In August 1945, he received the Medal of Honor, the United States’ highest military decoration.
One month afterwards, he was denied service at a restaurant in his home state of Texas, then beaten with a bat by the owner of the restaurant. After an investigation, an arrest would be made, but not for the owner.
The authorities arrested Macario García, who a month before had received the Medal of Honor from President Harry S. Truman.
García was Hispanic, he was an immigrant, he was not even a citizen. He was denied service and beaten with a bat because he was Mexican.
Then, he was arrested.
García was born in Castanos, Mexico, in 1920, according to a web site of the U.S. Army. “At the age of three, his family came to the United States in search of a better life and eventually settled in Sugarland, Texas, where they found work on a ranch.”
[Note: Many sources reference Garcia’s name spelled either as “Marcario” or “Macario”. The latter is published on his tombstone, and for this reason the Peace Page will follow the U.S. military’s spelling of “Macario”.]”
Like the rest of his brothers and sisters, García spent much of his childhood missing school days to pick crops, so he could contribute to his family.
During World War II, with only a grade school education, García enlisted as an Army infantryman on Nov. 11, 1942.
According to the U.S. Army page, “he said he felt a strong obligation to give back to the country he had called home for so many years.”
On November 27, 1944, García, who became the squad leader of his platoon, defended his troops when it was pinned down by enemy machine gun fire.
According to his citation:
“While an acting squad leader, he single-handedly assaulted two enemy machine gun emplacements . . . Although painfully wounded, he refused to be evacuated and on his own initiative crawled forward alone until he reached a position near an enemy emplacement. Hurling grenades, he boldly assaulted the position, destroyed the gun . . . utterly disregarding his own safety . . . He fought on with his unit until the objective was taken and only then did he permit himself to be removed for medical care . . . García’s conspicuous heroism, his inspiring, courageous conduct, and his complete disregard for his personal safety wiped out two enemy emplacements and enabled his company to advance and secure its objective.”
He was awarded the Medal of Honor at a White House ceremony on August 23, 1945, by President Truman – García was the first Mexican immigrant to receive the Medal of Honor.
He also received the Purple Heart, the Bronze Star, and the Combat Infantryman’s Badge.
A month later at a restaurant located in a town just a few miles south of Houston, he would be denied service. He stood up for himself and argued with the owner. The owner would use a baseball bat to beat him. Some sources said he was arrested at that time, other sources said no one was arrested initially, but, after national columnist Walter Winchell reported the incident and labeled the town racist, then a decision was made – to arrest García.
According to one newspaper, “García had shed blood defending his adopted country and the freedoms for which it stood. Now his blood was shed because of bigotry.”
“Journalists across the nation condemned the treatment of the Medal of Honor recipient. Former Gov. James Allred stepped up and served as his attorney,” according to The Herald Democrat. “For many veterans returning home, it is often difficult to fathom how much they have changed because of their experiences while so little has changed for those they left behind. Such was often the case for World War II veterans. Garcia himself would discover this much to the horrors of himself and the nation when he stepped into a restaurant in Richmond, just outside Houston, in September 1945 — not even one month after the war ended and his White House appearance.”
The incident caused an uproar among the Hispanic community.
“His case immediately became a cause célèbre, symbolizing not only the plight of Hispanic soldiers who returned from the war, but the plight of the Hispanic community as a whole,” wrote the Texas State Historical Association.
Because of all the media attention and the voices who spoke out for García and against racism, his trial would be postponed, then eventually dropped.
García would eventually obtain his American citizenship in 1947 and complete his high school education with a diploma in 1951. He married in 1952, raising three children.
He also received the medal of Mérito Militar, the Mexican equivalent to the Medal of Honor, during a ceremony in Mexico City on January 8, 1946, according to the Texas State Historical Association.
Like other GIs who returned from the war, García encountered many difficulties in finding employment, but eventually found a job, as a counselor in the Veterans’ Administration. He continued helping veterans at that position with the VA for the next 25 years.
He also never gave up speaking out for the rights of Hispanics, working with civil rights groups to fight segregation and other unjust laws.
“A young man escaping the poverty of a foreign land, dreaming of a better life and becoming a hero for his adopted nation may seem too fantastic for a jaded age, but it is the true story of Medal of Honor recipient Macario García, an immigrant and World War II veteran,” according to The Herald Democrat. “Like many of his generation, he fought with courage on the battlefield and at home to defend the United States and its ideals to build a better nation.”
García was one of the many Hispanic Americans, between 250,000 and 500,000, who served in the U.S. Armed Forces during World War II. And, not only did Hispanics serve as active combatants in European and the Pacific, but they also served on the home front as civilians. Hundreds of Hispanic women joined the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAACs) and Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVES), serving as nurses and in administrative positions. Many worked in traditionally male labor jobs in the manufacturing plants that produced munitions and materiel, replacing men who were away at war.
According to Senator Robert Menendez, more than 9,000 Latinos died in the defense of the United States in World War II.
In 1983, Houston’s new army reserve center was named in his honor. In 1994, a middle school was named for him in Sugarland, and Houston later named an elementary school and renamed a street after him.
“Honor led to a life well-lived,” according to the The Herald Democrat.