Governor Greg Abbott today posthumously awarded the Texas Legislative Medal of Honor to U.S. Army Pvt. Marcelino Serna and U.S. Coast Guard Seaman Apprentice William Ray Flores. The Texas Legislative Medal of Honor is the highest military decoration awarded to a member of the state or federal military forces by the State of Texas. The awards were accepted by members of Pvt. Serna’s and Seaman Apprentice Flores’ respective families. Maj. Gen. Tracy Norris, the Adjutant General of Texas, joined Governor Abbott for the award ceremony at the Governor’s Mansion.
“For their remarkable valor and selfless service, it is my distinct honor to present the Texas Legislative Medal of Honor to Pvt. Marcelino Serna and Seaman Apprentice William Ray Flores,” said Governor Abbott. “We can never repay the debt we owe to these brave men for their selfless acts and the lives they saved, but today we honor their memory, their patriotism, and their sacrifice. America is the brightest beacon of freedom the world has ever known because of all who have honorably worn the uniform of the mightiest military in the history of the world.”
“Thank you Governor Abbott for taking time to recognize these service members,” said Maj. Gen. Norris. “It is a true pleasure to see Texans receive honors owed to them. The fighting spirt of these service members has left a legacy of excellence all leaders can point to as we lead our formations today.”
Texas Senator Cesar Blanco nominated Pvt. Serna, and Representative Ray Lopez nominated Seaman Apprentice Flores for the Texas Legislative Medal of Honor.
“As a fellow El Pasoan and veteran, it was my honor and privilege to successfully nominate Pvt. Serna for the Texas Legislative Medal of Honor,” said Senator Blanco. “As Texas’ most decorated soldier from World War I, this recognition is long overdue for Pvt. Serna. I am proud of Texas for taking the lead on righting an injustice and honoring Pvt. Serna for his conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. I appreciate Governor Abbott, Lt. Governor Patrick, the Legislative Medal of Honor Committee, fellow veterans, and most of all the Serna family, for uplifting and honoring the legacy of U.S. Army Private Serna. I urge Congress to follow Texas’ lead and award Pvt. Serna the Congressional Medal of Honor.”
U.S. Army Pvt. Marcelino Serna was born in Mexico and immigrated to the United States as a young man. He enlisted in the U.S. Army at the age of 20 in 1917, the same year the United States entered World War I. Pvt. Serna had barely started his training when he joined the 355th Infantry, 89th Division that went overseas.
A remarkable soldier, the private demonstrated exceptional resourcefulness and courage during an engagement near the French town of St. Mihiel. During that encounter, the enemy gunned down 12 members of his unit, and he volunteered to scout the machine gun emplacement on his own. Moving through heavy fire, he tossed four hand grenades into the machine gun nest, killing six of the enemy combatants. He then took the eight survivors captive. Shortly thereafter, during the Meuse-Argonne campaign, he volunteered again for a lone scouting mission, wounding a German sniper with a shot from 200 yards and then following the injured man into a trench. Firing and hurling grenades in all directions to make it seem as if he were part of a larger force, he shot three German soldiers immediately, then attacked an enemy dugout, felling 26 more and capturing 24.
He single-handedly held the prisoners at gunpoint until other members of his unit arrived. Serna received wounds in his legs but served in combat until the end of the war. For his heroic actions, he was the most highly decorated Texan veteran of World War I, receiving several distinctions that included two Purple Hearts. He became a U.S. citizen in 1924 and settled in El Paso, Texas where he resided until his death in 1992.
U.S. Coast Guard Seaman Apprentice William Ray Flores was born in New Mexico in 1961. His family moved to the Fort Worth area when he was a child, and he attended Western Hills High School in Benbrook, Texas. He left school early in order to enlist in the U.S. Coast Guard at the age of 17. He served aboard the buoy tender Blackthorn, and on the night of January 28, 1980, the ship was leaving Tampa, Florida, on route to its home port of Galveston when it collided with a 600-foot tanker, the SS Capricorn.
The Blackthorn’s hull suffered damaged and the vessel began to take on water and roll onto its side. In a selfless act, Flores and another seaman found the locker that held the ship’s life jackets, and they began throwing jackets to their crewmates already in the water. As the Blackthorn sank, and after nearly everyone else had abandoned ship, he stayed aboard and attempted to save those still trapped below deck. He lost his life in that effort, along with 22 of his shipmates.