Silvestre Herrera was born in the Mexican city of Camargo, Chihuahua, and not, as he once believed, in El Paso, Texas. His parents died when he was only a year old, and the man he had always thought was his father was really an uncle who had brought the 18-month-old Herrera to El Paso to provide him with a better way of life in the United States. This fact was unknown to him until he was 27 years old. Herrera worked as a farm hand in El Paso. He soon moved to Phoenix, Arizona with his wife Ramona and three children, Mary, Elva, Silvestre, Jr. and the uncle he believed to be his father. Herrera was a member of the Texas National Guard, 36th Division. When the United States entered World War II, his unit was to be one of the first to land in Europe. When he broke the news to his family, he was told the truth about his parents’’ death and his place of birth.
On March 15, 1945, Herrera’s unit found itself engaged in combat in a forest in the vicinity of Mertzwiller, France. His platoon came under heavy enemy fire from the woods, forcing most of the men to seek cover. Herrera charged the enemy stronghold and ended the threat, resulting in his single-handed capture of eight enemy soldiers.
Later that same day, his platoon came under fire and was attacked by a second enemy stronghold. The platoon found itself pinned down and the situation was difficult because there was a minefield between the platoon and the enemy. Herrera entered the minefield with the intention of attacking the enemy stronghold while drawing enemy gunfire away from his comrades. A mine exploded and shattered his leg. Then another mine exploded, severing his good leg below the knee. Herrera continued to fire upon the enemy with his own rifle, an act which allowed the members of his platoon to skirt the minefield and capture the enemy position.
As Herrera lay in the Army hospital recovering from his wounds, President Truman was not sure that Herrera would be well enough for a formal presentation of the Medal of Honor. However, on August 23, 1945, Silvestre wheeled his wheelchair across the White House lawn so that the President could present him with his award.