It’s never too late to right a wrong –– The heroic story of Pvt. Marcelino Serna

Too often, our service members and veterans do not receive the recognition they deserve for their bravery, especially those in marginalized communities. Decade after decade, the contributions of veterans are slowly forgotten by the American public. This is a great miscarriage of justice. The bravery and sacrifice of those who sowed the seeds of today’s freedom and peace should be commemorated, no matter their race, background or nationality.

Far West Texas civil rights leaders, lawmakers and veterans have worked tirelessly for over a decade to provide justice to one veteran in particular: United States Army Private Marcelino Serna. During the last legislative session, I was proud to continue the efforts of those leaders and successfully nominated Pvt. Serna for the Texas Legislative Medal of Honor and co-authored and passed Senate Concurrent Resolution 50, directing the governor of Texas to award the Texas Legislative Medal of Honor to Pvt. Marcelino Serna and U.S. Coast Guard Seaman Apprentice William Ray Flores. On March 2, 2022, Pvt. Serna finally received the recognition he deserves and was posthumously awarded the Texas Legislative Medal of Honor, the state’s highest military decoration. 

Pvt. Serna’s story is one of great heroics, bravery, and valor above and beyond the call of duty. Marcelino Serna was born in 1896 in the outskirts of Chihuahua, México. In search of a better life, he immigrated to the United States in 1916 and worked as a farmhand in Colorado. Despite Serna being exempt from the draft due to his citizenship status, he volunteered to fight and potentially die for the United States. Serna was once more given the chance not to fight while in training, but he refused. Serna considered himself an American, and he chose to fight for the country he believed in. 

Serna demonstrated exceptional resourcefulness and courage on the battlefield. During an engagement near the French town of St. Mihiel, 12 members of his unit were hit by fire from an enemy machine gun, and Serna obtained permission from his lieutenant to scout out the gun emplacement on his own. Moving through heavy fire, and surviving two rounds that were deflected by his helmet, he tossed four hand grenades into the machine gun nest, killing six of the enemy. He then took the eight survivors captive. 

Shortly after his heroics in St. Mihiel, Serna embarked on a second lone scouting mission during the Meuse-Argonne campaign. He began by wounding a German sniper with a shot from 200 yards, then followed the injured man into a trench. Firing and hurling grenades in all directions to make it seem as if he were part of a larger force, he shot three German soldiers immediately, then attacked an enemy dugout, felling 26 more and capturing 24. He single-handedly held the prisoners at gunpoint until other members of his unit arrived. In the face of war, Serna remained brave and defended the German prisoners when reinforcements desired to execute them.

Pvt. Serna returned from the war as the most decorated WWI soldier from Texas, and years later became a citizen of the country he had fought for. For his acts of courage and honor, the Army awarded Pvt. Serna two Purple Hearts and the Distinguished Service Cross, the highest honor that a soldier can receive below the Medal of Honor. He also received two Croix de Guerre, the highest honor in France, one of which was presented to him by the supreme commander of Allied troops in Europe, Ferdinand Foch. 

Despite his many medals, Pvt. Serna was denied the nation’s highest military award – the Congressional Medal of Honor – and the Texas Legislative Medal of Honor. Pvt. Serna served at a time of great prejudice and xenophobia, and he did not receive the state’s and nation’s highest decorations due to past discrimination and his limited English proficiency. 

There are few opportunities in history where we can right a wrong. However, this month, Texas proved that it is never too late to provide justice to those who defended our country and our democracy. Now, it is time for Congress to follow Texas’ lead to right a wrong and award Pvt. Serna the Congressional Medal of Honor.