Veteran’s Day cannot be properly celebrated without understanding the impact Latinos have made on the military and the United States. According to a report by the National Center for Veterans Analysis and Statistics, Latinos make up nearly six percent of military veterans. The Department of Veterans Affairs Center for Minority Veterans expects the population of Hispanic veterans to double by 2024. However, despite a growing presence in the military, only five percent of the military’s officers’ corps in the armed forces are Latino.
Both of my grandfathers were Latino men who risked their lives to fight for the military. I am fortunate enough to have a vivid memory of both of my grandfathers from my childhood. I remember watching Colorado Rockies game with my grandpa Everett Martinez. I remember how he liked to pair wine with his dinner. I remember my grandpa Manuel Rios staying at our house while he was in the middle of moving.
They both passed away when I was ten years old and I never got to know either of them as well as I would’ve liked to. I was young and I didn’t realize the impact both men made not only on their families, but on the United States.
Martinez fought during the Korean War and my family always brags about how tough he was. Before being drafted by the military he was working to pay tuition at the University of Colorado. The war slowed down his path and he traveled to Japan and North Korea during his time in the army. While in North Korea he got lost in the mountains and survived off only spam and eggs for a week. He found a door and used that as a bed while he was lost. When he returned from the war in 1952 he went and earned a degree at the University of Colorado’s School of Pharmacy.
The thing I will remember the most about Martinez is his work ethic. He ran a successful drug store in Denver for decades and even had a restaurant in his business too. He used his business’s parking lot as a form of income during Colorado Rockies games. There was nothing that could keep him from missing work and I can feel him with me each time I am going through a rough patch in life.
My grandpa Rios enlisted in the military because his family was poor and he saw it as a path toward a better life. He fought for four years during World War II in numerous countries including the Philippines and Japan. One day when Rios was walking through a Philippine jungle another soldier stepped on a land mine and a piece of medal from the mine cut off a portion of Rios’ tongue. After the United States dropped the Atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Rios went to the city to help clean up. After the war he returned home, worked as a carpenter and even built the home that his family lived in for 40 years.
The most saddening thing to me about these men no longer being in my life is the fact that my younger brother and sisters never had an opportunity to meet them. They both passed away before my siblings were born. Both of these Latino men exemplify the very best of what America has to offer and they paid a price to serve and protect their country. They were also outstanding fathers and role models who bended over backwards to take care of their families. Their memories will last in this family and future generations will learn about the impact they both made.