Silvestre S. Herrera

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Silvestre S. Herrera
Silvestre S. Herrera.jpg   Army Medal of Honor.jpg
PFC Silvestre S. Herrera, Medal of Honor recipient
Born (1917-07-17)July 17, 1917
Camargo, Chihuahua, Mexico
Died November 26, 2007(2007-11-26) (aged 90)
Glendale, Arizona
Allegiance United States of America
Service/branch United States Army
Years of service 1944–1946
Rank Sergeant[1]
Unit 2nd Battalion, 142d Infantry, 36th Infantry Division
Battles/wars World War II
Awards Medal of Honor
Purple Heart
Order of Military Merit (Mexico)

Private First Class Silvestre Santana Herrera (July 17, 1917 – November 26, 2007) was a member of the United States Army of Hispanic heritage who received the Medal of Honor for his heroic actions during World War II in Mertzwiller, France. His one-man charge on an enemy stronghold resulted in his single-handed capture of eight enemy soldiers. At the time of his death he was the only living person authorized to wear both the Medal of Honor and Mexico's Order of Military Merit-(Mexico) (First Class). The City of Phoenix officially renamed the portion of 3rd Street that runs from Indian School Road North into the park, "S. Herrera Way". Silvestre Herrera was an Arizona "legend".

Early years[edit]

Herrera was born in the Mexican city of Camargo, Chihuahua, and not, as he once believed, in El Paso, Texas. His parents died when he was only a year old, and the man he had always thought was his father was really an uncle who had brought the 18-month old Herrera to El Paso to provide him with a better way of life in the United States. This fact was unknown to him until he was 27 years old. Herrera worked as a farm hand in El Paso. He soon moved to Phoenix, Arizona with his wife Ramona and three children, Mary, Elva, Silvestre, Jr. and the uncle he believed to be his father. Herrera was a member of the Texas National Guard, 36th Division. When the United States entered World War II, his unit was to be one of the first to land in Europe. When he broke the news to his family, he was told the truth about his parents' death and his place of birth.

World War II[edit]

On March 15, 1945 Herrera's unit found itself engaged in combat in a forest in the vicinity of Mertzwiller, France. His platoon came under heavy enemy fire from the woods, forcing most of the men to seek cover. Herrera charged the enemy stronghold and ended the threat, resulting in his single-handed capture of eight enemy soldiers.

Later that same day, his platoon came under fire and was attacked by a second enemy stronghold. The platoon found itself pinned down and the situation was difficult because there was a mine field between the platoon and the enemy. Herrera entered the mine field with the intention of attacking the enemy stronghold while drawing enemy gunfire away from his comrades. A mine exploded and shattered his leg. Then another mine exploded, severing his good leg below the knee. Herrera continued to fire upon the enemy with his own rifle, an act which allowed the members of his platoon to skirt the mine field and capture the enemy position.[2]

As Herrera lay in the Army hospital recovering from his wounds, President Truman was not sure that Herrera would be well enough for a formal presentation of the Medal of Honor. However, on August 23, 1945, Silvestre rolled his wheel chair across the White House lawn so that the President could present him with his award.[2]

Medal of Honor citation[edit]

Silvestre S. Herrera
Rank and organization:Private First Class, U.S. Army, Company E, 142d Infantry, 36th Infantry Division.
Place and date:Near Mertzwiller, France, March 15, 1945.
Entered service at:Phoenix, Arizona
G.O. No.: 75, September 5, 1945.
Citation:
He advanced with a platoon along a wooded road until stopped by heavy enemy machinegun fire. As the rest of the unit took cover, he made a 1-man frontal assault on a strongpoint and captured 8 enemy soldiers. When the platoon resumed its advance and was subjected to fire from a second emplacement beyond an extensive minefield, Pvt. Herrera again moved forward, disregarding the danger of exploding mines, to attack the position. He stepped on a mine and had both feet severed but, despite intense pain and unchecked loss of blood, he pinned down the enemy with accurate rifle fire while a friendly squad captured the enemy gun by skirting the minefield and rushing in from the flank. The magnificent courage, extraordinary heroism, and willing self-sacrifice displayed by Pvt. Herrera resulted in the capture of 2 enemy strongpoints and the taking of 8 prisoners.[3]

From book-Medal of Honor: Portraits of Valor Beyond the Call of Duty[edit]

Silvestre Herrera was twenty-seven years old, married with three children, and working in his hometown of Phoenix, Arizona, when he was drafted into the Army in January 1944. Men with families were no longer exempt from the service—in basic training, he met another draftee who said he was the father of eight.

Private First Class Herrera’s company landed in Italy, by this time largely under Allied control, as part of the 142nd Infantry in the summer of 1944. That fall they invaded France at Marseille and took a troop train to the front. By the end of the year, as his unit reached France, it began to encounter resistance from the retreating Germans. When the fighting became heavy by the spring of 1945, Herrera had to concede a grudging respect for the enemy, regarding them as “muy machos.”

On March 15, Herrera’s platoon was advancing along a wooded road near the French town of Mertzwiller when it ran into two German machine-gun emplace-ments. Caught in a deadly crossfire between the two guns, the GIs dived for cover. Fearing that his comrades would be cut to pieces, Herrera stood up and ran toward the closest enemy position, firing his rifle from the hip. He tossed two grenades at the machine-gun nest; the concussion knocked the Germans down. Then he was on them, and all eight soldiers threw down their weapons and surrendered to him.

Herrera turned his prisoners over to men in his squad, then started crawling toward the other machine gun, firing as he went. (“My M-1 was talking, and the Germans understood what it was saying,” he commented later.) The position was protected by a minefield; GIs were throwing rocks into the area in an effort to explode the mines. Herrera got up and charged the Germans anyway, but as he neared the machine-gun nest, he stepped on a mine. He was thrown to the ground, both of his feet blown off at the ankle. Though bleeding heavily, he lay on his stomach and fired at the Germans, forcing them to stay down and thus enabling his squad to skirt the minefield, flank the enemy, and move in for the kill.

Herrera remained conscious for the next few hours. At the aid station, he said to the examining doctor, “Just try to save my knees, Doc.” After two months in an Army field hospital, he was sent to the Army Amputation Center in Utah. During a ninety-day furlough to Phoenix, he was notified that he was to receive the Medal of Honor and traveled to Washington with an uncle who was given time off from his job to help him make the trip. In time, Silvestre Herrera would be fitted with new prosthetic feet, but on August 23, 1945, at the White House, President Harry Truman bent over his wheelchair to present him with the Medal of Honor.

Later years[edit]

President Truman with Silvestre S. Herrera

A year after he was presented with the Medal of Honor, the Government of Mexico presented Herrera with its Order of Military Merit (First Class).

Herrera became the first resident from Arizona to receive the Medal of Honor during World War II. Arizona Governor Sidney P. Osborn declared August 14, 1945 to be "Herrera Day" and welcomed home Pfc. Silvestre S. Herrera with a hero's parade. A drive to bestow upon him citizenship of the only country he knew was started and as a result he was granted United States Citizenship. The citizens of Arizona raised $14,000 to provide him and his growing family with a new home.

Valle Del Sol, Inc. recognized him with a Special Recognition Award in 1994, and with a Hall of Fame award in 1999. On March 13, 1996, Herrera was honored by the United States House of Representatives upon recommendation of Congressman Ed Pastor.[4] An elementary school in Phoenix, Arizona — the Silvestre S Herrera School — bears his name.[5]

On October 24, 1998, the United States Army Reserve Center in Mesa, which houses the 164th Corps Support Group and later, the 6253rd United States Army Hospital, was dedicated in honor of Silvestre S. Herrera. This dedication was thanks in large part to the efforts of neighbor and long time admirer of Herrera, Sergeant Major Douglas Mattson (retired).[6]

Herrera died at his home in Glendale, Arizona, on November 26, 2007.[7]

Awards and decorations[edit]

Medal of Honor
Purple Heart
American Campaign Medal
European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal
World War II Victory Medal
Mexican Order of Military Merit (First Class)

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Discharged in March 1946 at the rank of Sergeant. See Medal of Honor.com profile.
  2. ^ a b Profile
  3. ^ of Honor citation
  4. ^ Pastor, Ed (March 13, 1996). "Honoring Silvestre S. Herrera — Hon. Ed Pastor; Extension of Remarks in the House of Representatives". Library of Congress. Retrieved 2006-07-16. 
  5. ^ "Silvestre S Herrera School". Phoenix Elementary School District #1, Phoenix, Arizona. Retrieved 2006-07-16. 
  6. ^ "164th CorpsSupport Group – History". U.S. Army Reserve Command. Retrieved 2006-07-16. [dead link]
  7. ^ [1]

References[edit]

 This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the United States Army Center of Military History.