Reedley woman to receive Medal of Honor for late father Pedro Cano (video)

The Fresno BeeMarch 9, 2014 

When Dominga Cano Perez, a 70-year-old Reedley resident, received a phone call from her daughter, Rosalinda, saying President Barack Obama wanted to speak with her, she was stunned.

"We couldn't believe it," Perez said. "I was surprised. I never thought the president was going to call our family."

Last fall, the White House called the Cano family to ask Perez to accept a posthumous Medal of Honor for her father, Pedro Cano, an Army private who fought with bravery in World War II.

Cano will be among 24 Army veterans to be awarded the Medal of Honor — an upgrade from the Army's second-highest combat honor, the Distinguished Service Cross.

This announcement comes after Congress ordered military records of Jewish and Hispanic veterans of World War II, and the Korean and Vietnam wars, to be reviewed to determine whether their valor was underestimated because of prejudice.

During that review, several soldiers were identified who were neither Jewish nor Hispanic but also had criteria worthy of the medal. The award ceremony marks the single largest group of Medal of Honor recipients since World War II.

The Cano family will travel to Washington, D.C., where they will attend ceremonies at the White House and the Pentagon on March 18-19. Perez will personally accept the medal from President Obama at the White House ceremony.

"I'm excited," Perez said. "But I'm getting nervous."

For the family, acquiring the medal is the culmination of a tireless campaign for Cano's actions to be recognized at this level. The family felt that Cano's service had not been fully valued because of his Mexican heritage.

Even the way Cano initially received the Distinguished Service Cross was an "insult," Perez said. Unlike other soldiers who were awarded during a ceremony, Cano received his cross in the mail — a sign of past discrimination. A ceremony eventually was held to present him his medal.

Now, the family's wound finally is healing.

When she found out the news, she called her cousin, Stephen Cano, who lives in Hanford.

"I was so happy," Stephen Cano said. "We've been waiting for a long time."

After nearly 70 years, Stephen Cano said America is heading in the right direction. "The country is growing up and trying to get some of their wrongs right."

Cano is being awarded the medal for his actions while serving with Company C, 8th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Division during combat operations against the enemy in the Hurtgen Forest near Schevenhutte, Germany in 1944.

In the December battle, Cano's unit came under fire from machine guns. The family said Cano used his slender size to crawl beneath withering German machine gun fire to take a position where he could attack. Using a handheld rocket launcher and several hand grenades, he single-handedly killed 30 German soldiers in two days.

After the war, Cano returned to his wife, Hermania, and three children Dominga, Maria and Susano in Edinburg, Texas. But after Pedro's death from a head-on car collision in 1952, at the age of 32, the family moved to California in search of a better future.

Perez, who was 15 when the family left Texas, remembers moving to Reedley with her family along with another family who already had visited the central San Joaquin Valley. Perez recalls her family was among many moving from Texas to California.

"I don't know why (her mother chose) Reedley," Perez said. "She never said why, she just wanted more opportunities."

Decades later, Perez said she is happy to call Reedley her home. She married her husband, Salvador Perez, and had six children — who are now 32 to 54.

Three of her sons, a grandson, her cousin, Stephen, and her aunt will accompany Perez to Washington. Her brother and sister can't attend because of health complications.

Perez has visited the capital before, but only with her husband, who died last year. She is thrilled to go with her family. And while she is there, Perez hopes to do some sightseeing, including visiting museums and stopping by the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

The closer it gets to the trip, the more surreal it becomes.

"After all this time, it's finally happening," she said. "We were dreaming of this day."

 

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6659, daguilera@fresnobee.com or @DianaT_Aguilera on Twitter.

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