Rudy Martinez: The Beginning of the Latino Impact in World War II

BY: 
Susanne Ramírez de Arellano
 | December 8, 2022

Credit: Nuestro Stories

His final letter home asked for a picture of his mother. Amelia. The following letter she received informed her that her son, Rudolph “Rudy” Machado Martinez, had died in the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor. 

Martinez was a 21-year-old Mexican-American sailor with the U.S. Navy, one of the more than 500,000 Latinos who fought for the United States in World War II. 

Raised in San Diego, he was a former high school wrestling champion and boxer. Martinez had just left his family to join the U.S. Navy. He was stationed at Pearl Harbor on the USS Utah as an Electrician’s mate 3rd class, probably one of the youngest in his class.  

On December 7, 1941, a date that, in the words of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, would “live in infamy,” the Imperial Japanese navy launched a surprise attack on the U.S. military base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. 

Rudy Martinez would become the first Latino casualty of World War II, killed during the Japanese attack. He was stationed in Hawaii when his battleship, the USS Utah, was hit by two Japanese torpedoes. Fifty-eight men, including Martinez, were trapped in the vessel and died when it sank that day.

Martinez and his mates serve the ship even today, 81 years later, entombed within the USS Utah. He posthumously received a Purple Heart and World War II Victory Medals for serving his country. In addition, the American Legion Post 624 in Mansfield, Texas, was renamed in his honor.

The telegram his mother, Amelia, received read: “The Navy Department deeply regrets to inform you that your son Rudolph Machado Martinez…was lost in action in the performance of his duty and the service of his country. The department extends to you its sincerest sympathy in your great loss.

Martinez’s death began the surge of Latinos in the US military in World War II. As mentioned above, about half a million Latinos served in that war. 

Read more: The Garibaldi Guard is Another Example of How Crucial Hispanics Have Been to the U.S.

The significance of Rudy Martinez and Latinos in US wars

Even Gen. Douglas MacArthur had to admit how good a fighting force Latinos were and how much they contributed to the US’s eventual victory. 

MacArthur called the Arizona National Guard’s 158th Infantry Regiment, known as “Bushmasters” and made up of many Latino soldiers, “one of the greatest fighting combat teams ever deployed for battle.” 

The history of Latinos in the Army begins with the War of 1812 when Latino soldiers fought in what some call “America’s second war of independence.” Latino soldiers in the US military are still prominent today in the most recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Over 40 Latinos have received the Congressional Medal of Honor, the U.S.’s highest military decoration.

The Martinez family was kind enough to donate his Purple Heart, the telegram that announced his death, and other items to the Pearl Harbor National Museum.

We must understand and celebrate how Latinos have been instrumental in fighting wars in the name of the US – so that the Latinos born in the United States understand how much a part of this nation they are. 

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