Defending a forward outpost at Songuch-on, Korea, July 25, 1953, during the Korean War, 23-year-old Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Ambrosio Guillen and his platoon suddenly found themselves under attack by two battalions’ worth of enemy forces that were supported by mortar and artillery fire.
As the young platoon sergeant, an El Paso, Texas, native, directed his men, he was hit by enemy fire and subsequently refused to receive medical treatment. Instead, more than 6,000 miles away from home, he continued to direct his platoon in defense of their position – as he bled.
Bolstered by their platoon sergeant’s dedication to them, the team rallied and went on the offensive, engaging the enemy in hand-to-hand combat that beat the exponentially-larger fighting force into a hasty retreat.
For all of the men saved by Guillen’s platoon halting an advance of enemy forces, it was the platoon sergeant that was one of the fallen as he succumbed to his wounds. He posthumously received the Congressional Medal of Honor, which was presented to his parents by Navy Sec. Charles Thomas the following year.
“El Paso is no stranger to the sacrifices we honor today,” said Col. Matthew Adamczyk, the 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division commander and key speaker during the Memorial Day ceremony at the Fort Bliss National Cemetery In El Paso, May 29, 2023, not far from Staff Sgt. Guillen’s final resting place.
“From 2003, 19 of El Paso native sons and daughters paid the ultimate price in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq,” Adamczyk said. “Each of our fallen service members had dreams, aspirations and loved ones they left behind. They were sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, husbands and wives, fathers and mothers. They willingly embraced the challenges of military service to include long separations from their families, placing the needs of our nation above their personal desires.”
Adamczyk and Command Sgt. Maj. Eduardo Fernandez, the 3rd ABCT, 1st AD command sergeant major, formally represented Fort Bliss during the ceremony, just as Soldiers have joined El Pasoans, going back to the holiday’s post-Civil War beginnings, to remember together. Since the Revolutionary War, 1.3 million Americans have given their lives donning our nation’s military uniforms.
The 3rd ABCT, 1st AD command team joined Francisco Gonzalez, the national cemetery’s director; U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar, representative for Texas’s 16th congressional district, which includes Fort Bliss and El Paso; representatives from Gold Star Wives of America, veterans groups and others as they, as Adamczyk said, “pay tribute to the heroes who answered the call of duty, knowing full well the risks they would face.”
“They came from all walks of life, representing different backgrounds, cultures and beliefs,” he said, “yet united under the Stars and Stripes, the banner of our nation, they displayed unwavering courage and an unyielding commitment to safeguard the principles we hold dear.”
The cemetery is located adjacent to the main post of the installation which shares its name because it resides on land ceded by the Army. It was one of seven sites either created or expanded between World Wars and designated as national cemeteries. There are approximately 70,000 service members and veterans, as well as their family members, buried at the water-friendly site.
Soldiers from the 3rd ABCT, 1st AD performed ceremonial cannon fire and rifle volleys as part of the program while Soldier-musicians from the 1st Armored Division Band provided dignified musical accompaniment for the respectful holiday program.
In closing, he said while holidays like Memorial Day are important, remembering the fallen on the last Monday in May is only part of our shared responsibility to the memories of Staff. Sgt. Guillen and others.
“We must carry forward their legacy by cherishing the values they fought to protect,” Adamczyk said. “We must strive to create a better future for the generations to come so that their sacrifice was not in vain. No number of awards or accolades can replace the hole left by any one of our fallen. No monument can erase the anguish of such a cost [borne] by so few.”