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Honoring the Legacy | Honoring Dr. Garcia |
The American GI Forum (AGIF) was founded on March 26,1948 in Corpus Christi, Texas by Dr. Hector Perez Garcia, an Army veteran medical doctor. Dr. Garcia returned from World War II proud of his accomplishments and eager to participate in the American Dream. To his dismay, he witnessed and experienced what Hispanic servicemen across the country were encountering in the pursuit of the American Dream—Deeply rooted prejudice. With nothing more than his determination to overcome these injustices, he successfully formed the American GI Forum, a formidable and patriotic organization. Through it, he helped break down many of the barriers all Hispanic Americans faced in a country that embraced the principles of freedom and justice, but only offered them to a select few.
His leadership and his work led to several high-level appointments by U.S. Presidents including an Ambassadorship to the United Nations. On March 26, 1984, President Ronald Reagan awarded him the nation’s highest civilian medal, the Presidential Medal of Freedom. It was an honor worthy of a man who knows very keenly the meaning of freedom.
Dr. Hector P. Garcia passed away on July 26, 1996, but many reminders of his legacy exist for future generations to remember his work. A statue of Dr. Hector P. Garcia stands on the campus at Texas A;M, Corpus Christi, in a plaza named in his honor. It was unveiled a few weeks before his death. Many schools, post offices, government buildings and libraries throughout the state and country bear his name. Most recently a National Guard Armory was re-named in his honor. Every 10 years, since 1948 the National Convention of the American GI Forum convenes and is hosted by the Hector P. Garcia Chapter of Corpus Christi, Texas, the first chapter and the birthplace of the American GI Forum of Texas and of the United States.
Honoring the Life and Legacy of Hector P. Garcia
By U.S. Sen. John Cornyn
Texas Insider Report: WASHINGTON, DC – This month marks 64 years since a young, bold ; compassionate Army veteran and physician set out to ensure that veterans received equal benefits and care regardless of their race or ethnicity. On March 26, 1948, Dr. Hector P. Garcia was joined by more than 700 fellow Mexican-American veterans in forming the American GI Forum in Corpus Christi, Texas.
Garcia, then 34, had attained the rank of major in the Army Medical Corps for his service in World War II. He was born in Mexico and brought as a young boy to Mercedes, Texas, in 1917, as his parents fled the Mexican Revolution.
He proved to be an able student, graduating from the University of Texas Medical School in 1940. He later joined the U.S. Army, serving as an infantryman, a combat engineer and a medical doctor during World War II. His distinguished service earned him the Bronze Star and six battle stars in Italy.
Upon returning from the war to Corpus Christi, Garcia began working with the Veterans Administration. He was disappointed when he noticed a disturbing trend: many of his fellow Mexican-American veterans were not receiving proper medical treatment and educational benefits. “I had to learn the Constitution to become a citizen,” Garcia said. “I knew all the rights, all the things that it gave us.”
Many of the Mexican-Americans who served in World War II served not as officers, but as enlisted infantrymen and gunboat attendants on the front lines of battle. They made great sacrifices and shared a strong sense of accomplishment, noted by historian Henry Ramos: “These were highly courageous individuals who fought with fervor and conviction for the nation they represented.”
However, many returning Mexican-American service members met long delays and general neglect when they sought the educational, financial and health benefits promised to them under the GI Bill. In Texas, the rate of receipt of VA checks for Mexican-Americans was typically six to eight months longer than their fellow veterans.
Delays marked their applications for formal schooling, often preventing them from registering for school on time, and health care needs were being neglected. In Corpus Christi, which was predominantly Hispanic, the city-county health unit had classified 34 percent of the area’s family dwelling units as substandard in 1948. The death rate from tuberculosis was nearly twice the average for the state of Texas.