EREVIA, SANTIAGO JESUS
EREVIA, SANTIAGO JESUS (1945–2016). Santiago Jesus Erevia, Medal of Honor recipient, was born on December 15, 1945, in Corpus Christi. He was the son of Santiago and Raphaela Erevia. As a youngster, he picked cotton on a farm near the small town of Nordheim located between Corpus Christi and San Antonio. Although Erevia excelled in math, his father pressured him to quit high school during his sophomore year and seek employment. He found employment as a cotton laborer, cook, and deliveryman. In 1968 Erevia enlisted in the United States Army and hoped the move might provide some educational opportunities.
Trained as a radio operator, Erevia was assigned to Company C, First Battalion, 501st Infantry of the 101st Airborne Division in 1969. During his second day in Vietnam, Erevia first experienced the dangers of war when a boot landed about ten feet from him after a soldier stepped on a mine about 200 or 300 yards away. During his tour of duty, Erevia was viewed as a quiet low-key person by his follow soldiers in Company C who gave him the nickname “Mr. Lucky” for avoiding injury.
Specialist Four Erevia’s reputation changed radically on May 21, 1969. As part of a search-and-clear operation near Tam Ky City, a coastal town south of Da Nang in South Vietnam, Erevia’s unit had broken through the enemy’s perimeter. Erevia was ordered to provide first aid to several injured soldiers while the rest of the platoon proceeded forward. While providing aid to the casualties, he encountered hostile fire from four enemy bunkers. Instead of taking cover with the injured, Specialist Erevia reacted by attacking the enemy. Slowly crawling toward the enemy position, he collected ammunition from wounded casualties as enemy fire flew toward him. With two M-16 rifles and a number of hand grenades, Erevia moved quickly toward the first bunker until close enough to deposit a grenade that neutralized the fortification and its personal. He then employed similar tactics as he neutralized the second and third enemy bunker. Having used up his grenades, Erevia charged toward the fourth bunker through hostile fire and fired both his M-16s at the enemy. After reaching the bunker, he fired and killed the enemy at point blank range. Erevia’s Medal of Honor citation later stated that because of his “heroic actions the lives of the wounded were saved and the members of the company command post were relieved from a very precarious situation.” In a ceremony at Fort Sam Houston in 1970, Lt. Gen. Harry Critz presented Santiago Erevia the Distinguished Service Cross. For his military service, Erevia also was awarded the Bronze Star Medal, the Purple Heart, and the Army Commendation Medal.
After leaving the U. S. Army in 1970, Erevia returned home to Texas. He knew members of his unit had recommended him for the Medal of Honor. Like most of his fellow soldiers, Erevia believed he had been passed over for the nation’s highest military medal because he was not wounded or killed and not because he was Hispanic. Although haunted from the action of May 21, 1969, Erevia sought to move on in life. For thirty-two years, he worked for the U.S. Postal Service as a mail carrier in San Antonio until his retirement in 2002. He also served in the Texas National Guard for seventeen years.
In 2002 Congress mandated the Pentagon review to determine if discrimination played any role in bestowing the nation’s highest military award. After a twelve-year investigation, the Pentagon selected two dozen veterans from World War II, the Korean, and Vietnam wars to receive the Medal of Honor. The Pentagon deemed that their heroism had been undervalued due to their ethnic, racial, or religious background. Each of the veterans had received the Distinguished Service Cross, but only three were still alive. On March 18, 2014, President Barack Obama presented the Medal of Honor to Santiago Erevia and two other veterans, fellow Texan Jose Rodela and Melvin Morris, in a White House ceremony.
Two years after being awarded the Medal of Honor, Santiago Erevia died of a heart attack on March 22, 2016, in San Antonio. At the time of his death, he was survived by his wife Leticia Lopez Erevia; three sons, Jesse Edward, James, and Roland; and daughter Rosie. Fellow Medal of Honor recipient and retired two-star U. S. Army Gen. Patrick Brady described Erevia as “a very, very modest, very, very decent person.” San Antonio native and retired U. S. Army Maj. Gen. Alfredo Valenzuela called Erevia “a very silent hero.” Although denied the nation’s highest military medal for more than four decades after his service, the silent hero of the Vietnam War was buried with military honors at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery in San Antonio.
Los Angeles Times, March 14, 2014. New York Times, March 26, 2016. Heidi M. Peters, Information Research Specialist, Medal of Honor Recipients: 1979–2014, Congressional Research Service. San Antonio Express-News, February 21, 2014; March 22, 2016; April 1, 2016. Washington Post, March 24, 2016.
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