Hispanic Heritage Month: 5 Hispanic veterans you should know

Elizabeth Howe
October 05, 2018 - 9:28 am

Photo courtesy of Cpl. Parker Golz

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Hispanic veterans deserve recognition for contributions to our nation's security every day — but during Hispanic Heritage Month we want to take some extra time to tell their stories and share the culture of some of our military's Hispanic veterans.

Master Sergeant Juan E. Negron

Photo courtesy of the Office of the Chief of Public Affairs

Born: Corozal, Puerto Rico

Master Sgt. Negron received the Medal of Honor for heroic actions on April 28, 1951 near Kalma-Eri, Korea. He protected his unit overnight from a vulnerable right flank position throwing hand grenades short range to prevent direct enemy contact. Master Sgt. Negron served until 1974 in positions including senior NCO for the Directorate of Doctrine. After retiring, he continued to be a public servant, working in the education field in Bayamon, Puerto Rico. 

Master Sgt. Negron received the Medal of Honor, Purple Heart, National Defense Service Medal, Korean Service Medal with three Bronze Service Stars, Navy Presidential Unit Citation, Combat Infantryman Badge, United Nations Service Medal, Republic of North-Korean War Service Medal, and Republic of Korea Presidential Unit Citation. 

Brigadier General Irene "Ramba" Zoppi

Photo courtesy of Master Sgt. Michel Sauret

Born:  Canóvanas, Puerto Rico

Puerto Rican "Ramba" — the female version of Rambo. Zoppi earned this nickname as an ROTC cadet in 1987. Thirty years later, she became the first Puerto Rican woman promoted to the rank of general in the U.S. Army Reserve. She now serves as the Deputy Commanding General — Support under the 200th Military Police Command at Fort Meade, Maryland. As a civilian, Dr. Zoppi works as the program director for the National Intelligence University under the National Security Agency.

Zoppi credits her culture for the passion and love she expresses in every aspect of her life.

"My culture is very warm and caring. We're very loving. That's part of who I am. And that's how I became very successful in the military because nurturing and caring and supporting (soldiers) is the best way to go as a leader," said Zoppi.

Brig. Gen. Zoppi has received the Bronze Star Medal, Meritorious Service Medal (with 3 oak leaf clusters), Army Commendation Medal (with 6 oak leaf clusters), Southwest Asia Service Medal (with 3 bronze stars), Kuwait Liberation Medal (Kingdom of Saudi Arabia), Kuwait Liberation Medal (Government of Kuwait) and U.S. Army Parachutist Badge. Brig. Gen. Zoppi also received the Military Intelligence Excellence Knowlton Award in 2013. 

Read more about Brig. Gen. Zoppi here

Sergeant First Class Modesto "One Man Army" Cartagena

Photo courtesy of National Archives

Born: Cayey, Puerto Rico

Sgt. 1st Class Cartagena was among the first from his small island hometown to volunteer for military service when the United States entered World War II. During the Korean War, Cartagena destroyed four enemy encampments before he was wounded, saving the lives of the men in his unit and enabling the company to take the hill. Cartagena served for 20 years and says his only regret was being too old to serve in Afghanistan. 

Cartagena received the Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star Medal, Legion of Merit, Bronze Star, Purple Heart and others. He also received the Military Medal of Honor of the Legislative Assembly of Puerto Rico.

Read more about his story here.

Deputy Secretary Minority Veterans Affairs Elizabeth Perez

Photo courtesy of California Department of Veterans Affairs

Deputy Perez, a Navy veteran, is not the first Hispanic veteran in her family — her father joined the Army when he was 17, after moving with his family from Mexico to LA. Perez worked hard throughout her time in the Navy and afterward, and attributes her career success to the work ethic she inherited from her father.

“He worked so hard to give us a better life than he had, and give us that message of hard work that maybe I didn’t fully understand when I was a kid,” said Perez. “It went a long way in my life because it prepared me for this role. I really felt his presence there with me at the event.”

Looking forward, as ranks of the military become more and more diverse, Perez plans to tailor veteran services in her area to reflect these demographic shifts. As the state with one of the highest populations of veterans, Perez believes California can serve as an example to other states by developing programs and services that take into consideration the future face of the military.

Read more about Perez here.

Hector Barajas, founder of Deported Veterans Support House

Photo by Alejandro Tamayo/San Diego Union-Tribune/TNS/Sipa USA

Born: Mexico

Barajas was born in Mexico and was brought to the U.S. when he was seven years old. He served six years in the U.S. Army with the 82nd Airborne Division and was honorably discharged in 2001. The next year, he pled guilty to shooting at an occupied car, served three years in prison and was subsequently deported back to Mexico. In April 2018, Barajas crossed the border into the U.S. once again — this time, however, he was sworn in as a U.S. citizen.

During the 10 years he was living in Mexico, Barajas founded, with the help of the U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs in San Diego, Calif.,  and ran the Deported Veterans Support House, commonly known as “the bunker,” in Tijuana, Mexico. Part of his work included getting better health care for veterans living in Tijuana.

“Hector's committed that even though he's going to get his citizenship, his work isn't done. He said he's going to spend another year in Tijuana as a U.S. citizen, with the ability to go back and forth but continuing the work that we all support,” said Former San Diego Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher, a veteran of the Marine Corps and advocate for Barajas’ return.

Read and listen to more about Hector Barajas here.

To comment on this or share your story email us at gethelp@connectingvets.com.