Military service shaped Dr. Garcia’s life and activism. When he returned to the United States after serving overseas during World War II, he joined the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC). The organization addressed issues of discrimination but did not, Dr. Garcia believed, do enough for veterans. In 1948, he founded the American GI Forum (AGIF). The veterans’ advocacy group soon evolved into a powerful and effective force for civil rights as men and women established chapters nationwide.
Serving in the Military
Dr. Garcia’s military service began at an early age. At 15, he joined the Civilian Military Training Corps (CMTC). He entered active duty in 1942 and served with the U.S. Army Medical Corps in Europe and North Africa during World War II. Dr. Garcia received several commendations for outstanding service, including one citation that praised his devotion to duty and “desire to do more than his share.”
Dr. Garcia’s commitment to military service began in 1929 when he joined the CMTC, predecessor to the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC). He received several such training certificates.
This military portrait of Dr. Garcia was taken during his World War II service. He achieved the ranks of captain in 1942 and major in 1947.
In this 1942 letter to his family, Dr. Garcia discusses life in the military and promises to send money soon.
Dr. Garcia’s medical unit is photographed in North Africa during World War II.
For his admirable service during World War II, Dr. Garcia received the Bronze Star Medal. The citation for the medal recognized his “outstanding diligence and loyalty to duty.”
Like many immigrants during World War II, Dr. Garcia served his country valiantly before becoming a U.S. citizen. His received this certificate of naturalization in 1946.
The AGIF expanded to California in 1956. Here, members gather in Los Angeles for the 11th annual AGIF convention.
The AGIF’s annual conventions attracted high-profile guests. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy attended the 1964 Chicago convention.
AGIF chapters reached the east and west coasts by 1974.
This portrait of Dr. Garcia captures many of his proudest accomplishments, including his medical practice, the AGIF, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Founding the American GI Forum
Despite their wartime service and sacrifices, Mexican American veterans encountered racism, discrimination, and poverty when they returned to the United States. In response, Dr. Garcia convened a meeting in 1948 for veterans in Corpus Christi. Hundreds gathered and decided to establish a veterans’ rights organization, the AGIF. With Dr. Garcia as its president, the AGIF flourished and spread nationwide.
This newspaper article announces the March 26, 1948 meeting for veterans that resulted in the creation of the AGIF.
Dr. Garcia proudly wore an AGIF founder’s hat for nearly five decades.
The AGIF Constitution outlines the organization’s principles and goals, stating its dedication to all veterans “regardless of race, color, or creed.”
In this letter to members of Veterans of Foreign Wars, Dr. Garcia announces the creation of the AGIF and describes many of the problems facing veterans in South Texas.
The AGIF welcomed the participation of women, who formed auxiliary chapters. Here Dr. Garcia greets Claudina Garza, who established a chapter in Chicago.
This audio recording, produced by the University of Texas at Austin, explores the origins and importance of the AGIF.
In this video, taken at the AGIF's 43rd national convention, Dr. Garcia discusses the organization's beginnings.
Supporting Soldiers and Veterans
Dr. Garcia’s commitment to America’s soldiers and veterans never wavered. He became a personal advocate for thousands of soldiers, providing medical care, arranging funeral services, and supporting the families of the fallen. Throughout the Vietnam War he also made an effort to greet returning coffins at the Corpus Christi airport, firm in his belief that “It is the least I can do for them.”
Dr. Garcia promoted equal treatment for all those serving in the armed forces. In 1948, he wrote to the local draft board protesting discrimination against Spanish-speaking draftees.
Dr. Garcia advocated personally for the people who came to him for help. In this letter, he requests a delay in deployment for the son of a sick patient.
In this letter, the Barrera family thanks Dr. Garcia and the AGIF for honoring the sacrifice of their son, a private killed in Vietnam.
The AGIF made funeral arrangements for soldiers killed overseas.
Dr. Garcia wanted the government to recognize the sacrifice and bravery of soldiers from minority groups. In this photograph, he poses with Latino Medal of Honor recipients.
Fighting for Felix Longoria
In 1949 the director of a funeral home in Three Rivers, Texas, refused to host a service for Private Felix Longoria because of his ethnicity. Longoria’s widow, Beatrice, turned to Dr. Garcia for help. The AGIF launched a massive protest that resulted in a formal burial service for Private Longoria at Arlington National Cemetery. The experience transformed the AGIF into powerful voice for Mexican American civil rights.
In his quest to honor Private Longoria, Dr. Garcia reached out to Senator Lyndon B. Johnson (D-TX) to explain the situation and urge action.
Senator Johnson responded to Dr. Garcia’s appeals with this telegram. He arranged for Private Longoria to be buried with full military honors.
This flyer implores people to protest the bigotry of the funeral home that refused to host a service for Private Longoria. The massive 1949 protest brought national attention to the AGIF.
Dr. Garcia organized a fundraiser to pay for the Longoria family’s travel expenses, ensuring they could attend the funeral at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.
This article explores the legacy of the Private Longoria controversy. The incident is considered a milestone in the Mexican American civil rights struggle.
In 1989, Dr. Garcia visited Private Longoria’s gravesite to honor the man who spurred him to start a movement.