Activist Cesar Chavez receives military honors for U.S. Navy service

Activist Cesar Chavez receives military honors for U.S. Navy service
Helen Chavez, the widow of Cesar Chavez, receives a flag from the U.S. Navy, honoring her husband's military service during a ceremony in Keene, Calif. (Scott Smith / Associated Press)

Civil rights activist Cesar Chavez, known for defending immigrant farmworkers, was recognized Thursday for another act of service.

Chavez received military honors for his service in the U.S. Navy 22 years after his death.


The Navy marked the anniversary of Chavez's death with a formal ceremony at his grave in Keene, Calif., according to the Cesar Chavez Foundation.

"Chavez belonged to generations of Latinos who returned home from the service after World War II, Korea, Vietnam and conflicts as recent as Afghanistan determined to see that the country for which they sacrificed fulfilled its promise of equality and freedom," the foundation said in a statement.

Hundreds gathered for the 10 a.m. ceremony as a Navy bugler played "Taps" and officers performed a rifle salute in the Memorial Garden of the Cesar E. Chavez National Monument, operated by the National Park Service.

An American flag was presented to his widow, Helen, as active duty and reserve sailors pay tribute to his life and service.

Born on March 31, 1927, near a homestead outside of Yuma, Ariz., Chavez's upbringing was difficult. His family lost their farm during the Great Depression and had to work in the fields.

After finishing the eighth grade, he worked full-time in the fields to support his family.

Chavez joined the U.S. Navy in 1946 and served in the Western Pacific after World War II as a seaman. After returning from service in 1948, he met his wife, Helen, while working in the fields in Delano, and later married her.

Paul Chavez, son of the civil rights leader, told the Associated Press that his family never asked for military recognition.

"We just didn't do it," he told the AP. "We were busy trying to comfort people and bury him with dignity. We had always focused on his work with farmworkers" rather than his military service."

This was the first time the Navy has honored Chavez.

In 2012, the Navy named a dry cargo vessel the Cesar Chavez -- the only U.S. military ship named after a Latino.

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