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The Niños Héroes (in English: Boy Heroes), also known as the Heroic Cadets or Boy Soldiers, were six Mexican teenage military cadets. These cadets died defending Mexico at Mexico City's Chapultepec Castle (then serving as the Mexican Army's military academy) from invading U.S. forces in the 13 September 1847 Battle of Chapultepec, during the Mexican–American War. In an act of bravery, Juan Escutia wrapped the Mexican national flag around his body and jumped from the top of the castle in order to keep it from falling into the enemy's hands. The Niños Héroes are commemorated by a national holiday on September 13.
The Niños Héroes were:
- Juan de la Barrera (age 19)
- Juan Escutia (age 15–19) (?)
- Francisco Márquez (age 13)
- Agustín Melgar (age 15–19) (?)
- Fernando Montes de Oca (age 15–19) (?)
- Vicente Suárez (age 14)
Chapultepec Castle was defended by Mexican troops under the command of Nicolás Bravo, including cadets from the military academy. The number of cadets present has been variously given, from 47 to a few hundred. The greatly outnumbered defenders battled General Scott's troops for about two hours before General Bravo ordered retreat, however the six cadets refused to fall back and fought to the death. Legend has it that the last of the six, Juan Escutia, leapt from Chapultepec Castle wrapped in the Mexican flag to prevent the flag from being taken by the enemy. According to the later account of an unidentified US officer, "about a hundred" cadets between the ages of 10 and 16 were among the "crowds" of prisoners taken after the Castle's capture.
The bodies of the six youths were buried on the grounds of Chapultepec Park. On March 5, 1947, a few months before the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Chapultepec, U.S. President Harry S. Truman placed a wreath at the monument and stood for a few moments of silent reverence. Asked by American reporters why he had gone to the monument, Truman said, "Brave men don't belong to any one country. I respect bravery wherever I see it." In 1947 their remains were found and identified and, on 27 September 1952, were re-interred at the Monument to the Heroic Cadets in Chapultepec.
Juan de la Barrera was born in 1828 in Mexico City, the son of Ignacio Mario de la Barrera, an army general, and Juana Inzárruaga. He enlisted at the age of 12 and was admitted to the Academy on 18 November 1843. During the attack on Chapultepec he was a lieutenant in the military engineers (sappers) and died defending a gun battery at the entrance to the park. Aged 19, he was the oldest of the six, and was also part of the school faculty as a volunteer teacher in engineering.
Juan Escutia was born between 1828 and 1832 in Tepic, today's capital of the state of Nayarit. Records show he was admitted to the Academy as a cadet on 8 September 1847, but his other papers were lost during the assault. He is believed to have been a second lieutenant in an artillery company. It is claimed that this cadet officer wrapped himself up in the flag and jumped from the roof to keep it from falling into enemy hands. His body was found on the east flank of the hill, alongside that of Francisco Márquez. A large mural above the stairway painted by muralist Gabriel Flores depicts his jump from the roof with the Mexican flag. This account has been regarded as a legend by several modern Mexican historians.
Francisco Márquez was born in 1834 in Guadalajara, Jalisco. Following the death of his father, his mother, Micaela Paniagua, remarried Francisco Ortiz, a cavalry captain. He applied to the Academy on 14 January 1847 and, at the time of the battle, belonged to the first company of cadets. A note included in his personnel record says his body was found on the east flank of the hill, alongside that of Juan Escutia. At 13 years old, he was the youngest of the six heroes.
Agustín Melgar was born between 1828 and 1832 in Chihuahua, Chihuahua. He was the son of Esteban Melgar, a lieutenant colonel in the army, and María de la Luz Sevilla, both of whom died while he was still young, leaving him the ward of his older sister. He applied to the Academy on 4 November 1846. A note in his personnel record explains that after finding himself alone, he tried to stop the enemy on the north side of the castle.
Fernando Montes de Oca was born between 1828 and 1832 in Azcapotzalco, then a town just to the north of Mexico City and now one of the boroughs of the Federal District. His parents were José María Montes de Oca and Josefa Rodríguez. He had applied to the Academy on 24 January 1847, and was one of the cadets who remained in the castle. His personnel record reads: "Died for his country on 13 September 1847."
Vicente Suárez was born in 1833 in Puebla, Puebla, the son of Miguel Suárez, a cavalry officer, and María de la Luz Ortega. He applied for admission to the Academy on 21 October 1845, and during his stay was an officer cadet.
The six cadets are honored by an imposing monument, Altar a la Patria, made of Carrara marble by architect Enrique Aragón and sculptor Ernesto Tamariz at the entrance to Chapultepec Park (1952); and the name Niños Héroes, along with the cadets' individual names, are commonly given to streets, squares and schools across the country.
- Espínola, Lorenza. "Los Niños Héroes, un símbolo" (in Spanish). Comisión Organizadora de la Conmemoración del Bicentenario del inicio del movimiento de Independencia Nacional y del Centenario del inicio de la Revolución Mexicana. Retrieved 2009-05-09.
- inter alia, Villalpando, José Manuel; Niños Héroes, México DF: Planeta, 2004; Hernández Silva, HC: "¿Quién aventó a Juan Escutla¿", La Jornada, December 13, 1998; Rosas, Alejandro "Una historia mal contada: Los Niños Héroes", Relatos e Historias en México, year II No. 13, September 2009.
- Miller, Robert Ryal (1989). Mexico: A History. University of Oklahoma Press. p. 228. ISBN 978-0-8061-2178-9.
- Mansfield, Edward Deering (1849). The Mexican War (10 ed.). New York: A.S. Barnes & Co. p. 298.
- McCullough, David (1993) Truman. New York: Simon & Schuster.
- Roma Condesa map, Mexico City Tourism Department
Media related to Niños Héroes at Wikimedia Commons
- Niños Héroes Account of Truman's visit to the monument in 1947.