Guthrie presents posthumous awards
April 25, 2013
Many have said that America is the home of the free because of the brave. And the brave included minorities who were treated differently and fought for rights they didn't actually have in the U.S.
The late Jesus Arriola Leon Guerrero served in the military during a time when minorities were segregated and oftentimes called derogatory names. But he wasn't deterred from serving and his daughter Elizabeth Meilicke said he would tell his kids, "If you have a job to do, do it the best you can."
Guerrero enlisted in the Navy on Dec. 1, 1937 and he served for 20 years before retiring in 1957.
Although Guerrero served honorably, he didn't receive all of the recognition he was due. But that changed Monday in Elizabethtown's Nature Park when Kentucky U.S. Rep. Brett Guthrie, R-2nd District, presented Elizabeth with her father's 15 posthumous service medals.
Guthrie said sometimes things happen and the military doesn't have the opportunity to present medals to Soldiers.
Guerrero's medals were possibly overlooked because of how he was seen by some who served in the military during that time. Because he was a native of Guam, Guthrie said Guerrero was called an "Oriental alien."
"We found these things happen and medals should have been awarded," said Guthrie.
When Arthur, Elizabeth's husband, began searching for information about his own family he encountered information on his late father-in-law. He found Guerrero's muster roster on the Internet.
"My father-in-law was on the USS Oklahoma (BB-37) that sunk in Pearl Harbor (on Dec. 7, 1941)," explained Arthur.
During Arthur's research he discovered that Guerrero's DD214 didn't include information about the battles he had fought. He was also angered when he learned Guerrero wasn't properly recognized for his service.
"When I saw the battles there was nothing on his (DD) 214," he said. "It didn't match, (it didn't have) the proper battle stars. It was during the time when there was a lot of racial prejudice and these guys were (treated like) second-class citizens, and yet when there is a battle or kamikaze attack they were manning a gun, dying like everybody else. It opened my eyes to a whole lot of things."
Elizabeth pointed out that her father was never bitter about not being recognized while he was serving.
"He was always grateful (about) being in the service," Elizabeth said. "(He would tell us) whatever community you are in, give back somehow."
She is also thankful that her father received recognition for his service because the family didn't know a lot about his service in the Navy.
Guerrero was posthumously awarded the Combat Action Ribbon, the Navy Unit Commendation Ribbon with Bronze Star, Navy Good Conduct Medal with Silver Star, World War II Victory Medal, American Defense Service Medal with Fleet Clasp, American Campaign Medal, Asiatic Pacific Medal with two Silver Stars and four Bronze Stars, Navy Occupation Service Medal with Asia Clasp, China Service Medal, China Service Ribbon, National Defense Medal, Korean Service Medal with two Bronze Stars, United Nations Service Medal, Korean Service Medal and Honorable Lapel Pin (Ruptured Duck).
After Elizabeth received the awards from Guthrie she addressed the crowd and said, "I just want to thank you. It means so much to me. We don't have a lot to remember our father except what he told us."
Because Guerrero stressed service, Elizabeth and her siblings have followed her father's footsteps. She is a retired teacher, her sister a retired nurse, her brother is a police officer in Guam. She said he wanted to join the military but was refused because he has flat feet.
"(My father said,) 'be proud of who and what you are, don't let race, creed or sex get in the way,'" Elizabeth recalled about her father.
He would also tell them, "Get your job done the best you can and be proud of what you have accomplished. It was just so simple. He was a farmer and a fisherman. (He would say) take care of your family and your community."