Author’s Note: I write these words as a testament in dedication to my father, Pedro J. Cruz-Cruz, a Korean War Era Veteran, and to my more than 15 cousins from Puerto Rico or Puerto Rican origin who have served or are serving in the military, with passion and conviction for the preservation of our freedom and rights. It is specially dedicated to my cousin, Nestor Ojeda, who lost his life in Vietnam servicing our country.
When I first joined NOSSCR and attended my first conference many years ago, I was thrilled to join a session regarding veteran’s rights. At that moment I knew joining NOSSCR had been a great decision. Not only I was learning new techniques for practicing Social Security disability law, but I also had the opportunity to learn about its intersection with veterans’ rights.
Since that time, I’ve seen first-hand that NOSSCR provides us with tools, knowledge, and resources to fight for people with disabilities, and advocate for the invisibles, the unheard, and the overlooked in our society. In many instances, sadly, these people include our veterans.
We officially honor our nation’s veterans each November, but for their sacrifice we should honor them year-round. This does not only apply to the veterans living within the 50 states, but also to the veterans living in the territories: no matter their origin, skin color, or gender.
We must avoid repeating past mistakes and grow our awareness; in that vein, the following are some of the veterans our country often overlooks honoring:
The Nisei Soldiers: The 442nd Infantry Regiment, composed almost entirely of second-generation American soldiers of Japanese ancestry. More than 20 members received recognition after a study in 1990 revealed that racial discrimination had caused our country to overlook their achievements. Nonetheless, the Congressional Gold Medal was awarded.
Code Talkers: Initially pioneered by the Cherokee and Choctaw tribes during World War I, and now strongly associated with Navajo speakers during World War II. The Navajo Code Talkers returned from WWII without praise or parades to welcome them home. The program was declassified in 1968 and their role became more widely known. Some Presidents have recognized them, and the Congressional Gold Medal was awarded to the original code talkers and silver medals to each qualified Navajo talker.
Tuskegee Airmen: The first African American military aviators in the US Armed Forces. They were subjected to discrimination, both within and outside of the army. In April 1945, some of the Black airmen peacefully protested and were arrested and some were even court martialed. Notwithstanding, they were collectively awarded the Congressional Gold Medal.
The Borinqueneers: Organized in 1901 in Puerto Rico, and fought in WWI, WWII, and the Korean War. An incident during the Korean war triggered massive court martials against Puerto Rican soldiers. A report later found bias in the prosecution of those soldiers, citing instances of continental soldiers who were not charged for similar circumstances. They also were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal.
The Montford Point Marines: Between 1942 and 1949, approximately 20,000 African American men completed recruit training and became known as the “Montford Point Marines.” They served at Peleliu, Iwo Jima, the Chosen Reservoir, Vietnam, and more. Upon their return, some were arrested and charged with impersonating a Marine. The Montford Point Marines later received the Congressional Gold Medal.
This Veteran’s Day, please take some time to learn more about people who served who have historically been mistreated and overlooked.
About the Author: Pedro Cruz Sanchez resides in Puerto Rico and is an At-Large Representative on NOSSCR’s Board of Directors. Pedro is the owner of a small firm that provides professional legal services for individuals and business clients. He provides a full range of disability and labor-related services, that includes Worker’s Compensation law to both individuals and businesses, and Social Security disability law at the administrative level and the federal judicial levels. He has filed successful fraud redetermination lawsuits at the US Court for the District of Puerto Rico. Pedro is also an in-house attorney for the UPR at Cayney, providing legal advice to students and the administrative and academic personnel of the unit. Prior to entering private practice, he was an ALJ for the Puerto Rico Workers Compensation system and a special assistant to the president at the University of Puerto Rico, San Juan.