World War II SSgt. Salvador Lara Receives Posthumous Medal of Honor Nearly 70 Years Later
On March 18 of this year, President Barack Obama awarded 24 Medals of Honor to Army veterans, most of whom were Hispanic. Among the 21 posthumous honorees was SSgt. Salvador Lara, a member of the 45th Infantry Division who served during World War II and is interred in Lorraine American Cemetery. As part of National Hispanic Heritage Month, ABMC honors the contributions made by Hispanic-Americans, such as Lara, as members of the U.S. armed forces.
In September 1943 Allied Forces landed on the Italian Peninsula at Salerno. Pushing north, the Americans and British aimed to break through the Gustav Line, a belt of interlocking German positions along the high ground of Italy. The rugged terrain of the Apennine Mountains provided an advantage to the German defenders, who fought fiercely. With forces stalled in January 1944, the Allies planned an amphibious assault north of the Gustav line at Anzio and Nettuno with the goal of aiding the breakthrough effort, and connecting forces for the drive north to liberate Rome.
The Allies eventually broke the line on May 15, 1944, and German forces fell back in defense of the Italian capital. The 45th Infantry Division was one of the units in hot pursuit, continuing to push German forces further north, closing the gap to Rome. During these operations, Lara disregarded his own personal safety in order to cripple enemy positions.
On May 27, near Aprilia, in the pursuit to neutralize enemy positions Lara and three other men killed four Germans, forced 15 to surrender, and caused two enemy mortar crew to abandon their weapons. The following morning, while attacking the enemy, Lara sustained a severe leg wound. Despite the pain and the extreme danger, he requested permission to destroy an enemy machinegun that had been causing heavy casualties within his company. Armed with just a Browning Automatic Rifle, Lara crawled towards the nearest enemy position, charged the machinegun nest, and killed the crew members. Unwavering in his bravery, he then opened fire on another enemy position, killing three others. His aggressive attacks then forced two other crews to flee their weapons.
Lara survived the Italian campaign, but tragically he died on September 1, 1945–less than three months after the War in Europe ended–while then serving with the 602nd Ordnance Armament Maintenance Battalion.
For his actions on May 27-28, 1944, Lara originally received the Distinguished Service Cross. The Defense Authorization Act of 2002 called for a review of Jewish American and Hispanic American veteran war records from World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War, to ensure those deserving the Medal of Honor were not denied because of prejudice. On March 18, 2014, Lara’s Distinguished Service Cross was officially upgraded to a Medal of Honor in a White House ceremony.
Throughout the course of his military career, Lara received the Bronze Star Medal, Purple Heart, Army Good Conduct Medal, European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with two Bronze Service Stars, World War II Victory Medal, Presidential Unit Citation, and Combat Infantryman Badge and the Honorable Service Lapel Button-World War II.
Lara is one of the many Hispanic-Americans who served in the armed forces and is commemorated in an ABMC cemetery.