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National Hispanic Heritage Month: America reflects, remembers

F.E. Warren AFB, Wyo. -- Sept. 15 marks the 39th anniversary of National Hispanic Heritage Month. This date is significant because five Latin American countries declared independence on this day: Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. 

Additionally, Chile declared independence Sept. 18, and Mexico did so Sept. 16th. In 1968, President Lyndon B. Johnson approved what was then known as Hispanic Heritage Week. 

Today, the Hispanic population in the United States has risen to more than 42 million, making Hispanics the nation's largest minority group. 

During this month, the United States celebrates Americans who can trace their roots to Spain, Mexico and other Spanish-speaking nations. Hispanic culture has made an impact in the music, entertainment, sports, politics and science advancements.  Throughout history, Hispanic Americans have risked their lives to defend the United States, from fighting in the American Revolution War to the Global War on Terrorism. 

"Damn the torpedoes. Full steam ahead," said Naval Officer David G. Farragut, the Civil War's best-known Hispanic soldier. He successfully commanded Union forces at the capture of New Orleans and commanded federal naval forces during the battle at Mobile Bay in Alabama. 

World War II was teeming with discrimination. Any military member with a Hispanic sounding surname was forced to endure harsh racial treatment and menial jobs. Once Puerto Ricans were granted American citizenship, more than 18,000 served as members of the American armed forces. 

According to the Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute, the 65th Infantry Regiment, based in Puerto Rico, was the only all-Hispanic unit to serve during the Korean War. Nicknamed the "Borinqueneers" in honor of a native Puerto Rican Indian tribe, the 65th, during a three-year period, participated in nine major campaigns, earning a Presidential Unit Citation, a Meritorious Unit Commendation, two Republic of Korea Unit Citations, four individual Distinguished Service Crosses and 124 Silver Stars. 

"Hispanics have always met the challenge of serving the nation with great fervor," said Army chaplain of the 1st Battalion, 79th Field Artillery. "In every war, in every battle, on every battlefield, Hispanics have put their lives on the line to protect freedom." 

The chaplain was referring to Hispanics enduring the fight not only during wartime, but during peacetime.