Published December 07, 2012
On December 7, 1941, a day that will live in infamy, Rudy Martinez was a young sailor who had just left his family in San Diego for Pearl Harbor in Hawaii.
That morning, the 21-year-old Navy Electrician's mate 3rd class was aboard the USS Utah battleship when the vessel was suddenly and deliberately struck by two Japanese torpedoes in the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Within minutes of being struck, the USS Utah sank, trapping Martinez, six officers, and 52 other men who went down with the ship.
A Mexican American, Martinez officially became the first Hispanic to be killed in World War II. Martinez was awarded the Purple Heart and World II Victory Medals posthumously.
Martinez was a high school wrestling champion and became a featherweight boxer. Since then the American Legion Post 624 in Mansfield, Texas has been renamed The Rudolph M. Martinez Post.
His final written letter home asked for a photo of his mother.
Martinez's death marked the beginning of the Latino impact on World War II.
About half a million Latinos served during the war. Gen. Douglas MacArthur called the Arizona National Guard's 158th Infantry Regiment "Bushmasters," "One of the greatest fighting combat teams ever deployed for battle." The regiment was comprised of many Latino Soldiers.
In the years since, Latinos in the United States have increasingly become a part of the history and fabric of the strongest military the world has ever known.
The history of Latinos in the Army spans from the War of 1812, when Latinos played their first major role in what some term "America's second war of independence," to the most recent Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
More than 40 Latinos have received the Congressional Medal of Honor, the nation's highest military decoration.
The latest Latino recipient of the Medal was Sergeant First Class Leroy Petry (Army) for his heroism during a battle in Afghanistan.