Thursday, June 28, 2012

TFH 6/28: SP4 Hector Santiago-Colón, USA

Hector Santiago-Colón was born in Salinas, Puerto Rico on December 20, 1942. In 1960, he moved with his family to New York City, where he soon aspired to join the New York City Police Department as a police officer. At the time, one had to be a veteran to be admitted to the department, so he volunteered for the United States Army.

He was sent to Vietnam to fight with the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) as part of the 5th Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment. On June 28, 1968 during combat in the Quang Tri Province, a North Vietnamese soldier crept up to the position Santiago-Colón was manning with several other soldiers under cover of darkness and withering enemy fire and hurled in a grenade.

With just seconds until the grenade killed them all, Santiago-Colón chose instead to sacrifice himself to save the lives of his comrades. Our nation recognized his ultimate courage and sacrifice with its highest honor.

From Medal of Honor Citations for the Vietnam War (M-Z):


Rank and organization: Specialist Fourth Class, U.S. Army, Company B, 5th Battalion, 7th Cavalry, 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile). Place and date: Quang Tri Province, Republic of Vietnam, 28 June 1968. Entered service at: New York, N.Y. Born: 20 December 1942, Salinas, Puerto Rico. Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. Sp4c. Santiago-Colon distinguished himself at the cost of his life while serving as a gunner in the mortar platoon of Company B. While serving as a perimeter sentry, Sp4c. Santiago-Colon heard distinct movement in the heavily wooded area to his front and flanks. Immediately he alerted his fellow sentries in the area to move to their foxholes and remain alert for any enemy probing forces. From the wooded area around his position heavy enemy automatic weapons and small-arms fire suddenly broke out, but extreme darkness rendered difficult the precise location and identification of the hostile force. Only the muzzle flashes from enemy weapons indicated their position. Sp4c. Santiago-Colon and the other members of his position immediately began to repel the attackers, utilizing hand grenades, antipersonnel mines and small-arms fire. Due to the heavy volume of enemy fire and exploding grenades around them, a North Vietnamese soldier was able to crawl, undetected, to their position. Suddenly, the enemy soldier lobbed a hand grenade into Sp4c. Santiago-Colon's foxhole. Realizing that there was no time to throw the grenade out of his position, Sp4c. Santiago-Colon retrieved the grenade, tucked it in to his stomach and, turning away from his comrades, absorbed the full impact of the blast. His heroic self-sacrifice saved the lives of those who occupied the foxhole with him, and provided them with the inspiration to continue fighting until they had forced the enemy to retreat from the perimeter. By his gallantry at the cost of his life and in the highest traditions of the military service, Sp4c. Santiago-Colon has reflected great credit upon himself, his unit, and the U.S. Army.

Santiago-Colón appears on Panel 54W, Line 13 of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial; his name is also inscribed on the Monumento de la Recordación in San Juan, Puerto Rico. He rests in peace at the Cementerio Municipal de Salinas in Salinas, Puerto Rico.

The Puerto Rico National Guard - as well as active and reserve units from the mainland United States - hold exercises at the Camp Santiago Joint Maneuver Training Center in Salinas, named for Hector Santiago-Colón.

The 1st Cavalry Division today is a combined-arms formation based at Fort Hood, Texas. The present day incarnation Santiago-Colón's Vietnam-era unit - 5th Squadron, 7th Cavalry - is today the armored reconnaissance squadron of the 1st Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division based at Fort Stewart, Georgia.

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