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Private Marcelino Serna
Legislators in Texas would like to see a U.S. Army war hero bestowed with the Medal of Honor, despite the fact that the accomplished veteran was not an American citizen at the time of his bravery.
Marcelino Serna, born in Chihuahua City, Mexico, crossed the Rio Grande in 1916, looking for employment. He was working the sugar beet fields near Denver, Colo., when the U.S. entered World War I a year later. Serna volunteered for the army, and after only three weeks of training and still unable to speak English, he was shipped overseas.
Serna returned from Europe a decorated war hero, earning medals of merit and honor from France, Great Britain, Italy and the Distinguished Service Cross from the U.S. Army.
After the war, Serna was discharged at Camp Bowie near Brownwood, Texas, and settled in El Paso. He became an American citizen five years later.
And though Serna passed away in 1992 at the age of 95, Texas lawmakers are renewing an effort to posthumously bestow upon Serna the nation’s highest military decoration, the Medal of Honor.
The El Paso Times reports that State Rep. Joe Pickett, D-El Paso, last week presented a resolution on Serna’s case to the Texas House Committee on Defense and Veterans’ Affairs.
“So many of these stories that are now being told can be told, stories that were pushed aside decades ago because of the roots of many of these soldiers,” Pickett told WND. “Marcelino Serna barely spoke English, but he came to the U.S., fought for his adopted country, was a decorated hero and got the second highest award you can get from the United States. His heritage may have been why he got the second highest and not the highest.”
WND asked Pickett if Serna’s status as an illegal immigrant at the time should matter in granting the soldier the Medal of Honor.
“It should make absolutely no difference,” Pickett replied.
In 1917, Serna picked up by federal officials and held until his draft status could be verified. Rather than wait, Serna volunteered for the army. His status as Mexican national was not discovered until after he arrived in France with his Army unit.
Through a translator, Serna was offered a discharge and the chance to return to Mexico. Instead, Serna told his captain he wanted to remain with his friends and fight for the United States.
In an interview with El Paso Times reporter Bill Birch in 1962, Serna recalled vivid memories of the acts of bravery that earned him 11 medals of merit and valor from 4 countries.
“I saw a sniper walking on a trench bank and wounded him from about 200 yards away,” Serna said. “I followed his trail into a trench and heard some German soldiers talking. I saw four of them and started shooting. I got three of them.”
For the next 45 minutes, according to Serna’s account, he inched ever closer to the German position, moving and attacking often from different angles to fool the enemy into believing Serna, an advance scout, was actually several U.S. soldiers. Eventually, he got close enough to throw grenades.
“They ran into the dugout and I lobbed three grenades into it right behind them,” recalled Serna. “They came out with their hands up. I captured 24 and about 26 were killed in action. I herded them into a tight group with a .45 automatic in one hand and a Luger, which I had picked up, in the other. After a few minutes I was able to fire an SOS flare and my buddies came to help me.”
Four days before the Armistice was signed at the end of the war, Serna was shot by a sniper in both legs.
Serna told Birch, “I went down and that probably saved my life. … In a little while, I was able to get up and hobble toward our lines, using my rifle as a crutch.”
Army records state that Serna killed three dozen enemy soldiers and captured nearly the same number, the Times reports.
Following his service, Serna was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross and Purple Heart by the U.S., the Allied Victory Medal, Italy’s War Merit Cross and seven medals from France. A history project published in El Paso Community College’s annual, Borderlands, asserts that Serna was the most highly decorated World War I soldier in Texas.
The Times reports that two previous attempts have been made to bestow Serna with the Medal of Honor, but both failed.
In 1995, former U.S. Rep. Ronald Coleman, D-Texas, introduced legislation in Washington to award Serna the Medal of Honor, but the bill stalled in committee. In 2004, Texas State Rep. Juan Manuel Escobar, D-Kingsville, introduced a resolution similar to Pickett’s asking Congress to award the honor. That measure also failed.
Pickett’s resolution, however, has passed in the Texas House committee and full Senate. It awaits a vote on the floor of the House before it can be sent on Washington, D.C.
To be awarded the Medal of Honor, a member of the U.S. Congress must then agree to Pickett’s resolution by nominating Serna for the honor, followed by approval through a special act of Congress.