Marcario Garcia: The First Mexican Immigrant to Receive the Medal of Honor
On August 23, 1945, Staff Sergeant Marcario Garcia was awarded the Medal of Honor, becoming the first Mexican immigrant to receive the U.S. military’s highest decoration for valor under fire.
Born in Castanos, Mexico in 1920, Garcia journeyed to the United States with his family at the age of three. Determined to build a better life in America, Garcia’s family settled in Sugarland, Texas and went to work on a ranch. Giving his all to help support his family, Garcia worked so hard that most of his childhood was spent toiling on the ranch rather than inside of a classroom.
With the United States in the midst of World War II, Garcia, who wasn’t officially an American citizen and had never risen above a grade-school level of education, enlisted as an infantryman in the U.S. Army at the age of 22 in November 1942. Feeling duty bound to give back to the country that had become his home, he would go on to serve his nation with uncommon valor on the battlefield.
On D-Day, June 6, 1944, Garcia participated in the Allied invasion of Normandy with Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 22 Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Division. Wounded in action on D-Day, he spent four months in recovery before rejoining his unit as it advanced into Germany. For his actions near Grosshau, Germany on November 27, 1944, Garcia would be awarded the Medal of Honor. His citation reads:
“While an acting squad leader of Company B, 22d Infantry, on 27 November 1944, near Grosshau, Germany, he singlehandedly assaulted two enemy machine-gun emplacements. Attacking prepared positions on a wooded hill, which could be approached only through meager cover, his company was pinned down by intense machine-gun fire and subjected to a concentrated artillery and mortar barrage. Although painfully wounded, he refused to be evacuated and on his own initiative crawled forward alone until he reached a position near an enemy emplacement. Hurling grenades, he boldly assaulted the position, destroyed the gun, and with his rifle killed three of the enemy who attempted to escape. When he rejoined his company, a second machine gun opened fire and again the intrepid soldier went forward, utterly disregarding his own safety. He stormed the position and destroyed the gun, killed three more Germans, and captured four prisoners. He fought on with his unit until the objective was taken and only then did he permit himself to be removed for medical care. SSgt. (then Pvt.) Garcia's conspicuous heroism, his inspiring, courageous conduct, and his complete disregard for his personal safety wiped out two enemy emplacements and enabled his company to advance and secure its objective.”
Promoted to staff sergeant for his incredible valor under fire, Garcia returned to American soil in February 1945. On August 23, President Harry Truman presented him with the Medal of Honor. For his faithful service during the Second World War, Garcia was also awarded the Purple Heart, Bronze Star Medal, and the Combat Infantryman’s Badge.
Not long after settling back at home, this incredible war hero was shamefully denied service at a restaurant in Richmond, Texas because of his ethnicity. A violent brawl broke out and the restaurant owner reportedly beat Garcia with a baseball bat. The man who had so courageously served his nation in uniform was taken to jail and released the following morning. Charges were eventually filed against Garcia, but as Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Jen S. Martinez writes, his “case became a symbol of the Hispanic civil rights movement, and support came pouring in for his defense.” Richmond County ultimately dropped the charges against Garcia.
Garcia would continue to be a civil rights leader for his community throughout his life. In fact, in November 1963, he was part of a group of Hispanic veterans and civil rights advocates at a gala in Houston, Texas, where President John F. Kennedy discussed U.S. and Hispanic foreign policy. One day later, the 35th president of the United States was tragically assassinated in Dallas.
Marcario Garcia gained his well deserved U.S. citizenship in 1947 and also received his high school diploma in 1951. He later worked as a counselor at a Veteran’s administration. Garcia passed away on December 24, 1972 and was buried with full military honors at Houston National Cemetery.
Congressional Medal of Honor Society: Marcario Garcia