Eloy Otero-Bruno and Crispina Barreto-Torres welcomed a son into the world on April 7, 1937, in the small municipality of Vega Baja, Puerto Rico, just west of the island’s capital of San Juan.
When they gave him a name inspired by his father’s admiration for America’s first president, the family certainly had no inkling that little Jorge would one day be something of an American icon in his own right, a status earned after becoming one of the most decorated soldiers of the Vietnam War.
Jorge Otero Barreto joined the Army in 1959 after pursuing biology studies in college. One year later, he made history by becoming the first Puerto Rican to ever graduate from the Army’s Air Assault School.
Little time elapsed before Otero Barreto volunteered to go to Vietnam. In 1961, he embarked on his first deployment, one of five such tours he would make to the embattled nation between 1961 and 1970 as a member of the 101st Airborne, 82nd Airborne and 25th Infantry Division, among others.
Over the course of five deployments, Otero Barreto volunteered for approximately 200 combat missions — a lofty number that eventually earned him the moniker “The Puerto Rican Rambo,” after the fictional death-dealing character made famous by actor Sylvester Stallone.
He would earn 38 total commendations during the five combat tours, including three Silver Stars, five Purple Hearts, five Bronze Stars, five Air Medals and four Army Commendation Medals.
One particular award was the result of actions on May 1, 1968, when the platoon sergeant, along with men from the 101st Air Cavalry Division, nestled into positions designed to pin down a North Vietnamese regiment in a village near the deadly city of Hue.
In the early morning hours, Otero Barreto and his men came under a heavy bombardment and faced waves of charging enemy soldiers desperate to rid themselves of the incoming Americans.
U.S. troops managed to repel the first two enemy assaults, killing 58 in the process and forcing the assailants to limp back to the village.
Instead of awaiting a third assault, Otero Barreto opted to lead a counter-attack. But shortly into their advance, the first platoon came under a barrage of machine gun, small arms, and rocket-propelled grenade fire from enemy spider holes and bunkers strewn across the platoon’s fire sector.
The Puerto Rican Rambo wasted no time getting to work.
Otero Barreto sprinted to the nearest machine gun bunker and quickly killed the three men manning the position.
Gathering the rest of his squad, he then moved through three more fortified enemy bunkers, dashing from one to the next until all that remained was a trail of destruction.
The assault by Otero Barreto, which allowed the rest of Company A’s platoons to maneuver into advantageous positions and overrun the enemy, would earn him one of his three Silver Stars.
Otero Barreto, now 85, would later retire as a sergeant first class. And while the eventual conclusion of Vietnam would mark the end of his extensive combat career, it would not be the last of his many lifetime achievements.
In 2006, Otero Barreto was named the recipient of the National Puerto Rican Coalition’s Lifetime Achievement Award. Since then, he has had veterans homes and museums named in his honor, and in 2011, he was recognized in his hometown when the city named the Puerto Rican Rambo its citizen of the year.
Read more about Otero Barreto via one of his Silver Star citations here.
Jon Simkins is a writer and editor for Military Times, and a USMC veteran.