On July 18, 2012, Sgt. Jose J. Reyes, 24, of San Lorenzo, Puerto Rico, sacrificed his life for his country in Afghanistan when a vehicle he was riding in was struck by an explosive device.
The untimely death of Sgt. Reyes recalls the long tradition of honor and sacrifice by thousands of Puerto Ricans who have fought with distinction on behalf of the United States to advance democracy abroad – all while not experiencing full democracy at home. As First Circuit Judge Juan Torruella explained in a 2005 court case:
We cannot overlook, and in fact we should take judicial notice of, the many official actions of the United States in promoting democratic elections throughout the world – not the least of which is its support for the recently held national elections in Afghanistan and Iraq, places where thousands of U.S. citizens from Puerto Rico serve, at least twenty-five of whom have lost their lives in support of the rights of the citizens of those countries to vote. The situations in Iraq and Afghanistan present the further anomaly of two classes of U.S. citizens, both fighting and dying side by side, only one of which was able to vote for its Commander in Chief.
It is difficult to quanify the number of Puerto Ricans who have lost their lives fighting to bring democracy to Iraq and Afghanastan. In light of their extensive migration to the states, many native Puerto Ricans do not enlist for service until they are residents of a state.
Puerto Rican soldiers have fought in every major U.S. military conflict from the Civil War on. Residents of Puerto Rico were granted U.S. citizenship by an act of Congress on March 2, 1917, making Puerto Ricans eligible to serve in the U.S. Army in World War I. Two months later, President Wilson signed a compulsory military service act, and almost 20,000 Puerto Ricans were eventually drafted into the military.
In testimony before the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources in 1989, Jesus Hernandez Sanchez, counsel of the Puerto Rico Veterans Association, summarized Puerto Rican participation and sacrifice in service to the United States:
[Puerto Rico veterans] are very proud of their past performance; 18,000 Puerto Ricans served in the United States armed forces in the First World War; 65,000 the Second World War, out of which 23 died in action; 61,000 during the Korean War, out of which 371 died in action. More than 3,000 were wounded in Korea; 48,000 [fought] in the Vietnam War, out of which 342 died in action and 3,000 were wounded.
Four congressional medals have been bestowed upon our four brave Puerto Ricans, who in self sacrificing actions and with democratic devotion, have given their life backing up the American ideals of liberty and equality.
In sum, our legal position is that since 1917, Congress, as in the case of Alaska, had the intention of incorporating the territory of Puerto Rico to the United States when it granted to us the American citizenship.
- For more information about the granting of U.S. citizenship to Puerto Ricans and related recruitment efforts for World War I click here.
- For more information about the personal toll of Puerto Rican casualties in Iraq click here.
- For commentary about the lack of democratic representation for Puerto Ricans despite their involvement in Iraq click here.