Texas Port of Entry officially named after World War I hero
By VICTOR R. MARTINEZ | The El Paso Times (Tribune News Service) | Published: April 21, 2017
TORNILLO, Texas — A son of Mexico who became an American hero during World War I was honored Wednesday as federal officials unveiled the blue lettering bearing his name that now greets commuters at the U.S.- Mexico port of entry in Tornillo.
Three months after the port of entry between Tornillo and Guadalupe, Mexico opened, U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, whose district includes parts of El Paso County, introduced a bill that would rename it the Marcelino Serna Port of Entry. The legislation was approved by the U.S. House and Senate and signed by President Barack Obama in September 2016.
On Wednesday, the anticipated renaming of the port of entry became official.
“Today we honored a man who immigrated to the United States and risked his life repeatedly to protect the safety of his fellow soldiers," Hurd said. "The Marcelino Serna Port of Entry will not only honor this extraordinary man’s service to our nation, it will serve as a reminder of the countless Hispanic American immigrants who have fought valiantly to keep our nation safe."
U.S. Army Pvt. Serna’s dedication and bravery saved many lives. He was honored by the U.S. Army with two Purple Hearts and was the first Hispanic to be awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. Serna, who became a U.S. citizen in 1924, died in 1992 at the age of 95. He was buried with full military honors at Fort Bliss National Cemetery.
"He is someone we should all know and be thankful for," Hurd said. "He is one example of the countless number of Hispanic Americans who have protected our country."
Serna, who was born in 1896 in a small mining town near the city of Chihuahua, volunteered for the U.S. Army during World War I. After basic training, Serna was sent overseas to join the Allied forces but was later given the option to withdraw because, at the time, he was not a U.S. citizen. Instead, he chose to stay and fight for his adopted country.
Hurd pointed to several instances in which Serna displayed bravery during the war.
Among them was a confrontation in which Serna volunteered to scout ahead after 12 soldiers from his unit were gunned down. He eventually killed six German soldiers with four grenades and captured the eight remaining enemy soldiers. In another instance, Serna single-handedly captured 24 German soldiers.
Gloria Serna was overwhelmed by the honor bestowed upon her father.
"I don't have words to describe just how proud I am of my father," she said. "My father was a serious man, very strict but a good father. He walked a straight line. He was very protective of m. That's what I remember the most about him."
Gloria Serna was surrounded by family from all parts of the country during the 45-minute ceremony that included a color guard from the Vietnam Veterans of America and members for the 1st Armored Division Band from Fort Bliss.
"He will always be in my heart and in my soul," she said. "I will never forget him. I will never forget the advice he gave me and the example he set for me. For that, I am grateful. I talk to him a lot I know he is in heaven looking down right now. He had a heart of gold."
The Marcelino Serna Port of Entry is a 117-acre port that was completed in 2016 and replaced the Fabens Port of Entry. The port of entry provides noncommercial and commercial inspections.
Wednesday's ceremony was the result of more than two years of hard work initiated by veterans Greg Vera and Ray Rivera who Hurd pointed out during his speech.
"Because of the relations between the U.S. and Mexico, we thought we could bring the two countries together for a moment of peace," Rivera said. "This is a son of Mexico and an American hero. We thought he would be a great role model for both sides, not just Americans but for the youth in Mexico. We felt it was a perfect match, a perfect way to unite the two countries."
Vera said it was like accomplishing an almost impossible mission.
"We ran into several obstacles and several naysayers," he said. "A lot of people believed we were wasting our time and efforts. We did the research. We did the paper work. We made the phone calls and we finally came to the conclusion that this place was perfect to make it the Marcelino Serna Port of Entry in his honor."
Stacy Rafferty, Serna's great-granddaugther, made the trip from Nebraska.
"I'm really proud that my great-grandfather is being honored like this on a border crossing," she said. "I was 7 years old when he passed away and that's when articles about him came out in the newspaper. That was the first time I realized what a heroic World War I veteran he was."
She said her great great-grandfather would have been honored.
"He would have felt really proud but I don't think he would have wanted the attention," she said. "He was a very humble person. Whenever he was invited to go to a parade, he would go and he would always say how much he loved his country and what he did for it was nothing special. He would say he was only doing his job."
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