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Honoring and remembering the Latina heroes of the past this Memorial Day

Memorial Day is a time of remembrance. The holiday honors and mourns those who died while serving in the military and celebrates their lives. This Memorial Day, we would like to shine a light on the historic contributions of Latinas in the U.S. military. 

Latinas in the military throughout History 

Records of Latinas in the U.S. military date back to the Civil War. The story of Loreta Janet Velazquez reads like a harrowing fiction novel. Born in Cuba, Loreta fought in the American Civil War by masquerading as a Confederate soldier under the name Lt. Harry T. Buford. She enlisted in 1860 without her soldier-husband’s knowledge and fought fearlessly at historic battles such as the Battles of Bull Run, Ball’s Bluff and Fort Donelson, and the Battle of Shiloh. Additionally she acted as a spy, donning both male and female disguises to remain undercover. 

Latinas in the military, Civil War,  Loreta Janeta Velazquez

The illustration depicts Loreta Janeta Velazquez and her alias, Lt. Harry T. Buford of the Confederate States Army. Source: Library of Congress.

Latinas also made significant contributions to the war effort during World War II. The creation of the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps gave women the opportunity to work not only as nurses but also as members of the armed forces and many Latinas were specifically sought after for their fluency in Spanish to work in the areas of cryptology, correspondence, and communications. Many women also served as nurses, technical agents, mechanics, and telegram operators–managing crucial military communications during the war. 

Latinas in the military, World War II, WWII, Women's Army Auxiliary Corps

A poster for the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps, 1941.[Source]

Women were undoubtedly vital to the military’s success during WWII both overseas and on the home-front where women took over the majority of labor and production in the workforce. The contributions of women can never be forgotten. 

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In the Military Today 

According to the U.S. Army’s historical site, approximately 400,000 to 500,000 Hispanic service members served in the U.S. Armed Forces during World War II, over 80,000 served in the Vietnam War, and approximately 20,000 participated in Operation Desert Shield/Storm. 

Today, the number of Latinos in the military is on the rise as the fastest growing population in the military. According to data from the Pew Research Center, the number of Latinos in active duty rose from 4% in the 1980s to 12% in 2015 and as of a 2019 report conducted by the Congressional Service Review, Latinos now make up 16% of all active-duty military. 

However, despite these growing numbers, Latinos are still largely underrepresented in high ranking roles, according to an article published by USA Today which states that Latinos only make up about  8% of the officer corps and 2% of general/flag officers, which signals that there is still much work to be done in the area of representation and equal opportunity.  

Latinos and Latinas have contributed greatly to the military throughout history and we honor their contributions and remember those who have fallen this Memorial Day.