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Fort Drum community members celebrate National Hispanic Heritage Month with an observance Sept. 18 at the Commons, hosted by 1st Brigade Combat Team. Below, retired Command Sgt. Maj. Victor Rivera-Collazo, who served at Fort Drum with 3rd Battalion, 6th Field Artillery Regiment and 4th Battalion, 25th Field Artillery Regiment, addresses the audience. (Photos by Mike Strasser, Fort Drum Garrison Public Affairs)


Fort Drum community members celebrate during National Hispanic Heritage Month


Mike Strasser

Fort Drum Garrison Public Affairs


FORT DRUM, N.Y. (Sept. 19, 2019) – Photos of prominent Hispanic and Latino Americans flashed across the video screen during the National Hispanic Heritage Month observance Sept. 18 at Fort Drum.

Hispanic Heritage Month 2 wb.jpgAfter retired Command Sgt. Maj. Victor M. Rivera-Collazo saw the image of Sgt. Modesto Cartagena – a war hero probably unfamiliar to many in the audience – he approached the podium as guest speaker, eager to share a story about the veteran.

Cartagena was a member of the 65th Infantry Regiment, a unit composed entirely of Puerto Rican enlisted men. He first entered its ranks during World War II and later re-enlisted at the outbreak of the Korean War. Cartagena would emerge as the most decorated Hispanic Soldier in that war, and he would continue to serve until his retirement in 1971.

“I knew Modesto as an old man from my hometown,” Rivera-Collazo said. “I grew up where he was born; I was raised where he was raised. And I crossed paths with that old man, and he never talked once about his service in combat. The most decorated man in the 65th Infantry Regiment, with 38 awards from that war. I didn’t know that. I found out yesterday.”

Rivera-Collazo also just found out that he is related to Cartagena, after talking with Family Members.

“All these years – I served 30-plus years in the military, not knowing that I had a Family Member who was a war hero,” he said. “Today is a day to remember – if I wasn’t asked to speak here today I would have never found out that I was related to him.”

Rivera-Collazo said that he was proud to learn how Cartagena took it upon himself to destroy enemy emplacements in battle, even while taking shrapnel hits from incoming grenades. In actuality, Cartagena believed his squad mates were following him, and he didn’t know they were either wounded or forced to take cover. For his actions, Cartagena was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.

“That’s the importance of today, that people like him are not forgotten,” he said. “Just like you who wear the uniform today, we won’t forget about you.”

Rivera-Collazo said that Cartagena was not alone in distinguishing himself during the Korean War. Within the ranks of the 65th Infantry Regiment, 10 service members were awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, 606 were awarded Bronze Stars with Valor and 2,771 Soldiers received Purple Hearts.

“The history of the 65th is so rich,” he said. “The reason they were named the 65th Infantry Regiment is because 65,000 volunteered in 1899 to become a part of the first militia from Puerto Rico.”

Like Cartagena, Rivera-Collazo said that he was raised poor in a large family. When he enlisted 1977, he discovered that the Army values were in synch with how his parents raised him.

“The only challenge I had was the English language,” he said. “That was my only challenge. I was embraced by my commanders, embraced by NCOs and peers.”

Rivera-Collazo said that he will never forget the Soldier who taught him English by reading comic books during basic training.

“I would read it out loud, and he would correct me to make sure I got it right,” he said.

Rivera-Collazo said that there is no better Army in the world, and it is because of the people who serve.

“It’s because we come together as one family,” he said. “We are not divided by the color of our skin. We are the greatest Army in the world because we have diversity – different cultures, different languages, different sets of skills.”

The National Hispanic Heritage Month observance was hosted by 1st Brigade Combat Team.

National Hispanic Heritage Month is observed annually from Sept. 15 through Oct. 15 to celebrate the history, culture and contributions of Hispanic Americans. It started as a weeklong observance under President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1968, but was expanded by President Ronald Reagan in 1988.

The observance begins on Sept. 15 in recognition of the anniversary of independence for the Latin American countries of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. In addition, Mexico and Chile celebrate their independence days on Sept. 16 and Sept. 18, respectively.