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By David C. Stout
As our nation transitions, we need to pursue ways for Americans to become united again. An El Paso history lesson provides a way forward for the healing our nation needs.
Marcelino Serna became an El Pasoan, though he was born in a mining camp outside Chihuahua, Mexico. In World War I, shortly after emigrating, he fought for the United States. He ended that war in an army hospital in France, according to the Texas State Historical Association’s Handbook of Texas, but before that, during the battle of Saint-Mihiel, he volunteered to scout ahead after 12 of his brothers in arms had been killed. He killed six members of the machine gun emplacement that had his unit under fire and captured the remaining eight soldiers.
Later, during the Meuse-Argonne offensive, he scouted ahead, again as a volunteer, and followed a German sniper to a trench, where Pvt. Serna used an Enfield rifle, pistol and grenades to trick the German unit into believing they were under attack by a larger unit. He killed 26 enemy soldiers and took 24 German prisoners, whom he later protected from execution in compliance with international law.
Pvt. Serna did all these things after refusing a discharge, offered when the Army learned he was not an American citizen. Pvt. Serna spoke limited English, but he served his adopted nation honorably, earning two Purple Hearts and becoming the first Latino solider to receive the Distinguished Service Cross. He became one of Texas’ most decorated World War I veterans.
In September, the El Paso County Commissioners Court unanimously passed twin resolutions honoring Pvt. Serna and supporting efforts by our federal and state delegations to seek recognition of his record through posthumous grants of both the Medal of Honor and the Texas Legislative Medal of Honor.
Both awards would be meritorious, but Pvt. Serna’s story should also be a catalyst for an even larger, more important conversation about American life and the common good, about making sure that we do all we can to make America greater into the future.
America has been great since long before anyone living took their first breath. Even if he was not born here, Pvt. Serna devoted his life to making America stronger and an even greater nation.
There are hundreds of thousands of people who could follow in Pvt. Serna’s footsteps, recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, who know no home other than America, who have been educated here, who hold jobs here, and who have served in our military.
The divisive rhetoric of the past four years has turned these people into political pawns, valuable contributors who have been reduced only to their immigration status, to manufacture outrage and score political points. The conversation focused on division instead of how we might unify as a people to do the right thing.
Pvt. Serna should be viewed as a model for what America has been and continues to be when we are at our best: a whole much greater than the sum of our parts, and a diverse people who agree that we can achieve more together than we can divided, even if we do not always agree on the best ways to proceed.
Being a bridge of opportunity to the thousands of DACA recipients who need permanent legal protection would be a fine way for Americans to commit to the common good, cementing the legacy of a distinguished veteran whose contributions racism has minimized.
If we can agree on that, we will have taken a large step toward restoring American greatness.
David C. Stout has represented Precinct 2 on El Paso County Commissioners Court since 2015.