Army officer’s research shines a light on Latin American veterans

Article / October 17, 2022 / Project number: 22-0041

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By Steven Fouchard, Army Public Affairs

A Canadian Army (CA) officer’s research is shedding new light on the stories of Latin American soldiers who have served Canada.

Captain Rey Garcia-Salas, currently serving with Director General Information Management Operations in Ottawa, has been devoting much of his personal time to research in advance of Latin American Heritage Month, which takes place in October.

He said he hopes to increase awareness of Latin Americans in our military history, which is not widespread.

“In my humble point of view, this is very important to recognize,” he said.

Capt Garcia-Salas came to Canada from Guatemala in 1996 and joined the Army Reserve to support his studies at Carleton University in Ottawa. He later joined the Regular Force.

Along with Captain Milton Hoyos, he began organizing Latin American-themed events within the Department of National Defence and Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) in 2010.

While his recent research has uncovered a soldier who served in the War of 1812, Capt Garcia-Salas said his focus turned to the World Wars, during which large numbers of Latin Americans volunteered to fight under Canada’s flag.

Historical records indicate many of them travelled at their own expense to join up.

“In a sense, multiculturalism and diversity in the Canadian Armed Forces started in the First World War,” he said. “They came here voluntarily. They were trusted to go to war, even though a lot of them didn’t speak English; they spoke Spanish or Portuguese, or other languages. It’s very important to have that recognition.”

Capt Garcia-Salas, in collaboration with other CAF members and civilian organizations, is organizing several events to highlight these military stories as part of Latin American Heritage Month 2022. They include:

  • Latin America remembrance commemorations on 17 October at the National Military Cemetery in Ottawa, God's Acre Cemetery in Victoria in Victoria, B.C. and at Villanova Canadian War Cemetery in Ravenna, Italy. In addition, a commemorative mass will take place at Last Post Fund National Field of Honour in Pointe-Claire, Quebec.
  • A mass to be held at Mount Hope Catholic Cemetery, the resting place of First World War soldier Private Rafael Rodriguez, on 22 October. Priv Rodriguez is one of only a few Latin American world war fallen buried in Canada, and organizers are hoping to bring some of his living relatives from Mexico, his birthplace.

Among the more remarkable stories uncovered by Capt Garcia-Salas is that of Flying Officer Luis Perez-Gomez, a Mexican whose application to join the military of his home country was refused.

He entered the U.S. in hopes of joining there but was deported. He next travelled to Ottawa where he was accepted for military service. Mr. Perez-Gomez would serve as a pilot and is credited with shooting down three German aircraft before his death in 1944.

Capt Garcia-Salas said he hopes that revealing these stories of the past will have a positive impact on generations still to come.

“I hope it will create a sense of belonging; that they will be accepted and can serve and love this country, which gives us the opportunity to live in peace and security.”

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