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A Message from EEOC Chair Janet Dhillon on Hispanic Heritage Month 2020

In 1953 First Lieutenant Richard E. Cavazos had been fighting the Korean War for three years. He had already displayed heroism on several occasions. Now, on June 14, as the commander of Easy Company, 2nd Battalion, 65th Infantry Regiment, 3rd U.S. Infantry Division, Cavazos may have been aware that armistice talks between the United Nations forces and their North Korean and Chinese adver­saries were well under way and expected to produce peace soon. 

But that didn’t make it any easier for Easy Company to perform its mission -- a night raid on an entrenched enemy position near Sagimak, Korea. The Communists laid a heavy barrage on the American position, but Lieutenant Cavazos withdrew the company, regrouped his men and led the company through the heavy bombardments three times, each time destroying vital enemy equipment and personnel.

When the American troops were ordered to withdraw, Lieutenant Cavazos remained alone on the enemy outpost to search the area for missing men. Exposed to heavy hostile fire, Lieutenant Cavazos located five Americans who had been wounded in the action. He evacuated them, one at a time, to a point on the reverse slope of the hill from which they could be removed to the safety of the friendly lines. Lieutenant Cavazos then made two more trips searching for casualties and evacuating scattered and lost groups of men. Not until he was assured that the hill was cleared did he allow treatment of his own wounds.

Cavazos had performed similar heroics on previous occasions, but this one gained him his first – but not his last – Distinguished Service Cross. 

The Korean War did indeed end a month later, but Cavazos wasn’t finished. He served his country and democracy through many decades and many conflicts. He received his second Distinguished Service Cross for heroism at Loc Binh, Vietnam in 1967. In 1976, Cavazos became the first Hispanic to reach the rank of brigadier general in the U.S. Army. And Cavazos served as commandant of Fort Hood, the largest U.S. Army post in the world. Norman Schwarzkopf, later of Operation Desert Storm fame, wrote in his autobio­graphy, It Doesn't Take a Hero, that Cavazos was one of the finest division com­manders he ever worked for.

In 1982, Cavazos again made military history by being appointed the Army's first Hispanic four-star general. He retired from the military in 1984. As the Roman author and magistrate Pliny the Younger wrote about a hero of the ancient world, “He is gone from us, full of years and full of honors.”

But he’s not gone from us. No one so noble and accomplished ever is. 

This Mexican-American boy from Kingsville, Texas had an all-American backstory. Richard Cavazos’s family was Kineño – Hispanics associated with the nation’s biggest and most famous ranch, the King Ranch in south Texas.

The most famous Kineño of the 20th century was Richard’s grandfather, Lauro Cavazos, a descendant of the man who was awarded the original Spanish grant that includes the southern divisions of the King Ranch. Lauro Cavazos came to the ranch in 1912 and became its foreman. By his will and example, he put his own brand on generations of Texas vaqueros – and also passed along to his children a desire for excellence that took them far. His grandsons included the general and Richard’s brother Lauro, the first-ever Hispanic to serve in a U.S. Cabinet, serving as secretary of education under Presidents Reagan and Bush 41. 

Richard Cavazos, by the way, was named after Richard Kleberg, a member of another major King Ranch-connected family, which mentored young Lyndon Johnson. 

From September 15 to October 15, the nation observes Hispanic Heritage Month. We at the EEOC are especially privileged to fight for the rights of Hispanic and Latino Americans. We are making sure that future Hispanic and Latino heroes will never be impeded, stymied, or discouraged from achieving their full potential because of national origin discrimination. Richard Cavazos led raids on enemy positions in war. We, too, must keep tackling the bastions of discrimin­ation, big and small, just as he did – over and over.