Honoring Cuban-American Veterans
What follows is a revision of a piece I originally wrote in 2005 and re-posted at Babalu in 2007. It's my small way of honoring our veterans on this Veteran's Day 2009.
Veteran's Day has always held a special place in my heart. I'm far from being alone in feeling this way, but please allow me to feel a sense of personal pride on this day. The reason for this is that my father is a veteran of the Vietnam War.
As a youngster, I heard many of my father's Vietnam stories and his frighteningly detailed accounts of combat. The most harrowing account was of the day one of his platoon-mates set off a booby-trap, sending shrapnel flying through the air. My dad was fortunate and blessed to survive that day with relatively minor injuries. I heard about my dad's stay in an Army hospital and hearing the screams of other wounded soldiers writhing in pain. Some of those young men didn't survive the night. I also remember my father recounting our short time in Ft. Hood, Texas where he served the remainder of his time in the United States Army (I was barely a toddler when we lived in Ft. Hood, otherwise the tragedy of last week would have resonated that much more with me).
Our family was blessed to have met other Cuban-American veterans and their families during my dad's service in the U.S. Army. It undoubtedly made our stay in a place far away from Miami much more like home. My memories are also rich with all the stories my dad and his fellow Cuban-American veterans shared years later at picnics, birthdays and long weekends at the beach. Needless to say, I have always felt an immense sense of pride for these men. There is no higher honor than serving your country and being willing to make the ultimate sacrifice.
What makes my father and his group of veterans even more special is that they weren't born in the United States. They were born in Cuba and escaped the island prison in the same way that so many did back in the early years of "the revolution". They were teenagers and young adults in their 20s, their futures suspended because of exile. These folks eventually chose to serve their adopted country against a foe much like the one they and their families fled from just a few years before. While many Americans protested and even left the country, these foreign-born men embraced the opportunity to defend freedom.
As I mentioned above, there is no higher honor than serving your country. There is one exception, however: serving your adopted country.
In Miami, there are at least four organizations of Cuban-Americans who have served the United States of America in the Armed Forces. These are:
- Veterans of Foreign War Jose Marti Post 10212
- American Legion Capt. Felix Sosa-Camejo Post 346
- Vietnam Veterans of America Candido Molinet Chapter 620
- Cuban-American Veterans Organization
I'd like to bring special attention to the name Felix Sosa-Camejo. Here's some information on Capt. Sosa-Camejo courtesy of this statement read before the Senate Committee on Armed Services in 2006:
(Felix Sosa-Camejo) came here, to Miami, as a 20 year-old refugee from Castro’s regime and enlisted in the Army in 1963. Serving for five years, Captain Sosa-Camejo earned 12 citations, including the Bronze Star, three Silver Stars and two Purple Hearts. On February 13, 1968, in the heat of the Tet Offensive on the streets of Hue, his platoon was pinned down by enemy fire and unable to reach a wounded comrade. With disregard for his safety, Captain Sosa-Camejo ran through the intense enemy fire and pulled the wounded man to safety. This action would earn Captain Sosa-Camejo his second Bronze Star and would cost him his life.
(Babalu's) Humberto Fontova wrote this about Capt. Sosa-Camejo back in 2006:
“On February 13, 1968, the lead platoon was hit by an enemy bunker complex manned by approximately forty North Vietnamese Regulars. Upon initial contact the point man was wounded and lay approximately 10 meters in front of the center bunker. The platoon was unable to move forward and extract the wounded man due to the heavy volume of fire being laid down from the enemy bunker complex.“Captain Sosa-Camejo immediately moved into the firing line and directed the fire against the enemy bunker. With disregard for his safety, Captain Sosa-Camejo ran through the intense enemy fire and pulled the wounded point man to safety. After ensuring that the wounded man was receiving medical treatment, Captain Sosa-Camejo returned to the fire fight and again exposed himself to the intense enemy fire by single handedly assaulting the center bunker with grenades killing the two NVA soldiers manning the bunker. As he turned to assault the next bunker an NVA machine gun opened up and he was mortally wounded. Captain Sosa-Camejo’s valorous action and devotion to duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself, his unit, and the United States Army.”
Next time you hear someone complain about Cuban-Americans' alleged (and blatantly false) lack of devotion for their adopted country; next time you hear an immigrant complain about this country, you might want to share these stories with them.
The following link is a copy of a speech by former U.S. Representative Dante Fascell in commemoration of the VFW Jose Marti Post's 20th anniversary back in 1991. It serves as a good reminder of one of the many sacrifices made by Cuban-Americans. Please take the time to read it, it's well worth the time.
To all veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces, and especially to our Cuban-Americans vets, my deepest gratitude and respect for what you've done and for what you stand for.