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Family seeks Medal of Honor for Army hero
Ken Flynn
El Paso Times

El Pasoan Modesto Cartagena Jr., left, and his wife Alicia, right, are working to get a Medal of Honor for his father, Modesto Cartagena, center, of Puerto Rico, who served in the 3rd Infantry Division in 1951 in Korea.

How to help

To help Modesto Cartagena receive a Medal of Honor, write, call or e-mail:
  • RepublicanVeterans Committee, c/o David Thackston, El Paso County Republican Party, 1033B Hawkins, El Paso, TX 79915; 774-0467; [email protected] or www.elpasogop.org.
  • President George W. Bush, 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. P.O. Box 19300, Washington, DC 20036-9300; (202) 456-1414; [email protected]
  • U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, U.S. Senate, Washington, DC 20510; (202) 224-5922; senator@hutchison. senate.gov.
  • U.S. Sen. Phil Gramm, R-Texas, U.S. Senate, Washington, DC 20510; (202) 224-2934. In El Paso: 310 N. Mesa, Suite 318, El Paso, TX 79901; 534-6896; PhilGramm@gramm. senate.gov.
  • U.S. Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas, U.S. House of Representatives, Washington, DC 20515; (202) 225-4831. In El Paso: 310 N. Mesa, Suite 400, El Paso, TX 79901; 534-4400; www/house.gov/reyes.
  • U.S. Rep. Henry Bonilla, R-Texas, 1529 Longworth Office Building, Washington, DC 20515; (202) 225-4511; www.house.govwriterep.
  •     Hill 206 near Yonch'on, Korea, was heavily guarded on April 19, 1951, by a well-entrenched and fanatically determined hostile force, the U.S. Army reported.

    But the enemy didn't know they had to deal with one brave American sergeant, 31-year-old Modesto Cartagena from Company C, 65th Infantry Regiment, an all-Puerto Rican unit of the 3rd Infantry Division.

    With no regard for his own safety, the official Army report states, Cartagena left his position, charged directly into the devastating enemy fire and tossed a grenade into the first emplacement, totally destroying it.

    Ordering his men to remain under cover, Cartagena successfully and singlehandedly attacked and destroyed the second emplacement.

    A spry 83 and long retired from the U.S. Army as a staff sergeant after 20 years service, Cartagena lives in Cayey, Puerto Rico. He recently visited his son in El Paso, Modesto Cartagena Jr., 55. The younger Cartagena said his dad deserves the Medal of Honor.

    "There's more to the story," said the younger Cartagena, who is a retired Border Patrol agent. "Our entire family has gotten involved in this and we've received support from the Republican Veterans Committee to get my dad the medal he deserves."

    After taking out the second emplacement, the Army reported, Cartagena was knocked to the ground twice by exploding enemy grenades. He got up and attacked three more times, each time destroying an enemy emplacement.

    "Finally, an increased volume of fire from the one remaining hostile emplacement was focused on him (Cartagena) and he was wounded," the Army reported.

    The elder Cartagena said he has only one regret in life.

    "I'm just sorry that I'm too old to go to Afghanistan to fight," he said. "I'd do it all over again, if I could."

    Cartagena's daughter-in-law, Alicia, 55, who works at JCPenney in Cielo Vista Mall, has been doing research on her father-in-law's exploits, searching the Internet for news about Puerto Ricans in the military.

    "When the investigations began to award my dad a medal, it was difficult to get written testimony because all of the unit were Puerto Ricans and many of them had limited English proficiency," the younger Cartagena said. "The officer in charge wrote one account and passed it around for all the troops to read and sign, instead of getting more individual witnesses."

    For that reason, Cartagena received the Distinguished Service Cross, instead of the Medal of Honor, the son said.

    Cartagena's superiors had high praise for his courage, leadership and initiative.

    "Sgt. Cartagena's actions prevented much heavier casualties within my platoon and I feel that his courage and superior leadership and own initiative were decisive factors for the accomplishment of the mission of the unit," wrote 1st Lt. Reinaldo Deliz-Santiago.

    Cartagena's cause has been taken up by the Republican Veterans of Texas, a statewide organization dedicated to getting veterans involved in Republican politics and encouraging Republican officeholders to pay attention to veterans' issues, David Thackston, El Paso County Republican Party secretary, said.

    "We want help from both parties," said Carlos Cartagena, a U.S. Customs Service inspector and grandson of Modesto Sr. "My grandfather deserves the Medal of Honor."

                                    For more on Modesto Cartagena click on the medals below.

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