Silvestre S. Herrera, first Arizonan to win Medal of Honor

From the East Valley Tribune, November 9, 2007:

World War II veteran Silvestre S. Herrera, left, is applauded Thursday by Dr. Connie Mariano, veteran and former White House physician. Mariano gave a speech honoring veterans at a ceremony in Scottsdale.

“HEROES SALUTE: World War II veteran Silvestre S. Herrera, left, is applauded Thursday by Dr. Connie Mariano, veteran and former White House physician. Mariano gave a speech honoring veterans at a ceremony in Scottsdale.”
Photo by Bettina Hansen, For the Tribune

For Veterans Day this year, they gathered in Scottsdale, Arizona — mostly local veterans. Among them was World War II vet Silvestre Herrera, who fought in France.

One by one, veterans took their turn shaking hands and exchanging nods of respect with war hero Silvestre S. Herrera, 91, as he stood proudly wearing his Medal of Honor around his neck.

About 40 people gathered in 90-degree heat in north Scottsdale admiring a presentation of colors and listening in reverence to a high school band play in honor of the upcoming Veterans Day.

“It was very touching,” said Jackie Wolf, executive sales director for Classic Residence at Silverstone, where the event took place Thursday on a breezy patio.

It was fitting, somber and joyful all at once. A lot of veterans, paying honor to all veterans. [More below the fold]

Several veterans were honored at Thursday’s event, including Herrera, the only living person to wear the U.S. Medal of Honor and Mexico’s Order of Military Merit, and another World War II hero, former 2nd Lt. John Newell III.

Herrera, who was a U.S. Army private first class, was fighting in Mertzwiller, France. While charging the enemy, his feet were blown off by a land mine, but he still managed to continue to pin down an enemy line.

For his heroism, he was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Harry S. Truman in 1945.

“His one-man charge on an enemy stronghold resulted in his single-handed capture of eight enemy soldiers,” Wolf said as Herrera sat blushing in his chair, hands resting on his walker.

Newell shuffled past other veterans gathered around after a speech about Herrera.

“My respects to you,” Newell said, shaking Herrera’s hand firmly.

An awareness pervaded the room. This was not just to honor the famous, the medal winners; the medal winners were there to honor all veterans, especially their friends, colleagues and defenders who did not come back.

Newell fought in the Battle of the Bulge in France from December 1944 to January 1945 against Germany in its last offensive.

The 81-year-old Newell, who was also awarded several honors for his heroism, including the Bronze Star for ground combat, said he was only 19 when he first went to war.

“I know the horrors of war,” he said. “But receiving a medal is like the luck of the Irish, because there is heroism that goes on all over … unrecognized.”

That was early in November.  Silvestre S. Herrera died last Monday, November 26, in his Glendale, Arizona home. He was 90.

Herrera was the first Arizona resident to win the nation’s highest award for valor during the war.

Herrera was a private with the 36th Infantry Division in March, 1945 when his unit came under fire by enemy machine guns as it was advancing up a road near Mertzwiller, France.

According to the Medal of Honor citation, the rest of his unit took cover but Herrera made a one-man frontal assault on the enemy position and captured eight soldiers. As his platoon again began advancing, another gun emplacement opened fire, and he again advanced alone, this time through a minefield. He stepped on a mine and both his feet were blown off, but he kept firing until another squad captured the second emplacement.

“The magnificent courage, extraordinary heroism, and willing self-sacrifice displayed by Pvt. Herrera resulted in the capture of 2 enemy strongpoints and the taking of 8 prisoners,” the citation reads.

Herrera once said he didn’t consider himself a particularly brave man.

“I was one of the lucky ones, to live to be awarded the Medal of Honor,” he said.

After the war, he worked as an artisan crafting leather and raised seven children.

In 1956, an elementary school was named after him in Phoenix, and an Army Reserve training center in Mesa was named after him in 2002.

In a 2005 interview with The Arizona Republic, Herrera recalled receiving the Medal of Honor from President Truman during a ceremony on the White House lawn.

“He told me he would rather be awarded the Medal of Honor than be president of the United States,” Herrera said. “That made me even more proud.”

(Associated Press story in The Army Times)

Please play nice in the Bathtub -- splash no soap in anyone's eyes. While your e-mail will not show with comments, note that it is our policy not to allow false e-mail addresses. Comments with non-working e-mail addresses may be deleted.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: