Sergeant First Class Modesto Cartagena
(born 1920), is a former soldier who served in the 65th Infantry Regiment
, an all Puerto Rican
regiment also known as "The Borinqueneers
", during World War II
and the Korean War
. He is the most decorated Puerto Rican soldier in history.
Cartagena was raised in the mountains of Cayey, Puerto Rico
to a poor family during the Great Depression
. Cartagena enlisted in the U. S. Army
in San Juan
and was assigned to the 65th Infantry
, which was also known as the Borinqueneers, because it was made up entirely of Puerto Rican enlisted men. During World War II
he served in units guarding military installations in the Caribbean
and later in the Allied
occupation of Germany
. Cartagena was discharged after the 65th Infantry Regiment returned to Puerto Rico.
Upon the outbreak of the Korean War in 1951, Cartagena reenlisted and entered the Army with the rank of Sergeant. He was assigned to Company C, 65 Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division. Cartagena, "with no regard for his own safety", as the official record states, left his position, and charged directly into devastating enemy fire, single-handedly destroying two enemy emplacements on Hill 206, near "Yonch'on", North Korea
. After taking out the emplacements, he was knocked to the ground twice by exploding enemy grenades, nevertheless, he got up and attacked three more times, each time destroying an enemy emplacement until he was wounded. On October 19
, during a ceremony honoring the 65th Infantry, when he was asked about the battle, Modesto responded that he just hurled back at the Chinese
the grenades thrown at him. He thought that the rest of the squad was behind him, and didn't realize most of them had been wounded and forced to take cover. According to 1st Lt. Reinaldo Deliz-Santiago
"Sgt. Cartagena's actions prevented much heavier casualties within my platoon and I feel that his courage and superior leadership and own initiative were decisive factors for the accomplishment of the mission of the unit"
Cartagena was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross (DSC) which is the second highest military decoration of the United States Army (second to the Medal of Honor), awarded for extreme gallantry and risk of life in actual combat with an armed enemy force.
Distinguished Service Cross CitationCARTAGENA, MODESTO
The Distinguished Service Cross is presented to Modesto Cartagena (RA10404100), Sergeant, U.S. Army, for extraordinary heroism in connection with military operations against an armed enemy of the United Nations while serving with Company C, 1st Battalion, 65th Infantry Regiment, 3d Infantry Division. Sergeant Cartagena distinguished himself by extraordinary heroism in action against enemy aggressor forces in the vicinity of Yonch'on, Korea, on 19 April 1951. On that date, Company C was assigned the mission of capturing Hill 206, a terrain feature dominating a critical road junction. When the company assaulted the summit, it encountered stubborn resistance from a well-entrenched and fanatically determined hostile force. Sergeant Cartagena, directed to move his squad forward in order to approach the enemy positions from another ridgeline, led his men toward the objective, but, almost immediately, the group was forced to seek cower from an intense and accurate volume of small-arms and automatic-weapons fire. Locating the hostile emplacements that posed the greatest obstacle to the advance of the friendly forces, Sergeant Cartagena left his position and, charging directly into the devastating enemy fire he hurled a grenade at the first emplacement, totally destroying it. Ordering his squad to remain under cover, he successfully and single-handedly assaulted the second enemy position. Although knocked to the ground by exploding enemy grenades, Sergeant Cartagena repeated this daring action three more times. Finally, an increased volume of fire from the remaining hostile emplacements was concentrated on him and he was wounded. The extraordinary heroism and completely selfless devotion, to duty displayed by Sergeant Cartagena throughout this action enabled the company to secure its objective successfully with a minimum of casualties, reflect great credit on himself and are in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service.
Headquarters, Eighth U.S. Army, Korea: General Orders No. 698 (September 16, 1951)
Home Town: , Puerto Rico
Modesto Cartagena spent 20 years in the Army before retiring as a Sergeant First Class, in 1971. As of 2004
, he lives in his native Cayey. Although long retired, he continues to be an active figure around the 65th Infantry Headquarters in Puerto Rico. He also has family in El Paso, Texas
. His family, upon learning of Modesto's actions, have taken it upon themselves to make a request to Congress
, that he be awarded the Medal of Honor
. They have received support on this quest from the Republican Veterans Committee. His supporters argue that the segregation policy of the army, at the time, and the limited English
capacity of his company members when filling out the forms for the application, resulted in the awarding of the nations' second highest decoration, "The Distinguished Service Cross
January 4, 2007, was officially declared as "SFC Modesto Cartagena Day"
in the City of Hartford, Connecticut. The proclamation by Mayor Eddie A. Perez can be viewed here: "SFC Modesto Cartagena Day" Proclamation
Military awards and decorations
Among Cartagena's numerous decorations are the following:
- The Greek Gold Medal of Bravery