Hispanic Heritage Month Patriots

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Raphael De La Rosa
  • 2014 Hispanic Heritage Committee
Throughout history, there are some whose courage effected positive change for future generations. This week, the Hispanic Heritage Month Committee recognizes two patriots of Hispanic descent who sacrificed, forged, fought and paved the way for Hispanic Heritage equality.

As a soldier and public servant, U.S. Army retired Lt. Col. Alfred Rascon served his country for nearly four decades.

At the age of four, Rascon came to the United States from Mexico with his parents. Raised in the barrios of California near Port Hueneme Naval Station during the Korean War, he was fascinated by the military, making parachutes out of sheets and staging imaginary combat jumps off the roof of his house.

When he was 17, he enlisted in the Army and became a medic in the 173rd Airborne Brigade.

In March 1966, Rascon's unit moved to reinforce its sister battalion that was under attack in Vietnam. Soon after a firefight broke out, beginning what Rascon would later recall as "ten minutes of hell."

Ignoring orders, "Doc" Rascon ran to tend to wounded soldiers and was hit by shrapnel and a rifle bullet that traveled from his hip through his shoulder blade. Despite that, he managed to drag one man to safety, and then crawled back into the melee to bring ammunition to a wounded machine gunner.

In 2000, he was awarded the Medal of Honor, the United States' highest military decoration, for his actions.

At the age of 19, Pfc. Joseph Unanue fought in World War II in the decisive Battle of the Bulge.

On his first day in the European Theater, Unanue's sergeant was killed in action.

The young private first class, who was next in command, later admitted that he didn't want to take over as a result of his rank. Unanue did take command and earned the Bronze Star for bravery for pulling his men to safety amid intense shelling.

After the war, he returned to the United States and enrolled in the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., where he graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering.

Over the next 25 years, along with his brothers, he learned every facet of the family business, Goya Foods, of which he became president of in 1976.

Known to possess a certain down-to-earth way, Unanue provided advice to up-and-coming Hispanic-owned companies.

Under his leadership, Goya Foods' annual revenues grew from about $8 million to about $1 billion, boosted by successive waves of Hispanic immigrants entering the United States.

In 1993, he told CNN that, "The ambition is to ... show the Hispanic population of this world that it doesn't matter what you are, you can grow a company ... you can make it work."

Unanue was honored extensively throughout his life for his community service efforts. The National Conference of Christians and Jews twice hailed him as "Man of the Year." The National Minority Suppliers Association awarded him its Leadership Award. In 1991, Hispanic Magazine honored him with the National Hispanic Achievement Award.

(Information provided by Defense Equal Opportunity Military Institute, Patrick Air Force Base, Fla.)