“Hispanics are completely intertwined with the history of Texas, and have been tied with that of Texas A&M almost from its founding. The history of Hispanics and Texas, pre-dates the independence of Tejas from México and includes prominent Mexican/Texansin the fight for independence. Lieutenant Colonel Juan Nepomucene Seguin led a company of Tejanos with Sam Houston and fought with distinction at the victory of San Jacinto, and, as every Aggie knows, the date of that victory is commemorated each year with Aggie Muster.”
- Leonardo G. Hernández, ’73, Colonel, U.S. Marine Corps (Ret) Chairman, Texas A&M Hispanic Network

 

Fields of Honor:
Hispanic Aggies in Their Country’s Service
By Leonardo G. Hernández, Colonel, U.S. Marine Corps (Ret)
Chairman, Texas A&M Hispanic Network

In the May 1971 issue of the Texas A&M University student magazine The Review, the authors compare the “old Corps,” as depicted from a Time Magazine article of 1962, with the, then, current university of 1971 as written by the Dean of Liberal Arts.  The difference was obvious, as the school was no longer all male and all Corps and had doubled in size in less than a decade.  Of particular interest is the photo selected to illustrate the old Corps bastion described by the Time article as the “only campus in the world to combine the mythology of St. Cyr, Heidelberg and the Alamo.”  The picture selected was of a sophomore cadet, a drill instructor with the fish drill team, standing tall while at his heels a freshman cadet in fatigues and helmet pumps out pushups with a rifle across his arms. The military bearing of that “pisshead” upperclassman epitomizes the spirit and military discipline of Texas A&M, that was and is, embodied in the Corps of Cadets. And one more thing, that cadet is Hispanic!

Hispanics are completely intertwined with the history of Texas, and have been tied with that of Texas A&M almost from its founding. The history of Hispanics and Texas, pre-dates the independence of Tejas from México and includes prominent Mexican/Texansin the fight for independence. Lieutenant Colonel Juan Nepomucene Seguin led a company of Tejanos with Sam Houston and fought with distinction at the victory of San Jacinto, and, as every Aggie knows, the date of that victory is commemorated each year with Aggie Muster.

Aggie Muster is one of the most solemn and unique traditions of Texas A&M, and is best remembered from the famous muster held on Corrigidor Island in 1942 a few weeks before its fall to the invading Japanese. That muster caught the attention of the entire nation as the spirit of these Aggies, the spirit of the victory of San Jacinto, raised morale in a country that had up to that point known only losses to the enemy. Musters sprang up around the globe and on the Pacific Island of Guam U.S. Marine Colonel Victor A. Barraco, class of ’15, organized the April 1945 Muster. Barraco had been Head Yell Leader in 1914-1915.

As far back as 1889, Hispanics have been part of the Aggie family.  Cadet José Angel Ortíz of Laredo, Texas is perhaps the first Hispanic graduate of Texas A&M, although another Latino Aggie, Cadet N. Valdez of Brownsville scored the first touchdown ever for A&M in a game against Galveston in 1894. Cadet David Rodríguez was a member of the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas Band in the days when band strength was approximately twenty.  He and Cadet Cardenas were members of the seven-man Aggie Fencing Team. In these days of a small student population, numerous Hispanics from both sides of the border were students.

But in these early days, most cadets graduated and went immediately into their civilian careers. In keeping with the Morrill Act of 1862, military schooling was provided to all the students in the new land grant institutions in case of a national emergency, and very few actually entered active military service right out of college. As author and fellow classmate, John Adams ’73 spells out in his book, The Keepers of the Spirit, the limitation of the Morrill Act was that military training was not well defined, and neither Congress nor the War Department clarified just what instruction in “military tactics” meant.

Prior to the Spanish American War in 1898, A&M had not commissioned any officers into the Army, and after 1898, only one outstanding cadet per year was selected for commissioning into the regular Army. There was no organized reserve or National Guard.

It was only with the coming of WW I, that Congress realized the limitations of the Morrill Act, and took action to increase the number of college trained officers entering active service with the Army. The National Defense Act of June 3, 1916 in essence, created the Reserve Officers Training Corps or ROTC program. The program, however, was too late to affect WW I, and no officers were commissioned via ROTC from Texas A&M until 1920. A&M became one of 191 Army ROTC programs across the country, and in 1920 it became one of only four schools with an Army Air Corps detachment (forerunner of Air Force ROTC). In 1926 the first Naval ROTC units were established in six schools, but A&M would not receive an NROTC program until 1972.

Nevertheless, as envisioned by the Morrill Act, A&M did impact the war in a big way by having large numbers of pre-trained military officer candidates.  According to Adams, A&M became the first college in America to offer the War Department its full cooperation, facilities and personnel for military training. Students and graduates were tested and awarded provisional appointments as second lieutenants in the Army Officer Reserve Corps. Most members of the Class of ’17 left school prior to graduation and went to Officer Training School. Almost the entire classes of ’18 and ‘19 would also leave to receive training.

On campus training by the Army and Navy for various enlisted specialties was commenced by August of 1917, as A&M became an armed camp. A special two-year training program for officers was also implemented to commission large numbers into the Army and Navy. The Armistice in Europe in 1918 brought it all to an end.  By that time the US had 2 million military personnel in Europe. No school in the nation, not even the military academies, had made a larger contribution than A&M, and more than 50 percent of all living Aggie graduates served on active duty during the war. Hispanic Aggies answered the call to the colors as well, and various examples can be found in Department of Defense records of Hispanics serving with distinction in combat during the war.

It has been estimated that between 250,000 and 500,000 Hispanics served in the US armed forces during World War II. Among these servicemen was a good representation of Hispanic Aggies. Houstonian Alvino V. Reyes, '39, was a B-17 pilot with 19th Bomb Group, Army Air Corps and served in the Southwest Pacific Theater against the Japanese. His brother, Antonio V. "Tony" Reyes, '41, served as an artillery officer with George Patton’s Third Army in the European Theater fighting against the Nazis.

Like many Aggies of this era, Carlos V. Reyes, '50, enlisted first to fight the war and then returned to complete his education at Texas A&M. He served with the 101st Airborne Division in the European Theater against the Germans. After the war, he was commissioned an officer upon graduation from A&M and was killed that same year while in pilot training at Beeville, Texas.

Ralph F. Gonzáes, ’53 of San Antonio, enlisted during the war and served with the 43rd Bomb Group as an armorer in the Southwest Pacific Theater against the Japanese. He returned after the war and received his degree from A&M. His son Robert would also graduate from Texas A&M. Robert, Class of ’68, served with Company A-1, served on Corps Staff, was a Distinguished Military Graduate, served as Chairman of Town Hall, and was commissioned into the Army upon graduation. He served two tours in Vietnam, and would retire from the Amy in 1998 as a full Colonel after thirty years of active duty. He is currently Chair of the Operations and Outreach Committee of the Texas A&M Hispanic Network.

Robert Gonzáles has the distinction of having a grandmother who is the only Hispanic woman ever elected as Aggie Mother of the Year. For a Hispanic woman to be selected as Aggie Mother of the Year she must have done something very special and, perhaps, above and beyond the typical Aggie Mother of the Year.  Maria V. Reyes (Aggie Mother of the Year 1956) had seven sons who attended Texas A&M. Five of her sons served on active duty in the military, most seeing combat duty. Her sons: Alvino V. Reyes (Class of 1939), Antonio V. Reyes (Class of 1941), Carlos V. Reyes (Class of 1950), Humberto V. Reyes (Class of 1950), Margarito V. Reyes (Class of 1956), Pedro V. Reyes (Class of 1962), and Ruben V. Reyes (Class of 1966).

The Vietnam War era would once again see large numbers of Hispanic Aggies answering the call to the colors and serving on active duty. Brothers Albert ’65 and Andrés ’68 Tijerina became Air Force pilots and deployed to Vietnam for combat duty.  Andrés would return, obtain a doctorate in history and write numerous books to include Tejanos and Texas under the Mexican Flag 1821-1836. Brother Albert would not return. He was killed in action flying over Northern Laos. The San Angelo A&M Club would establish a scholarship in his name.

Héctor Gutierrez ’69, graduated from Nixon High School in Laredo where he was Valedictorian and Student Council President. At A&M, he would become the only Hispanic ever to command the entire Corps of Cadets, obtain a commission into the Air Force in the Intelligence field, receive a Bronze Star for service in Vietnam, and retire as a Lieutenant Colonel USAFR.

There are many more stories, too many to list, of Hispanic Aggies who served in the military during the Vietnam War, and in other post-Vietnam conflicts in Somalia, Panama, Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq. Some of them served long careers on active duty, such as José G. Ventura, Jr. ’74, US Army Airborne, Ranger and Special Forces who saw combat in Grenada, Nicaragua, and El Salvador and retired as a Lieutenant Colonel after twenty-eight years on active duty. Two, Danny Ruíz ’69 and José Vasquez, ’74 would attain the rank of full colonel in the Army and return to A&M to serve as Professor of Military Science and Head of Army ROTC. One Dionel “Don” Aviles ‘53, served in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and attained the rank of Major General in the U.S. Army Reserve.

Today, young Hispanic Aggies continue the tradition of military service. Mario Castellano ’02, was a native Honduran attending A&M, fluent in five languages, and after 9-11, obtained his US citizenship and received a commission in the U.S. Navy. He recently completed training to become a Navy SEAL.

Young Hispanics have always joined the United States Marine Corps in numbers over-representing their percentage of the population, and even today with a nationwide problem in recruiting because of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, Hispanic recruiting numbers have not decreased, and they volunteer in large numbers into that service with the highest proportion of combat billets. The Marine Corps, realizing its shortage of Hispanics in the officer ranks, has a program to grow its own and sends young enlisted Marines to college while on active duty to obtain a degree and a commission. Many of these Aggie Marines have names like 2nd Lieutenant Baltazar García ’03, 2nd Lieutenant Luis A. Reyna ’03, and 2nd Lieutenant Juan Camarena ’04 and are currently serving on active duty.

Hispanics have played a significant role in the history of the Corps of Cadets and their impact in the US military is just as significant. The cadet mentioned in the lead paragraph of this article was a major player in the Corps of Cadets ’ fish drill teams of 1970, 1971 and 1972 that won the National Championship at the Cherry Blossom competition in Washington DC. Senior advisor to the team in 72-73, he was also President of the Semper Fidelis Society and received the Norman Beard Award as the top Marine cadet at A&M. He would enter the Marine Corps in 1973 as an infantry officer and serve thirty-one years on active duty to include combat in El Salvador, Somalia, Bosnia and serve around the world from the Indian Ocean island of Diego García to most of the former communist countries/republics including Macedonia, Croatia, Albania, Ukraine and Moldova. He would return to Texas A&M as a full colonel and serve as the only Hispanic Professor of Naval Science in the nation and the only one in the history of Texas A&M.

 



Cushing Memorial Library & Archives • Texas A&M University Libraries