Silvestre Santana Herrera MOH

b. 31/12/1916 Chihuahua, Mexico. d. 26/11/2007 Glendale, Arizona.

DATE OF MOH ACTION: 15/03/1945 near Merzwiller, France.

Silvestre S Herrera MOH

Herrera was born in the Mexican city of Camargo, Chihuahua, and not, as he believed until he was twenty-seven, in El Paso, Texas. His parents died in an influenza epidemic when he was only a year old, and the man he had thought was his father was really an uncle who had brought the 18-month-old Herrera there to provide him with a better life in the United States. Herrera worked as a farm hand, marrying and raising a family in El Paso before moving to Phoenix, Arizona with his American wife Ramona and three children, Mary, Elva, Silvestre, Jr. and his uncle. When the United States entered World War II Herrera was drafted into the Texas National Guard, 36th Division. Expecting yet another child, Herrera felt it would be important for his parents to be there for him while he was gone and so went to break the news.

That is when the man Herrera had believed to be his father gave him the stunning news of his Mexican birth, and said, “Son, you don’t have to go, they can’t draft you…you aren’t an American citizen.” Even in the face of these multiple shocks, and a perfect opportunity to dodge the war, Herrera was unswayed. As he later related, “I thought, I’m going anyway. I didn’t want anybody to die in my place… I felt that I had my adopted country that had been so nice to me. I thought, I have an American wife and the kids and one on the way.” It was only the first of several life-changing acts of heroism Herrera would take.

The 142d Infantry landed in Italy in the autumn of 1944 to stage for its deployment in France. Upon the completion of Operation Dragoon in mid-September Mediterranean French ports were liberated. The 142nd landed in Marseilles in the Fall, then deployed near the front in the Alsace region in early March 1945.

On March 15, kick-off day of Operation Undertone, an attack on German positions along a 75 km line from Saarbrücken to Haguenau, 1945 Herrera’s unit found itself engaged in combat in a forest in the vicinity of the Bas-Rhine town of Mertzwiller, 5 miles northwest of Haguenau. His platoon came under heavy enemy machine gun fire from the woods, forcing most of the men to seek cover. Herrera charged the enemy stronghold single-handedly, firing his M1 rifle from his hip and ending the threat with a pair of grenades. Eight enemy soldiers threw down their weapons and surrendered.

Later that same day, his platoon was attacked and pinned down by a second enemy stronghold, protected by an extensive mine field. Ignoring the danger Herrera again single-handedly charged, seeking to draw fire away from his comrades. A mine exploded and shattered one leg below the knee. Staggering up on his good leg he stepped on a second, severing that leg below the knee. Still Herrera laid machine gun fire while kneeling, allowing members of his platoon to skirt the mine field and capture the enemy position.

As Herrera lay in the Army hospital recovering from his wounds, President Truman was not sure the young man would be well enough for a formal presentation of the Medal of Honor. However, on August 23, 1945, Silvestre rolled his wheelchair across the White House lawn so that the President could present him with his award.

“He told me he would rather be awarded the Medal of Honor than be president of the United States,” Herrera recalled in a 2005 interview. “That made me even more proud.” A year after Herrera received his White House presentation of the Medal of Honor from President Truman, the Government of Mexico presented him with its Order of Military Merit (First Class).

Herrera became the first resident from Arizona to receive the Medal of Honor during World War II. Arizona Governor Sidney P. Osborn declared August 14, 1945 to be “Herrera Day” and welcomed home Pfc. Silvestre S. Herrera with a hero’s parade. A drive to bestow upon him citizenship of the only country he knew was started and as a result he was granted United States Citizenship. The citizens of Arizona raised $14,000 to provide him and his growing family with a new home.

Valle Del Sol, Inc. recognized Herrera with a Special Recognition Award in 1994, and with a Hall of Fame award in 1999. On March 13, 1996, Herrera was honored by the United States House of Representatives upon recommendation of Congressman Ed Pastor. An elementary school in Phoenix, Arizona – the Silvestre S Herrera School – bears his name.



He advanced with a platoon along a wooded road until stopped by heavy enemy machine-gun fire. As the rest of the unit took cover, he made a one-man frontal assault on a strongpoint and captured eight enemy soldiers. When the platoon resumed its advance and was subjected to fire from a second emplacement beyond an extensive minefield, Pvt. Herrera again moved forward, disregarding the danger of exploding mines, to attack the position. He stepped on a mine and had both feet severed; but, despite intense pain and unchecked loss of blood, he pinned down the enemy with accurate rifle fire while a friendly squad captured the enemy gun by skirting the minefield and rushing in from the flank. The magnificent courage, extraordinary heroism, and willing self-sacrifice displayed by Pvt. Herrera resulted in the capture of two enemy strongpoints and the taking of eight prisoners.