From The Halls of Montezuma

From The Halls of Montezuma

By Herbert W. Piekow

ninos heroes

Most people have heard the rousing anthem of the U.S. Marine Corps and are familiar with the opening stanza, “From the Halls of Montezuma . . .” and, most are familiar with the reference to the Aztec emperor who was defeated by the Spanish invader Cortez, long before there was a United States of America or a U.S. Marine Corps. Few know that this refrain refers to the Battle of Chapultepec Hill where young Mexican military cadets died rather than surrender to the invading American forces. The Battle of Chapultepec Hill was bloody and memorable for both sides. The Marines commemorate their loss of 90 percent of their commissioned and noncommissioned officers with the scarlet “blood stripes” on their dress uniforms. While the Mexicans will never forget the sacrifice of Los Niños Héroes, the young cadets who gave their lives to slow the advance of the superior invading American armed forces.

Los Niños Héroes refers to the Boy Heroes, or the six young cadets who valiantly gave their lives rather than be taken prisoners by the overwhelming and better-equipped American invaders. On September 8, 1847, the Mexican Army lost the Battle of the Red Mill, two miles from Chapultepec Hill, to the superior American Army. The bloodied Mexican soldiers delayed the Americans for a few days, allowing the Mexican General Antonio Lopez de Santa Ana, who was in charge of the forces defending Mexico City to mount a defense of Chapultepec. Chapultepec, which means grasshopper hill in Nahuatl, rises 200 feet above the city´s west side and forms a natural barrier against invaders, is crowned by the Chapultepec Castle. The hill originally rose from the lake where the Aztecs built their capitol. In about 1325, the Aztecs fortified Chapultepec Hill and built both religious and residential edifices. Chapultepec Castle, which, at the time of the American invasion, was the Mexican Military Academy and a coveted prize for the foreign invaders. Dozens of young teenaged cadets were studying there. These young, inexperienced soldiers-in-training were asked to help defend Mexico City and slow the invading American army and, if possible, prevent the capture of Chapultepec. Unfortunately, there were not enough Mexican resources and the American forces greatly outnumbered the Mexican defenders in both military numbers and firepower. After hours of hand-to-hand combat it became apparent that the American forces were triumphing. General Nicholas Brazo commanded the Mexican forces at Chapultepec Hill to retreat to safety. However, several young cadets refused to relinquish their posts. The six cadets who ranged in age from 13 to 19 years sacrificed themselves in order to slow the advancement of the Americans. One young cadet wrapped himself in the Mexican flag and flung himself onto the rocks below the castle so that his nation’s flag would not be claimed by the Americans. These Young Heroes have been forever immortalized in Mexican history and lore. Nearly every Mexican city and pueblo honors these six brave boys with a street or monument dedicated to Los Niños Héroes, to remind all Mexicans that heroes are comprised of people who, no matter their age, give everything they have for their ideals and in the defense of the “just cause.” Each of these boys died a hero’s death in defense of their country and to preserve their honor. Mexico will always honor their valor.

At the entrance of Chapultepec Park is an imposing monument of Carrara marble by architect Enrique Aragon and sculptor Ernesto Tamariz commemorating the heroic act of these cadets. On March 5, 1947, U.S. President Harry S. Truman made an unscheduled stop from his Mexico City Tour to pay his respects to these valiant defenders against American aggression. Asked by reporters why he had gone to the monument, Truman replied, “Brave men don’t belong to any one country.”

 

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