American Revolution to WWII
Serving America since its foundation, Hispanic officers such as Admiral David G. Farragut's father, Jorge Farragut Mesquido, was from the island of Minorca off Spain and fought against the British during the American Revolution. Folllowing his father into the Navy, David G. Farragut joined in 1810 while just twelve and remained commissioned until he passed away in 1870. Becoming a household name during the Civil War, he was victorious at New Orleans in 1862 and Mobile Bay in 1864. In 1862, Farragut became the Navy's first rear admiral. Serving with distinction in the Civil War, Seaman John Ortega was the first Hispanic American to receive the Medal of Hnor for his actions onboard USS Saratoga during the Union blockade in the fall of 1864. During the Second Battle of Fort Fisher in January 1865, Seaman Philip Bazar earned the Medal of Honor for heroism. A few years after the war, the U.S. Naval Academy graduated its first two Hispanic midshipmen Alberto de Ruiz in 1875 and Robert Lopez in 1879. Continuing this progression, Frederick L. Riefkohl became the first Puerto Rican to graduate from the Naval Academy in 1911, later receiving the Navy Cross for his actions on board USS Philadelphia (Cruiser #4) during a U-boat engagement. During World War I, Bandmaster Joe Conteras ledd the U.S. Navy band in Washington, D.C., a capacity he held for over twenty years.
In World War II, many of the graduates of the Naval Academy from the early part of the Twentieth Century were seasoned and in positions of leadership. During this period, as with other ethinic minorities in the country, strides were made for Hispanic Americans to achieve. Captain Marion Frederic Ramierz de Arellano became the first Hispanic American to command a submarine when he assumed command of USS Balao (SS-285). Excellence in aviation came from Commander Henry G. Sanchez who lead Fighter Squadron Seventy Two (VF-72) onboard USS Hornet (CV-8) and Lieutenant Eugene A. Valencia who downed 23 Japanese aircraft and became the Navy's third ranking ace of all time. Private First Class Harold Gonsalves, USMCR, was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions with the Fourth Battalion, Fifteenth Marines, Six Marine Division against the Japanese at Okinawa, Japan. Hispanic women also joined the patriotic fight for our country, such as Lieutenant Junior Grade Maria Rodriguez Denton, the first Hispanic officer in the WAVES. Serving as a communication officer, she delivered the end of the war message to President Harry S. Truman. During World War II, it is estimated that between 250,000 and 500,000 Hispanics served in the Armed Forces, with a large numer serving in the U.S. Navy.
Image: NH 49527: Admiral David G. Farragut. Photographed onboard USS Franklin. NHHC Photograph Collection.