A Real-Life Hero: Remembering My Uncle On Veteran’s Day

Manuel Diaz Bronze Star

Remembering my uncle,

Manuel Diaz,

on Veterans Day.

Above, Manuel Diaz formally receives his Bronze Star for exemplary Army ground combat at his belated presentation ceremony in Los Alamitos, California, in 2009 — 60 years after it was handed to him by his commander in 1948 in a plain black box with a simple statement of, “This is or you. You deserve this.”

Manuel also received the Silver Star for charging an enemy pillbox and capturing eight soldiers, the Combat Infantry Badge, World War II Victory Medal, Occupation Medal and the Presidential Unit Citation. He fought three campaigns in Southern France, Central Europe and Rhineland.

Manuel Diaz, happy to properly receive his prestigious Bronze Star award in front of his family and community. Photo: Paul Rodriguez, Orange County Register.

Manuel Diaz was happy to properly receive his prestigious Bronze Star award in front of his family, community and fellow veterans. His ceremony was also broadcast on Los Angeles area TV news broadcasts that evening.   Photo: Paul Rodriguez, Orange County Register.

When the war was over, he re-enlisted and stayed in Germany working as an Army police officer patrolling the autobahn…and he fell in love with a German girl somewhere along the way.  During their love affair, much of Europe was in shambles and he wanted to surprise (and impress) his girlfriend with a new pair of shoes, but couldn’t find out what her shoe size was without telling her, so he sent home a shoestring cut to the length of the girl’s foot and told his little brother, Nick, and his mother to get the girl a new pair of shoes based on the size of the string.  They laughed as they told this story over and over through the years.

My great-grandmother often took the Red Car Trolley to Downtown Los Angeles and buy the girl “stylish American shoes and clothes” and sent them back to Europe.  

Having lived an admirable life, Manuel passed away peacefully this year at 90.  At my grandpa’s funeral last December, as frail as he was, he begged to be a pallbearer saying, “I want to carry my little brother, Nick.”  That’s the legacy of my family, always helping, never giving up and fighting for what’s right — but it’s not just my family — it’s a standard character trait of every Mexican-American/Mexican immigrant/Latino/Indigenous American family that I know.

And it’s quite sad that on this Veteran’s Day, Donald Trump is still spewing his Hitler-esque rhetoric toward the Mexican community, because Mexicans-Americans have earned more medals of honor and other decorations than any other ethnic group, showing we are quite the opposite of his hate-speech.  We don’t “take” from this country (because it’s actually our motherland, anyway), we make it better. 

So, Trump, every night when you lay your frizzled, dyed orange hair on your pillow at night, think of these Mexican-American men and women who fought and died to give you the freedom and privilege to do what you do every day.


Among the Valiant


Above: Dr. Hector P. Garcia, founder of the American G.I. Forum, presenting “Among the Valiant” to then-Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson, who also wrote the foreward for the book.

The stories of my uncle’s ground combat missions can also be found in a book titled “Among the Valiant”, a book about the contribution of Mexican-Americans in World War II and the Korean War, with an introduction from then-Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson.

Letter from Robert F. Kennedy to author of "Among the Valiant", Raul Morin

Letter from Robert F. Kennedy to author of “Among the Valiant”, Raul Morin

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