During National Hispanic Heritage Month, the Army and the nation take time to commemorate the many contributions made by Hispanic Americans who have shaped our national character and strengthened our communities.
Since the founding of this nation Hispanic Americans have proudly answered the call to duty in the U.S. armed forces and continue to do so today preserving a proud legacy. They have served gallantly in defense of our freedoms in every major American conflict. Included among those are 59 Hispanic American Soldiers who are recipients of the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest medal for valor. Their stories are examples of immense bravery and heroism. Below are the stories of two Screaming Eagles.
The son of a laborer, Sgt. Santiago Jesus Erevia was born Dec. 15, 1946, in Nordheim, Texas. Although he excelled in math, his father persuaded him to drop out of school when he was a sophomore so he could go to work.
In 1968 at the age of 22, after finding himself working as a cook and facing a divorce. He enlisted in the Army seeing it as a way to further his education. He was assigned to C Company, 1st Battalion (Airmobile), 501st Infantry, 101st Airborne Division (Airmobile), in Vietnam as a radio operator.
“From day one, we got shipped to Vietnam,” said Erevia during a 2014 telephone interview with the Fort Campbell Courier. “We landed up in, what is it, Saigon. There they called you out and told you what unit you’re going to. I was glad [to go to] the 101st. They have a very memorable past, so it was an honor to serve with them.”
Erevia went on to distinguish himself May 21, 1969.
After his platoon breached an insurgent perimeter during a search and clear mission near Tam Ky, Erevia began rendering aid to casualties as the rest of the platoon moved forward. While he was caring for the wounded, Erevia came under heavy enemy fire from four bunkers to his left front. While in full view of the enemy, he crawled among the wounded and collected ammunition. Without hesitation and armed with two M-16 rifles and hand grenades, he single-handedly cleared four enemy bunkers. Erevia’s heroic actions saved the lives of the wounded Soldiers in his care. For his actions he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.
In 2014, his award was upgraded to the Medal of Honor after the Army conducted a congressionally mandated review of minorities who were potentially passed over because of long-held prejudices. The analysis, directed in the 2002 National Defense Authorization Act, required the examination of the records of all Jewish American and Hispanic American Distinguished Service Cross recipients from World War II and the Korean and Vietnam wars for possible upgrades. Of the 6,505 records reviewed, 600 Soldiers were eligible for an award upgrade.
On March 18, 2014, Erevia received the Medal of Honor from President Barack Obama during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House.
After his service in Vietnam, Erevia joined the Texas National Guard where he served for 17 years and continued his service in the U.S. Postal Service until his retirement in 2002. He died March 22, 2016.
Construction of his namesake Erevia Park, Fort Campbell’s newest on-post housing community for junior enlisted Soldiers, begins spring 2022.
Corporal Joe R. Baldonado’s posthumous award also was upgraded. His brother, Charles, accepted the Medal of Honor on his brother’s behalf at the March 18, 2014, White House ceremony.
Baldanado was born Aug. 28, 1930, in Colorado. He joined the Army as a light weapons infantryman (parachutist) during the Korean War. He served in B Company, 1st Battalion, 187th Airborne Infantry Regiment.
Baldanado’s platoon was attacked Nov. 25, 1950, while occupying Hill 171 near Kangdong, Korea. While manning a machine gun, Baldonado exposed himself purposefully to the enemy to go on the offensive and succeeded in pushing back the insurgent troops. During the final assault a grenade landed near Baldonado’s position, killing him instantly. His remains have never been found.
“He was here at Fort Campbell as a member of the 187th Regiment, which was mobilized to go to Korea in 1950 and became the 187th Airborne Regimental Combat Team,” John O’Brien, installation historian, told the Fort Campbell Courier during a 2014 interview. “So, it fought as a separate unit, like what we would call today a BCT.”
Today the 187th Infantry Regiment is part of 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault).
His namesake, Baldonado Outdoor Pool on Screaming Eagle Boulevard is used for training Soldiers and is a popular spot where many Fort Campbell Families have enjoyed the summer months.
The Army’s greatest asset is its people who provide a diverse mix of the world’s many cultures. It is important to take time to honor the rich heritage and contributions of those who have made this nation great.