield. Charging again as in the morning, Herrera steps on a mine that shatters his leg below the knee, but one good leg left, he continues his advance towards the machine gun ... until he steps on another mind that severs his "good" leg below the knee ... and that doesn't stop the heroic soldier either. In extreme pain, bleeding profusely, Herrera pushes himself into a kneeling position and pours rifle fire at the German position ... pinning down its occupants, who are soon eliminated when Herrera's platoon attacks the position from its flanks.
Still recovering from his wounds (he tells a doctor at the aid station he is brought to, "Just try to save my knees, Doc."), seated in his wheelchair, on August 23, 1945, Herrera is awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor from President Harry Truman, who tells the injured warrior, "I'd rather be awarded the Medal of Honor than be President of the United States."
And there will be more honors ... the government of Mexico awards Herrera its Order of Military Merit (First Class) and he becomes the only soldier ever able to wear the highest military honor of both the United States and Mexico, the governor of Arizona orders August 14, 1945 to be "Herrera Day" and the soldier gets a parade welcoming him home (he is the first Arizona Medal of Honor winner), a drive is started to make him a United States citizen (which quickly takes place), Arizona citizens raise $14,000 to provide Herrera and his family with a new home, Valle Del Sol, Inc. honors him with a Special Recognition Award in 1994, and a Hall of Fame award in 1996, also in 1996, he is honored in the United States House of Representatives (on the recommendation of Congressman Ed Pastor), an elementary school in Phoenix bears his name, a portion of 3rd Street in Phoenix is renamed "S. Herrera Way," and the new United States Army Reserve Center in Mesa, Arizona is dedicated in Herrera's honor.
A hero by any definition of the word, surrounded by family, Herrera dies in his Glendale, Arizona home on November 26, 2007, at the age of 90.
Receiving The Medal Of Honor