CHICAGO – Almost 60 years after being wounded in the Korean War, Puerto Rico-born Tomas Lozada on Monday in Chicago received his Purple Heart.
“Thanks be to God for letting me experience this moment,” the 78-year-old Lozada said at a ceremony held at the Institute of Puerto Rican Arts and Culture.
Accompanied by his wife and a granddaughter, Lozada said that the medal is not just a validation of “patriotism and heroism,” but a “question of principles.”
Also participating in the ceremony were other Puerto Rican veterans, the Illinois Commander of the Military Order of the Purple Heart, Daniel T. Finn; and a JROTC Honor Guard from Chicago’s Roberto Clemente High School.
Lozada, who was born in Ciales, Puerto Rico, received the medal from the hand of Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), whose office worked with the U.S. Army to have Lozada’s service – and sacrifice – honored, for which no official record remained because a fire destroyed the military archives in 1973.
“It is an honor and a privilege to play a part in correcting the record and getting Mr. Lozada recognition for his service and sacrifice,” the congressman said.
Lozada was wounded in combat on Sept. 30, 1951, when a grenade explosion severely burned his face and hands.
At that time he was a private first class in the 3rd Infantry Division, a unit made up of Puerto Ricans which distinguished itself in Korea.
He was cared for in a hospital in Osaka, Japan, returned to the war front and was honorably discharged with the rank of corporal in 1952.
A year later, he moved to Chicago where for the last 57 years he has been pastor of the Fuente de Amor evangelical church in the Puerto Rican section of the city.
Lozada told Efe that he had fought for 59 years to “have an injustice corrected” that also had implications for his military pension.
“In this fight, my granddaughter Irma (Cornier) also accompanied me, (and it was she) who fought with much perseverance against the military bureaucracy,” he added.
Gutierrez said that he felt “particular pride” at having dealt with the case of a soldier who represents a “long tradition of service to the U.S. military from my fellow Puertoriqueños.”
He emphasized that among those members of the U.S. Armed Forces who have received the Purple Heart there are 171 Puerto Ricans.
The congressman took advantage of the ceremony to acknowledge the past and present contribution of Latinos in the U.S. military.
Gutierrez noted the presence at the ceremony of Army National Guard Spc. Hector Nuñez, a veteran of the war in Afghanistan whose wife returned to Chicago from Mexico with their sick son in late December.
Rosa Nuñez, who had been deported for having illegally entered the United States two years ago, obtained a humanitarian visa after Gutierrez took up the matter with Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.
Spc. Nuñez, a 26-year-old native of Des Plaines, Illinois, “is one more example of the sacrifices that Latinos are making for this country,” said Gutierrez.
The soldier told Efe that the visa his wife received is good for one year, “but we have hopes” of getting her permanent residence. EFE