Marine Corps Base Quantico --
Quantico celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month
Marine Corps Systems Command hosted a Hispanic Heritage Month luncheon and celebration at The Clubs at Quantico Oct. 13 in honor of the month-long observance which is held annually from Sept. 15 through Oct. 15.
The Keynote speaker was Maj. Gen. Frederick Padilla, president of the National Defense University. Padilla told the story of his Hispanic heritage and honored a Latino Marine who died in combat, during his address to the audience.
Padilla said his grandfather came from Mexico when he was a boy and moved to Arizona, which at the time was not a state, but part of the territory of Alta, California in New Spain before being passed down to Independent Mexico. Arizona became a state in 1912 after the Mexican-American War. Approximately two years later WWI started and in 1917 the United States entered the war and began deploying troops to fight.
Padilla’s grandfather was drafted, but his great-grandfather said, “You’re not going to fight in this war we don’t even know what it’s about.” Padilla’s grandfather decided that if he was going to be an American he had to fight for his country. So he reported to the Army Induction Center . “The drill sergeants were yelling at everybody and my grandfather didn’t understand a word of it because he didn’t speak English,” Padilla said.
During the war his grandfather was wounded by shrapnel and got a taste of mustard gas, Padilla said. When he got out of the Army he went back to Arizona and became a cowboy for the rest of his life.
Then, the tradition of serving in the military started in Padilla’s family. His father went to college on an athletic scholarship and decided to join the Air Force. “My grandfather was very much against this because he was looking at it from his experiences in WWI, which were pretty rugged,” Padilla said. However, he eventually accepted that his son was going into the Air Force.
Years later, Padilla said, he was a brand new lieutenant who had just made it out of the Officers Infantry Course. “I went back to Arizona and saw my grandfather who was very old and not well. I told him I was in the Marines and I was an infantry officer and he said, ‘That’s the stupidest thing I ever heard.”’
“Everybody here has a unique American story. And we are celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month. But the demographics of Hispanics have really changed a lot from even when I was a young man in the Marine Corps,” Padilla said. “It has changed tremendously in the last 20 to 30 years. Latinos are coming from all over Latin America --Central America, South America and even Spain. It is the fastest growing demographic in the U.S. now.
“So I want to talk about a Marine, who in my mind typifies not only the changing of that demographic, but also service to our nation -- Staff Sgt. Riayan Tejeda. He and I served together in 1st Battalion 5th Marines and I was the battalion commander there. He was a sergeant in August 2001.” Tejeda was serving as one of Padilla’s squad leaders in Charlie Co. “He was the best squad leader that we had at that time. He was that good. From 9/11 until 2002 December our battalion was getting ready to go to war. So we were building. We knew we were going to war. We had been training together, we were a very mature, very stable battalion. When it came down to the end of 2002 and we were deployed to Kuwait my battalion was completely filled out and completely trained, we were really set to go,” Padilla said. Sgt. Tejeda got chosen for staff sergeant. At the time there was no stop loss and everybody was getting out, completely thinning out one battalion. The commander told Padilla about his predicament. “I said I’ve got a staff sergeant I can send you, so I sent him over there.” The commander thanked Padilla for sending Tejeda saying, “He is the best platoon sergeant we’ve got. “
Tejeda was born in the Dominican Republic and was not a U.S. citizen. He grew up in Washington Heights, New York. He always wanted to be a Marine and a U.S. citizen. When he graduated from George Washington High School he joined the Marines. He served eight years before he was killed in combat in Iraq on April 11, 2003.
His lasting legacy was that in his memory he was made an American citizen posthumously. He was also awarded the Silver Star for his heroism. He now has a post office named after him and also a street that bears his name in Washington Heights, New York, where he grew up. “That’s his story. Like I said everybody has a unique story,” said Padilla.
Padilla closed his address by pointing out that “The strength of a Marine is the Corps, and the strength of the Corps is the Marine. Our different backgrounds, perspectives, strengths, legacies and stories -- we bring them through that amalgamation and we form a different kind of metal. Through that togetherness is more strength,” Padilla said.