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Héctor Pérez García: 1914-1996: Physician, Civil Rights Advocate

Gained Education And Army Experience

García was born on January 17, 1914, in Llera, Mexico, a small town in the border state of Tamaulipas. His father, José García, was a professor, and his mother, Faustina Pérez, was a teacher. The Mexican Revolution began just months after García's birth, and in 1917 his parents fled with their seven children to the United States to escape the violence. The family settled in Mercedes, Texas, a small South Texas town in Hidalgo County in the Rio Grande Valley. Because his father's teaching credentials were not recognized in the United States, José García provided for his family by running a dry-goods business with his brothers. The children pitched in by picking cotton and scavenging for discarded fruits and vegetables among the local packing sheds.

Reared in a close-knit family that stressed education, García was motivated by his father to move beyond the limited expectations and opportunities afforded Mexican Americans at that time. García, who attended Mercedes public schools, responded to this motivation by graduating as the valedictorian of his high school class. With the Great Depression sorely straining the family's finances, his father sold his penny-a-week life insurance policy to allow García to enroll in Edinburgh Junior College. García continued his education at the University of Texas, from which he graduated with a bachelor's degree in zoology in 1936. Wishing to pursue his medical degree, García applied to and was accepted by the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, which only admitted one Mexican American student each year. After graduating from medical school in 1946, García was unable to find a medical internship program in Texas that would accept a Mexican American. He completed his two-year general and surgical internship at Creighton University's St. Joseph Hospital in Omaha, Nebraska.

The outbreak of World War II followed on the heels of García's internship, and he delayed his entrance into medical practice to enlist in the U.S. Army in 1942. His previous summertime service in Franklin D. Roosevelt's Civilian Military Training Corps allowed García to enter the U.S. army as an officer. He served first in the infantry before becoming an officer in the Corp of Engineers. He eventually served as a combat surgeon with the Medical Corps. Discharged in 1946 with the rank of major, García was awarded the Bronze Star with six battle stars for his service in North Africa and Italy. In late 1944, while serving in Italy, García met Wanda Fusillo, a graduate student at the University of Naples. They were married on June 23, 1945, just weeks after Fusillo completed her doctoral studies. The couple had three daughters: Wanda, Celia, and Susana. A son, Hector, died at the age of 13 after falling while running down the stairs of a mountain home.

At a Glance . . .

Born Hector Perez García on January 17, 1914, in Llera, Mexico; died on July 26, 1996, in Corpus Christi, TX; married Wanda Fusillo, June 23, 1945; children: Hector (deceased), Wanda, Cecilia, and Su-sana. Education: University of Texas, BA, zoology, 1936; University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, MD, 1946. Military Service: U.S. Army, 1942-46. Religion: Roman Catholic. Politics: Democrat.

Career: Physician, Corpus Christi, TX, 1946-96.

Memberships: GI Forum, founder and first chairman, 1948; Advisory Council of the Democratic National Committee, 1954; Political Association of Spanish Speaking Organizations, national president, 1960-64; National Advisory Council on Economic Opportunity in the United States, 1967; U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, 1968; U.S. Attorney General Benjamin Civiletti's Hispanic Advisory Committee on Civil Rights, 1979.

Awards: Medalla Al Merito, American GI Forum of Texas, 1952; Distinguished Service Award, National Office of Civil Rights, 1980; Presidential Medal of Freedom, 1984; The Hispanic Heritage Award, National Hispanic Leadership Conference, 1989; The Equestrian Order of Pope Gregory the Great, Pope John Paul II, 1990.

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Brief BiographiesBiographies: E(mily) R. Frank (1967-) Biography - Personal to Martha Graham (1893–1991) BiographyHéctor Pérez García: 1914-1996: Physician, Civil Rights Advocate Biography - Gained Education And Army Experience, Fought For Civil Rights With Gi Forum, Generosity Mixed With Impatience