After a parade to the county courthouse square in 1946, a U.S. Army General told Edinburg native Pedro Cano that his service in World War II deserved the country’s highest award — the Medal of Honor.
Sixty-seven years later, President Barack Obama is set to bestow it on him posthumously at a ceremony next month.
When he went to Europe during the war, Cano was a Mexican national who spoke little English. He had moved to the Rio Grande Valley when he was 2 months old, born to farm workers in Mexico’s Nuevo Leon state in 1920. He never grew to be very tall — Cano’s wife, Hermania, towers over the 5-foot-3-inch man in their wedding photo.
Cano was drafted into the Army in 1944 and deployed to Germany. In a December battle near the German town of Schevenhutte, his unit came under fire from machine guns. Using a handheld rocket launcher, a rifle and several hand grenades, Cano single-handedly destroyed three German-held encampments, freeing other U.S. units that were trapped.
And the Edinburg man wasn’t done.
The next day, Cano used the rocket launcher to take out three more German-held encampments, bringing his total number of German soldiers killed to 30, according to a resolution approved by the Texas Legislature in 2009.
Cano was injured and returned home to his wife and three children in Edinburg. In 1946, Cano was awarded the country’s second-highest award — a Distinguished Service Cross.
The award arrived at his doorstep in the mail, with absolutely no fanfare.
After Edinburg citizens contacted the federal government, the U.S. Army sent a general down to pin the DSC on Private Cano’s lapel.
When Aaron Peña heard Cano’s story, the fact that he was snubbed for the Medal of Honor did not sit right with the Edinburg native and former state house representative for District 40.
“He didn’t get the highest award because he was Mexican,” Peña said. “This was a common problem for Jews, for minority soldiers...This guy went over there and saved lives and then he comes home and his country treated him like trash.”
Peña and his then-Chief of Staff Maricela De Leon started to research and curate Cano’s story. They put together a Facebook and Wikipedia page for the soldier.
Peña learned that Cano became an American citizen in 1946, and returned to farming. In 1952, the soldier that survived improbable odds in the German battlefield was killed by a drunk driver.
In 2009, Peña worked with Veronica Gonzalez and State Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, to posthumously award Cano with the highest honor the state of Texas can offer - the Legislative Medal of Honor.
Now, as the culmination of a 2002 U.S. congressional initiative to recognize overlooked veterans’ achievements, President Obama will award 24 Medals of Honor for bravery March 18.
And so, Cano will finally get his medal from the federal government. A member of Cano’s family declined to comment on White House instruction, but Peña said he was overjoyed.
“I literally want to cry. I just — I couldn’t let him go,” Peña said as his voice broke. “I don’t know what it is about this guy’s life ... he just wanted to be an American, but he’s more American than any critics that would attack him.”