Cuban-American Veterans (Revised)

(This is the latest revision of a Veteran’s Day piece I posted back in 2005 and 2007)

Veteran’s Day has always held a special place in my heart. I’m far from being alone in feeling this way, but please allow me to feel a sense of personal pride on this day. The reason for this is that my father is a veteran of the Vietnam War.

As a youngster, I heard many of my father’s Vietnam stories and his frighteningly detailed accounts of combat. The most harrowing account was of the day one of his platoon-mates set off a booby-trap, sending shrapnel flying through the air. My dad was fortunate and blessed to survive that day with relatively minor injuries. I heard about my dad’s stay in an Army hospital and hearing the screams of other wounded soldiers writhing in pain. Some of those young men didn’t survive the night. I also remember my father recounting our short time in Ft. Hood, Texas where he served the remainder of his time in the United States Army (I was barely a toddler when we lived in Ft. Hood, otherwise the tragedy of last week would have resonated that much more with me).

Our family was blessed to have met other Cuban-American veterans and their families during my dad’s service in the U.S. Army. It undoubtedly made our stay in a place far away from Miami much more like home. My memories are also rich with all the stories my dad and his fellow Cuban-American veterans shared years later at picnics, birthdays and long weekends at the beach.  Needless to say, I have always felt an immense sense of pride for these men. There is no higher honor than serving your country and being willing to make the ultimate sacrifice.

What makes my father and his group of veterans even more special is that they weren’t born in the United States. They were born in Cuba and escaped the island prison in the same way that so many did back in the early years of “the revolution”. They were teenagers and young adults in their 20s, their futures suspended because of exile. These folks eventually chose to serve their adopted country against a foe much like the one they and their families fled from just a few years before. While many Americans protested and even left the country, these foreign-born men embraced the opportunity to defend freedom.

As I mentioned above, there is no higher honor than serving your country. There is one exception, however: serving your adopted country.

In Miami, there are at least four organizations of Cuban-Americans who have served the United States of America in the Armed Forces. These are:

– Veterans of Foreign War Jose Marti Post 10212
– American Legion Capt. Felix Sosa-Camejo Post 346
– Vietnam Veterans of America Candido Molinet Chapter 620
– Cuban-American Veterans Organization

I’d like to bring special attention to the name Felix Sosa-Camejo. Here’s some information on Capt. Sosa-Camejo courtesy of this statement read before the Senate Committee on Armed Services in 2006:

(Felix Sosa-Camejo) came here, to Miami, as a 20 year-old refugee from Castro’s regime and enlisted in the Army in 1963. Serving for five years, Captain Sosa-Camejo earned 12 citations, including the Bronze Star, three Silver Stars and two Purple Hearts. On February 13, 1968, in the heat of the Tet Offensive on the streets of Hue, his platoon was pinned down by enemy fire and unable to reach a wounded comrade. With disregard for his safety, Captain Sosa-Camejo ran through the intense enemy fire and pulled the wounded man to safety. This action would earn Captain Sosa-Camejo his second Bronze Star and would cost him his life.

Our very own Humberto Fontova wrote this about Capt. Sosa-Camejo back in 2006:

“On February 13, 1968, the lead platoon was hit by an enemy bunker complex manned by approximately forty North Vietnamese Regulars. Upon initial contact the point man was wounded and lay approximately 10 meters in front of the center bunker. The platoon was unable to move forward and extract the wounded man due to the heavy volume of fire being laid down from the enemy bunker complex.“Captain Sosa-Camejo immediately moved into the firing line and directed the fire against the enemy bunker. With disregard for his safety, Captain Sosa-Camejo ran through the intense enemy fire and pulled the wounded point man to safety. After ensuring that the wounded man was receiving medical treatment, Captain Sosa-Camejo returned to the fire fight and again exposed himself to the intense enemy fire by single handedly assaulting the center bunker with grenades killing the two NVA soldiers manning the bunker. As he turned to assault the next bunker an NVA machine gun opened up and he was mortally wounded. Captain Sosa-Camejo’s valorous action and devotion to duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself, his unit, and the United States Army.”

Next time you hear someone complain about Cuban-Americans’ alleged (and blatantly false) lack of devotion for their adopted country; next time you hear an immigrant complain about this country, you might want to share these stories with them.

Below the fold is a copy of a speech by former U.S. Representative Dante Fascell in commemoration of the VFW Jose Marti Post’s 20th anniversary back in 1991. It serves as a good reminder of one of the many sacrifices made by Cuban-Americans. Please take the time to read it, it’s well worth the time.

To all veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces, and especially to our Cuban-Americans vets, my deepest gratitude and respect for what you’ve done and for what you stand for.

VFW JOSE MARTI POST CELEBRATES 20TH ANNIVERSARY — HON. DANTE B. FASCELL (Extension of Remarks – October 23, 1991)

[Page: E3511]

HON. DANTE B. FASCELL

in the House of Representatives

WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 23, 1991

* Mr. FASCELL. Mr. Speaker, several weeks ago the VFW Jose Marti Post of Miami, FL, observed and celebrated its 20th anniversary. The post is composed primarily of Cuban refugees who volunteered to serve in the United States armed services.

* More than 500 people attended the anniversary dinner and Capt. W.C. McCamy, Commander of the Guantanamo Naval Base in Cuba, was a special guest.

* The main speaker of the evening was the Post’s original founder, Dr. Manolo Reyes–formerly a leading Cuban broadcaster, both in Cuba and, subsequently, in south Florida, and now an administrator at Mercy Hospital in Miami. I commend to our colleagues Dr. Reyes’ moving remarks.

It is indeed a great privilege for me to address this gathering honoring the members of V.F.W. Jose Marti Post. This post is very close to my heart since I started to work on it’s Foundation in mid 1970, 21 years ago. With a dream in my lips, I approached Joseph and Ann Grenesse who were already working in a VFW Post. With their support and help we began to make approaches and on May 16, 1971–20 years ago–this post was officially chartered.

I never dreamt that the Jose Marti V.F.W. Post was going to grow the way it has. You have to realize that even though we have been in this country for three decades, we represent an early immigration starting in the sixties. At the time when we came, we believed we were going to be here only for 6 months, a year at the most, because a communist regime not going to be able to survive 90 miles away from the United States.

When we came at the beginning of the sixties, the U.S. had to face for the first time in U.S. history that it would be a nation of first asylum. In previous years, the U.S. had the Hungarian exodus, but the Hungarians went to a second country where they were screened by U.S. authorities and then came to America.

In the case of the Cubans, more than 200,000 of them came in waves up until mid 1962, and they were considered parolees. One way or the other, Cubans of all ages came at that time, and when the Vietnam war began they were recruited by the U.S. On record, we have more than 10,000 Cuban youngsters that went to the jungles of Vietnam to defend freedom and democracy against communism.

Some of those Cuban youngsters are here today. Would you please stand up and be recognized?

They follow the Cuban tradition of joining forces with the United States when our friend of the north had an international crisis.

There were Cuban volunteers in the U.S. Armed Forces in World War I, World War II, Korean War, Vietnam War and in the Middle East War. All of these started when American rough riders and Cuban freedom fighters under the direction of General Calixto Garcia, joined ranks to fight for the Cuban freedom in San Juan Hill, Oriente Province.

But in those initial wars and struggles we never had a VFW Post integrated by Cubans who went abroad to fight under the flag of the stars and stripes.

And now, we hope and pray that the next event of the VFW Post Jose Marti will be in a free Cuba. And you, Captain W.C. McCamy, as Commander of U.S. Guantanamo Naval Base, have a very special invitation for that occasion.

I’ve said many times that the best speeches are the shortest ones. To that effect, I am going to finish my speech making reference to the person who’s name is carried by this post.

The V.F.W. Post carries the name of one of the most illustrious Cubans ever born: Jose Marti. Marti was not only recognized as a leader by the Cubans, but by all the nation he visited in her pilgrimage. And, I say pilgrimage because Jose Marti lived in exile more years than in his native country, Cuba. Just as we have done, Marti lived many years in the United States and his places of operation were New York, Tampa and Key West, Florida.

He was born in 1853 while his country was in slavery. He lived during slavery and died, in 1895 while Cuba was still in slavery. But, when his blood was spilled in the battle of Dos Rios in Oriente Province, he planted the seed of freedom in Cuba forever.

It has been said by scholars and intellectuals that history repeats itself.

In the last century, Cuba had two wars of Independence to be free from Spain, The first one lasted 10 years from 1868 to 1878, and the second from 1895 to 1898. In both wars Cuba had Cuban exiles representing the freedom fight patriots who were in the island struggling for freedom.

On February 24, 1895, the second Cuban war of Independence was started in Oriente Province with the cry of Baire. Several weeks later, the great Cuban leaders, General A. Maceo, General Maximo Gomez and Jose Marti met in a farm called `La Mejorana’ near Playitas where they landed. All of this was happening in Oriente Province. In La Mejorana they formed the Cuban Government of the Republic of Cuba in arms.

If history repeats itself, I hope and pray that very soon the Cuban leaders in exile will land in Cuba, in Oriente Province, to join our Cuban brothers and sisters and establish a Cuban Government of the Republic of Cuba in arms at the Guantanamo Naval Base.

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