Soldier, Mexican immigrant earned Medal of Honor during WWII

By Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Jen S. MartinezSeptember 6, 2018

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WASHINGTON -- As a people, Americans come from all different walks of life. The United States has made a lot of progress in civil rights over the years as we learn more about different cultures and backgrounds of its citizens.

Today, we pause to recognize Medal of Honor recipient Army Staff Sgt. Macario Garcia, who became the first Mexican immigrant to receive the Medal of Honor.

Garcia was born in Castanos, Mexico, in 1920. At the age of three, his family came to the United States in search of a better life and eventually settled in Sugarland, Texas, where they found work on a ranch.

Garcia spent much of his childhood missing school days to help the family with ranch work.

During World War II, Garcia, a non-American citizen with a grade school education, enlisted as an Army infantryman on Nov. 11, 1942. He said he felt a strong obligation to give back to the country he had called home for so many years.

Private Garcia landed at Normandy on D-Day with Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 22nd Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Division. He was wounded during the beach landing and spent four months in recovery. He later rejoined his unit in Germany, where his actions would earn him the nation's most prestigious military honor.

On Nov. 27, 1944, Bravo Company came under fire near Grosshau, Germany. Serving as an acting squad leader, Garcia was badly wounded in the shoulder and foot. He refused evacuation and pushed on alone toward two enemy machine gun nests. With some grenades and his rifle, he wiped out the nests, killing six enemy soldiers and taking four more captive. He continued fighting with his Soldiers and was removed for medical care only after the company successfully seized its objective.

Garcia returned home as a staff sergeant in February 1945 and received the Medal of Honor from President Harry S. Truman later that year. He also received the Purple Heart, Bronze Star Medal and Combat Infantryman's Badge.

Soon after coming home, Garcia was refused service at a restaurant in Richmond, Texas, because of his ethnic background. A violent brawl ensued, and the police took a bruised and beaten Garcia to jail. He was let out the next morning, and assault charges were filed against him in the following weeks.

Garcia's case became a symbol of the Hispanic civil rights movement, and support came pouring in for his defense. Richmond County postponed the case and quietly dropped the charges against him.

Afterward, Garcia remained active in the community as an advocate for civil rights. He gained his U.S. citizenship in 1947 and his high school diploma in 1951. In the later years of his life, Garcia worked as a counselor at the Veteran's Administration offices in Houston.

In 1963, he went with a group of Hispanic veterans and civil rights advocates to a Houston gala, where President John F. Kennedy spoke about U.S. and Hispanic foreign policy. The event was viewed as a milestone occasion for minorities countrywide. Kennedy was assassinated the next day in Dallas.

Garcia died on Dec. 24, 1972, after he was injured in a vehicle accident. He was buried with full military honors at Houston National Cemetery. In the early 1980s, the city of Houston renamed a street and the local Army Reserve center in his honor.

Editor's Note: Many historical records and articles reference Garcia's name spelled either as Marcario or Macario. The latter is published on his tombstone, and for this reason we have chosen to refer to him as "Macario Garcia."