EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar is pushing for highly decorated World War I hero and one-time El Paso resident Pvt. Marcelino Serna to be posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest military award.
Escobar, D-El Paso, sent a letter to Secretary of Army Christine Wormuth, expressing her support.
“Pvt. Marcelino Serna is the most heavily decorated World War I veteran in Texas’ history,” Escobar wrote. “He valiantly fought for the United States from 6 April, 1917 to 11 November, 1918. During his time in service, he demonstrated exceptional bravery and integrity, going so far as to conduct dangerous scouting missions alone, single-handedly capturing 24 enemy combatants while under heavy fire, and upholding the rules of war in protecting prisoners of war from wrongful execution at the hands of his fellow soldiers.”
Here is what the Texas Historical Society says about Serna’s record of heroism during World War I.
“During the war, Serna fought in the Lucey Sector, the Saint-Mihiel offensive, the Euvezin Sector, and the Meuse-Argonne offensive. On September 12, 1918, during the battle of Saint-Mihiel, Private Serna’s unit came under heavy machine gun fire. Following the deaths of twelve members of his unit, he volunteered to scout ahead. Serna advanced alone until he was close enough to the machine gun emplacement to toss four grenades inside. The blast killed six, and Serna captured the remaining eight German soldiers.
“Two weeks later, during the Meuse-Argonne offensive, Serna again volunteered to scout ahead— alone — after spotting a German sniper in the distance. He followed the sniper to a German trench. Armed with an Enfield rifle, pistol, and grenades, Serna laid down fire and tossed grenades while continually changing positions around the trench. The enemy came to believe that they were under attack by a much larger force and surrendered.
“Serna single-handedly killed twenty-six enemy soldiers and took another twenty-four German soldiers prisoner. When reinforcements arrived, Serna defended his prisoners from American soldiers, who wished to execute them on the spot, and argued that such executions went against the rules of war. On November 7, 1918, four days before the armistice agreement, Serna was hit by sniper fire in both legs and was sent to an army hospital in France.”
Serna was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the second-highest U.S. military honor behind only the Medal of Honor. None other than Gen. John “Black Jack” Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Forces in World War I, pinned the medal on Serna.
Field Marshal Ferdinand Foch, the supreme commander of the Allied forces in World War I, had awarded Serna the French Croix de Guerre for bravery.
The Tornillo port of entry was named after him in 2016.
But he was never given the Medal of Honor, the ultimate symbol of U.S. military heroism and valor.
Many Hispanic activists and military historians believe that Serna was denied the Medal of Honor because of racism.
Serna was originally was from Chihuahua City and was not a citizen when he fought for the United States in World War I. After the war, he settled in El Paso and became a citizen, working for years as a plumber at William Beaumont Hospital. He died in 1992 at the age of 95.
Escobar isn’t the only local political leader to get behind efforts to honor Serna. Former U.S. Congressman Will Hurd, R-Texas, was instrumental in getting the Tornillo port of entry renamed in Serna’s honor. El Paso County Commissioner David Stout has been vocal in his support for the Serna cause.
And back in the 1990s, then U.S. Congressman Ron Coleman pushed for Serna to receive the Medal of Honor.
You can read the full text of Escobar’s letter to the secretary of the Army by clicking here.