Ysmael R. Villegas

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Ysmael Reyes Villegas
Ysmael Villegas.jpg
Staff Sergeant Ysmael R. Villegas, Medal of Honor recipient
Nickname(s)Smiley
Born(1924-03-21)March 21, 1924
Casa Blanca, California
DiedMarch 20, 1945(1945-03-20) (aged 20)
Luzon, Philippines
Place of burial
AllegianceUnited States of America
Service/branchUnited States Army
Years of service1944–1945
RankStaff Sergeant
UnitCompany F, 127th Infantry Regiment, 32nd Infantry Division
Battles/warsWorld War II
*Battle of Luzon  
AwardsMedal of Honor
Silver Star
Purple Heart

Staff Sergeant Ysmael “Smiley” Reyes Villegas (March 21, 1924 – March 20, 1945), was a United States Army soldier who was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor, the United States' highest military decoration, for heroism during World War II at the Battle of Luzon.

Background[edit]

Villegas, a Mexican-American, was born and raised in Casa Blanca, a predominantly Hispanic neighborhood of Riverside, California, where he received his primary and secondary education. He was the oldest of 13 children born to Dario and Inez (Reyes) Villegas. Both of his parents were native to Mexico, his father from Michoacán and his mother was from Torreón.[1] His official commendation states that he was an “orange picker” prior to his enlistment. At the time orange production was a major industry in the Riverside area.

Villegas joined the United States Army in July 1944.[2] After he finished his basic training, he was assigned to Company F, 127th Infantry Regiment, 32nd Infantry Division which was assigned to the invasion of the Philippines.

Villegas, nicknamed “Smiley”,[3] married Lillie Sanchez in 1944, one month before he was sent to war in the Pacific. He never met their son who was born two weeks after Villegas was killed in action.[4][1]

World War II[edit]

On March 1, 1945, Villegas' company found itself engaged in combat against Japanese forces at Villa Verde Trail on Luzon Island in the Philippines, in what is known as the Battle of Luzon. His squad was attacked by an enemy machinegun nest. Villegas took it upon himself to save his squad by destroying the nest and its occupants. For his actions he was awarded the Silver Star medal.[5]

On March 20, 1945, the day before his 21st birthday, Villegas was ordered to lead his squad in an advance which would result in the taking of a hill. They confronted an enemy which was entrenched and who attacked them with heavy machinegun and rifle fire. He led his men towards the crest of the hill and then upon his own initiative attacked five enemy foxholes, killing all of their occupants. Villegas was mortally wounded when he attacked the sixth foxhole. His bravery inspired his troupes to take the rest of the hill.

Medal of Honor[edit]

On October 19, 1945, President Harry S. Truman posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor to Villegas. The medal was presented to his widow by Col. G. B. Appleman on November 1, 1945, at Camp Haan in Riverside, California. An estimated 2000 people attended the ceremony.[1]

Ysmael R. Villegas
Rank and organization:Staff Sergeant, U.S. Army, Company F, 127th Infantry, 32d Infantry Division.
Place and date: Villa Verde Trail, Luzon, Philippine Islands, March 20, 1945.
Entered service at:Casa Blanca, California
Born: March 21, 1924 at Casa Blanca, California
G.O. No.: 89, October 19, 1945.
Citation:
He was a squad leader when his unit, in a forward position, clashed with an enemy strongly entrenched in connected caves and foxholes on commanding ground. He moved boldly from man to man, in the face of bursting grenades and demolition charges, through heavy machinegun and rifle fire, to bolster the spirit of his comrades. Inspired by his gallantry, his men pressed forward to the crest of the hill. Numerous enemy riflemen, refusing to flee, continued firing from their foxholes. S/Sgt. Villegas, with complete disregard for his own safety and the bullets which kicked up the dirt at his feet, charged an enemy position, and, firing at point-blank range killed the Japanese in a foxhole. He rushed a second foxhole while bullets missed him by inches, and killed 1 more of the enemy. In rapid succession he charged a third, a fourth, a fifth foxhole, each time destroying the enemy within. The fire against him increased in intensity, but he pressed onward to attack a sixth position. As he neared his goal, he was hit and killed by enemy fire. Through his heroism and indomitable fighting spirit, S/Sgt. Villegas, at the cost of his life, inspired his men to a determined attack in which they swept the enemy from the field.[6]

Military Awards and decorations[edit]

Among Staff Sergeant Ysmael R. Villegas' decorations and medals were the following:

Combat Infantry Badge.svg
A light blue ribbon with five white five pointed stars
Combat Infantryman Badge
Medal of Honor
Silver Star Purple Heart American Campaign Medal
Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal World War II Victory Medal Philippine Liberation Medal

In Memoriam[edit]

Initially Villegas was buried at Riverside's Olivewood Cemetery in 1949. His remains were reinterred to become the first veteran buried at the Riverside National Cemetery when that cemetery opened on November 11, 1978.[7][8]

Villegas was the first Riverside County resident to receive the Medal of Honor.[9] The city of Riverside has recognized his heroism in a number of ways.

  • In 1952 the city formally named a park located in the Casa Blanca neighborhood, the Ysmael Villegas Park.[10]
  • The Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) named Post #184 in Riverside the “Ysmael R. Villegas Memorial Casa Blanca Post” in his honor.
  • A statue by sculpture Gary E. Coulter, called Villegas Memorial, was dedicated on May 27, 1995, and is located on Main Street Civic Center Courtyard in Riverside.
  • The Ysmael R. Villegas Middle School in Riverside is named in his honor.[11]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c "2000 Pay Honor to Sgt. Villegas at Camp Haan". Vol. LX, no. 262. Riverside, California. Riverside Daily Press. November 2, 1945.
  2. ^ U.S. National Archives and Records Administration archive listing
  3. ^ Straight, Susan (24 April 2014). "Green Hornet, Canteen, Foxhole: The Smiley Villegas Story". KCET. Archived from the original on 10 April 2021. Retrieved 16 May 2022.
  4. ^ Teters, Beth (17 March 1954). "Hero's Friends, Neighbors To Beautify Villegas Park". Riverside Daily Press. p. 17.
  5. ^ The 32nd Div. in WW II
  6. ^ Medal of Honor citation
  7. ^ Gunther, Jane Davies (1984). Riverside County, California, Place Names: Their Origins and Their Stories. Riverside, CA. p. 559. LCCN 84-72920.
  8. ^ "Veterans Day Marks Cemetery's 35th Anniversary" (PDF). County of Riverside Veterans' Services. Archived from the original (PDF) on 27 October 2014. Retrieved 27 October 2014.
  9. ^ Wall, Stephen (March 24, 2014). "Riverside: Medal of Honor recipient honored". The Press-Enterprise. Archived from the original on 11 April 2021.
  10. ^ "Ysmael Villegas Park Approved". Riverside Independent Enterprise. March 19, 1952. p. 10.
  11. ^ Ysmael R. Villegas middle school

External links[edit]