Fort Drum community honors heritage of Hispanic-Americans
October 6, 2011
FORt DRUM, N.Y. -- Soldiers, civilians and Family Members took time to celebrate Hispanic-American culture Thursday during Fort Drum's annual National Hispanic Heritage Month observance at the Commons.
The theme for this year's celebration was "Many Backgrounds, Many Stories … One American Spirit."
The event's guest speaker said the term "Hispanic-American" refers to the diverse backgrounds of American citizens whose ancestors come from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean, Central America and South America.
"But generally," said Command Sgt. Maj. Giovanny Sanchez, command sergeant major of 2nd Battalion, 22nd Infantry Regiment, "most of us were raised having three things in common."
Sanchez said those three things were faith, family values and duty to country. He emphasized the latter by explaining how Hispanic-Americans have a long history of service in the U.S. armed forces.
"Hispanic contributions to our military are as old as our military itself," he said. "They can be traced back to the American Revolution, when an officer in the Spanish Regiment in Louisiana supported the Colonial forces in their fight for independence from Great Britain.
"Hispanic-Americans have played a vital role in every one of our wars," Sanchez added. "Did you know that since the Civil War, there have been more than 43 Hispanic-American service members who have received the Medal of Honor?"
The sergeant major went on to describe "extraordinary acts of courage" that distinguished the most recent Hispanic-American recipient of the Medal of Honor, Capt. Humberto Roque "Rocky" Versace, an American of Puerto Rican-Italian descent who served as a captain in Army Special Forces during Vietnam.
Sanchez said after Versace's first tour of duty in Vietnam, he volunteered for another, during which he was captured by the enemy. Sanchez noted the young officer was brutally interrogated and tortured by the Viet Cong for two years before being executed.
Versace received the Medal of Honor posthumously in 2002.
Sanchez said 18 percent of today's military is made up of Hispanic-American Soldiers.
"We continue to make contributions," he said. "We stand ready in Iraq, Afghanistan and anywhere our country needs us."
Although it's a culture shock for many Hispanics first arriving in the U.S., Sanchez said they quickly adapt by learning the language, understanding American customs and traditions, and assimilating to make the country an even richer culture.
"Hispanic-Americans can be proud of numerous other accomplishments in helping to shape our great nation," said Sanchez, who grew up in New York City after emigrating with his Family from Ecuador at age 4.
He pointed out Hispanic-American success stories, including that of Sonia Sotomayor, who grew up in poverty in the South Bronx and eventually became the nation's first Hispanic-American Supreme Court justice.
"Hispanics should never lose sight of where they are and how they got there," he said. "When we reach our goals, it is important to look behind our back and help the person coming behind us to do the same.
"Through cultural exchanges such as today's event, we are able to get a better understanding of the Hispanic-American culture," he added. "We can learn something about one another. That is what our country and our Army is all about."
When Sanchez finished, the garrison commander thanked 2-22 Infantry's command sergeant major for sharing his remarks with the community.
"I'll tell you," said Col. Noel T. Nicolle, Fort Drum garrison commander, "you and your Family (represent) … a wonderful confluence of cultures and ethnicities that is the United States of America."
Before the food tasting, audience members watched Staff Sgt. Lourdes Madera, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 210th Brigade Support Battalion, perform a romantic Hispanic dance alongside Staff Sgt. Efrain Garcia, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion, 14th Infantry Regiment.
The two Soldiers were followed by Danza Fiesta, a Puerto Rican dance and theater company based in New York City that traveled to Fort Drum to perform.