Major General Luis Raúl Esteves Völckers
1893 - 1958
Page from the Howitzer of 1915
Page from the Howitzer of 1915
|High School in Aguadilla, Puerto Rico||Marriage to Guadalupe Navarro, in El Paso, Texas|
Standing L>R: Antonio, Guillermo, Alberto, Raúl, Carlos, René - Seated L>R: Francisca, Enedina Völckers de Esteves, Carmen.
|Father: Fransico Esteves Soriano (1848 - 1915)
Mother: Enedina Völckers Van der Dijs (1864 - 1939)
His father, Fransico Esteves Soriano was awarded a Medal for Bravery by
the King of Spain. Both of his parents were born in Aguadilla and were married in
1881. They had eight children, of which Luis Raúl was the sixth child. He grew up in Aguadilla, graduating from the local
elementary school he was sent to Mayagüez to attend high school. Upon graduation from high school, he
took the qualification exams for the Army and Navy Military Academies. He
passed the exams and was accepted
into the US Naval Academy at Annapolis, and the US Military Academy at
West Point. He decided to attend the US Military Academy, graduating in
1915, "the class of the generals". This was quite and accomplishment,
since at the time, only US citizens of Anglo-Saxon origin and Protestant,
were admitted to the service academies, although there have been some African-Americans admitted into West Point after the Civil War, during the
Luis Raúl Esteves Völckers was the first Puerto Rican to graduate from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point on June 19, 1915. He was the first member of his class to make the rank of General and one of 50 plus, that earned that rank in the US Army. During his stay at West Point, he tutored Dwight D. Eisenhower in Spanish, helping him pass that course at the Academy. Eisenhower went on to be come president of the United States (1952 - 1960) and remained very good friends with General Esteves. They corresponded regularly and visited each other on occasions.
Upon graduation from the Academy, there was a small technical problem, in that Puerto Rican's were not US citizens, and therefore, there was a legal question on his ability to become an officer in the United States Army. The War Department (as the Department of Defense was called back then) was able find a precedence when they remembered that during the American Revolutionary War, foreign officers like Lafayette and von Steuben (just a couple of many) were given commissions in the Continental Army.
He did join the Army as a Second Lieutenant and was assigned to the 23rd Infantry, stationed in Texas City, Texas under the command of General Pershing. This was during the time Mexico was undergoing a civil war and the US was having border skirmishes Pancho Villa, along the Texas and New Mexico - Mexican border. He was then sent to in El Paso, Texas during the "Pancho Villa Incident" by the Army, where they felt he would be a big help, due of his knowledge of the language. From El Paso, he was then assigned to the town of Polvo, Mexico, where he was appointed Mayor and judge by the local citizens of the town.
After the 1910 Revolution, Villa and his Division del Norte army joined in resistance with the armies of Venustiano Carranza and Alvaro Obregon against the Victoriano Huerta dictatorship of 1913-14. Eventually a power struggle arose between Carranza and Villa. Forced to choose between the two, Obregon sided with Carranza. When the U.S. government openly supported the Carranza presidency, Villa retaliated by raiding U.S. border towns. In 1916 he led a particularly devastating raid on Columbus, New Mexico. He evaded capture by U.S. officials for many years.
There is a family story that when Lt. Esteves arrived in El Paso, US and Mexican troops were exchanging gun fire during the night, across the border. The next morning, Lt. Esteves crossed the border and walked in to the Mexican Headquarters demanding to speak to the commanding officer. He was informed that the commander was still not dressed and having breakfast. Lt. Esteves became upset, and ordered the Mexican to inform his commander that the American officer said, "this is no time for a military officer to be undressed and having breakfast ." He added "Tell him to get dressed immediately and present yourself to your office, an officer of the US Army is here demanding a meeting with you!" The Mexican officer quickly got dressed and met with him. They discussed the events of the previous nights, and settled the problem. This communication took place in Spanish, and it impressed the Mexican's that there was a Spanish speaking officer in the US Army.
At the beginning of the First World War, his Regiment was transferred to Syracuse, N.Y. and was split into two groups, using half of the Regiment to provide the seed for the newly formed, 34th Infantry. Luis Esteves, who was then a Captain, was also second in command of the Regiment and its Adjutant.
In 1917 the US Congress passed the Jones Act, giving US citizenship to Puerto Ricans. The forces that were instrumental in the passage of this act, were many, but of prime importance was the status of Puerto Ricans already serving in the Armed Forces, non U.S. citizens were not subject to being drafted, and the war in Europe was growing and there was an eminent threat that the United States would be drawn into it.
Within a month after the passage the Jones Act, the United States entered the war to help its allies, Britain and France. Thousands of the new citizenship were quickly inducted into the US Army. Very few were sent to Europe, and most remained in America, with important support tasks, such as the guarding of the Panama Canal Zone,
Esteves was given the responsibility of preparing the new US citizen, the Puerto Rican
to take part in World War I. It is important to remember, that Puerto
Rico, was an impoverished island back then, and very few of the populace
had any previous military experience. Up to then, while under Spanish
rule, Spain garrisoned a small standing army on the island, which was
comprised primarily of Spaniards,
Esteves was instrumental in organizing the Puerto Rican National Guard. The resulting regiment was designated the 65th Infantry regiment in 1920.
During the Second World War, the 65th was initially stationed in the Caribbean Basin, but eventually
served in the North Africa and Europe. During World War II, more than 62,000 Puerto Ricans,
who would later gain fame and awards for bravery in Korea. During World War II, Puerto
Ricans saw action in Italy, Corsica and the French Alps. Thousands of Puerto
Ricans have done so, and their efforts are insufficiently recognized. So insular is the
point of view sometimes in Puerto Rico that it's not hard to find history books that do not
even mention World War II, much less Puerto Rico's contributions to it. From 1940
to 1946, more than 65,000 Puerto Ricans served in the American military, most of
them going overseas. The 295th and 296th
Infantry regiments of the Puerto Rico National Guard participated in the Pacific
theater, while other Puerto Rican soldiers served in the Women's Army Corp
(WAC) where some were used as linguists in the field of cryptology, communications and
On August 26, 1950, the 65th Infantry regiment left Puerto Rico, sailed through the Panama Canal, and headed across the Pacific to Korea. While in transit, a contest was held to give the regiment a nickname. The winning name "Borinqueneers", after the Borinquen Indian tribe of Puerto Rico, has since become synonymous with the exploits of the 65th in Korea.
He married Guadalupe Navarro on May 19, 1917 in El Paso, Texas, while he was stationed there.
They had 5 children: Luis Raúl, Jr. (1918 - 1994), Vernon (1920 - 1996), Walter (1922 - 1923), Roberto (1924 - 2002), and Maricel (1930)
Major General Luis Raúl Esteves
Copy of his obituary, Obtained from US Military Academy Archivist.
|Luis Raul Esteves
NO. 5409 CLASS OF 1915
Died March 12, 1958, in San Juan, Puerto Rico, aged 64 years.
GENERAL Luis RAUL ESTEVES, he organizer of the Puerto Rico National Guard, and its Adjutant General for almost twenty years, passed away in San Juan in the early hours of 12 March 1958, after an illness of less than three weeks.
General Esteves was a pioneer in more than one way. He was the first Puerto Rican to graduate from the United States Military Academy; he was also the first to see the necessity of a National Guard organization in the Island immediately following World War I. His efforts with the Governor and the Legislature led to the organization of the Puerto Rico National Guard in 1919. Following his tradition of doing first things, he was the first of the 1915 West Point Class to become a General officer. This was quite a feat in itself considering that such outstanding officers as Generals Eisenhower, Bradley, Van Fleet and McNarney were his classmates.
Esteves was five years old at the time of the American occupation of Puerto Rico in 1898. In 1907, having completed his elementary schooling in his home town, Aguadilla, which was as high as he could go there at the time, his parents sent him to Mayaguez for his secondary education. While in his last year his mother regretfully informed him that previous plans to send trim to study for an engineering career in the United States had to be dropped. The family had grown too large while the home finances bad remained in status quo.
A few days later, he ran into a news item announcing examinations for entry into West Point. Without his parents' knowledge he filed an application, passed the required tests and was accepted.
His first few months at the Academy were rather difficult due to his limited knowledge of the English language. He was quick, however, to overcome this difficulty and four years later he was graduated with the class that years later was to be known as the Class of the Generals.
Another incident that characterized General Esteves' destiny as a pioneer occurred after his graduation from West Point. To the dismay of Academy authorities it was discovered that although Puerto Rico belonged to the United States its inhabitants were not American citizens, which precluded commissioning Esteves in the Regular Army. However, when the matter was brought up to the attention of the War Department, someone there dug out an old precedent that saved the young and eager cadet. Lafayette, Von Steuben and other Europeans had been commissioned in the Continental Army during the American Revolution, so, why not Esteves? He got his commission.
His first assignment was with the 23rd Infantry in Texas City. During the "Pancho Villa Incident" he was sent to El Paso and then to the town of Polvo in Mexico, where he was appointed Mayor and judge by the local citizens. In El Paso lie met the girl who was later to become Mrs. Esteves, Senorita Guadalupe Navarro, an American citizen of Mexican extraction.
At the beginning of the first World War his Regiment was transferred to Syracuse, N. Y. By this time the old 23rd was not the same disciplined, trained and efficient organization it had been when Esteves joined it. The Regiment had been split into two groups to provide a cadre for the newly organized 34th Infantry. Esteves, as a Captain, was the Second in Command, Adjutant, commander of a battalion, tire Band, the Mounted Orderlies, and a Machine Gun company.
The entry of the United States in World War 1, the application of the draft laws to Puerto Rico, and his knowledge of the Spanish language brought Esteves back to his native Island to serve as instructor at the Officers' Training Camps that were established soon afterwards. He was instructor or commander of three of these camps, which produced all the officers who led the more than 20,000 men trained in Puerto Rico during that conflict.
In 1918, having been promoted to Major, he was preparing to open a fourth camp when the armistice was signed.
Following the war Major Esteves was transferred to the State of Washington, but due to the sickness of his wife and a medical admonition that residence in a cold climate might be fatal to her, he was forced to resign his commission in the Regular Army - something he regretted to the last day of his life.
As stated previously General Esteves organized the first units of the Puerto Rico National Guard in 1919, commanded its first battalion and its first regiment. When a second regiment was added he commanded both units. Then in 1937 he was made Adjutant General of Puerto Rico.
In October 1940 he was ordered to active duty and commanded the 92nd Infantry Brigade until summoned by the Governor, with Army approval, to organize a State Guard that in a short time consisted of nine well trained and equipped regiments. He reverted to National Guard status for the reorganization of the Puerto Rico National Guard in November 1946 at which time he resumed his position as Adjutant General, a position he held until his retirement in June 1957.
General Esteves was a man of many interests. Military history was his main hobby. The Military Museum at National Guard headquarters in San Juan is a mute witness of his untiring efforts to collect mementos of the glorious deeds of the conquerors of the New World. He was a writer of note, specializing in travel chronicles and military treatises. His humorous stories about soldiers' lives, about which he published two books, are among the best ever written in any language. He was also a great connoisseur of art in all its manifestations.
General Esteves is survived by his widow, Mrs. Guadalupe Navarro de Esteves, and his children Raul, Vernon, Roberto, and Maricel
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Bruce C. Ruiz
November 1, 2002