SERGEANT FIRST CLASS MODESTO CARTAGENA (Ret.) passed away in Guayama, Puerto Rico at the age of 87 on March 2, 2010. Although Modesto had been suffering for some time from Alzeheimer’s, he died from a major stroke. He was buried at the Veterans Cemetery in Bayamon, Puerto Rico.
For me personally, I am torn with feelings of sadness and anger. Sadness because I had the privilege of meeting this brave man for the first time about 10 years ago. I interviewed him for the documentary film FOUR times because of technical problems and each time he was more than willing to share his wartime experiences with such vivid, clear and enthusiastic memories. He was very proud to be a Borinqueneer. Modesto served with the 65th during World War II (where he earned a Bronze Star) and the Korean War. He became the most decorated Puerto Rican soldier of the Korean War earning 20 awards and medals including a Distinguished Service Cross, a Silver Star, another Bronze Star and a Purple Heart.
I also feel anger. Anger because this wonderful man died without ever receiving his much-deserved Congressional Medal of Honor. Although many efforts were made by various individuals or organizations for many years, including an effort made by myself, they were all unsuccessful. What could have been done differently? I don’t know. But somehow it all seems so unfair.
I know you will agree with me that in the eyes of the Puerto Rican community, Modesto was our national hero. He fearlessly risked his life many times in combat and for this we will always be grateful to him. Below is an accounting of the heroic deed which earned Modesto the Distinguished Service Cross and which, in my opinion, warrants an upgrade to a Medal of Honor. It is NOT the official citation for the award which I feel does not accurately reflect what Modesto Cartagena did on April 19, 1951.
Written by Noemi Figueroa Soulet
MODESTO CARTAGENA AFFIDAVIT
I certify that I was a sergeant in a squad of the Third Platoon in Company “C”, 65th Infantry Regiment. On April 19, 1951, Company “C” was assigned the mission of capturing Hill 206 near Yonch’on, Korea. When we arrived at the rice paddies below the hill, the Chinese were directing intense cross fire against us. It reached the point where we were immobilized. My squad and I dragged ourselves to the left flank so we could climb up through the rear of the enemy. There was a depression where the Chinese had three positions that were giving protection to their artillery and machine guns. The enemy continued to fire, but we continued to advance ourselves up the hill. It was there that one of my men was killed, PFC Antonio Colon Flores. And they wounded 11 others. The soldier who carried the automatic rifle called out to me. He had been wounded by two rounds to his thigh. I dragged myself to him, applied morphine and filled out an evacuation card. During the action my rifle had been broken into two pieces, so I took the wounded soldier’s automatic weapon along with his ammunition and grenades to augment mine. I continued going uphill by myself. The Chinese would hurl their grenades at me and I would catch them in the air and quickly throw them through the air opening in the Chinese trenches. They would take cover and I would advance my position. And that’s how I destroyed a Chinese position that was nearby.
When I reached the top of the hill, I thought I still had 2 or 3 men, but there was no one. I noticed that I had fallen into the enemy’s circle. There were 80 to 100 Chinese in their mortar nests – three mortars, three machine guns and there were five automatic weapons on the left. I continued dragging myself until I reached the first mortar nest, I threw a grenade and it blew up. Then I would spray automatic fire. Then I quickly moved to the second position that had a machine gun and blew it up also. And that’s how I destroyed three positions with machine guns, mortars and five automatic weapons. When the Chinese discovered my position, they threw so many grenades that three landed on me. One landed on my back, another in between my legs and the third on my right side. The last one wounded me. The bone was sticking out from my arm. I lost a lot of blood, but luckily I didn’t faint. I kept fighting wounded for almost 3 hours. Eventually, the Chinese withdrew from the hill with many wounded. I took the hill from them. Later they found 33 dead Chinese in the machine gun and automatic emplacements and they found 15 more dead in the positions I had destroyed on my way up the hill.
I went back downhill and returned to my men. One of our tanks that had fallen into a hole after an ambush was there. I assigned two squads to remove the tank from the hole using shovels and picks. And I assigned two squads to search for the wounded and dead. Then I loaded them on the tank and personally took them to the First Aid Station. There were 17 of us wounded, including me and one dead. But when we arrived there, I was the one in worst shape because I had lost a lot of blood. They sent me to Taibu in a helicopter and then to Japan to the 128th Marines Hospital where I stayed for 62 days.