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Sergeant First Class Modesto Cartagena

Mar 7, 2012 | Blog

Our nation has been blessed with men and women who answer the call to serve in the military. While all of our veterans deserve our gratitude and respect, there are some whose efforts deserve additional recognition. I recently learned of Sergeant First Class Modesto Cartagena’s story of service.

Sgt. Cartagena served in WWII and the Korean War in the segregated 65th Infantry, an all Puerto Rican unit often referred to as the “Borinqueneers”. His actions in Korea earned him the Distinguished Service Cross, second-highest military decoration for valor, second only to the Medal of Honor. The citation for his Distinguished Service Cross reads:

“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.”

Sgt. Cartagena passed away two years ago and at his funeral, Puerto Rico Governor Luis Fortuño promised to seek a posthumous Medal of Honor. Today, I wrote to Secretary of the Army, John McHugh requesting “an in-depth review by the Army, and ultimately consideration for the Congressional Medal of Honor.” Sgt. Cartagena’s actions deserve to be recognized with our nation’s highest medal for valor in combat.