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Puerto Rico Profile: Admiral Horacio Rivero

February 25, 2000
Copyright © 2000 THE PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.

Puerto Ricans have served valiantly in the United States Armed Forces for over one hundred years. They fought in all the wars and conflicts of the last century, and four of them ­ Fernando Luis Garcia, Euripides Rubio, Carlos James Lozada, and Hector Santiago-Colon ­ have received the Congressional Medal of Honor.

The story of Puerto Ricans in uniform is not complete, however, without considering the leadership role that they have played in defending their country. Many Puerto Ricans have risen to prominence in the U.S. military, and as high-ranking officers they have been, and continue to be, vital links in the chain of command.

Perhaps no one has been more instrumental in setting the stage for succeeding generations of Puerto Rican military leaders than Admiral Horacio Rivero. A veteran of World War II, the Korean Conflict, and even the Cuban Missile Crisis, he distinguished himself not only for his heroism, but also for his outstanding intellect and keen decision-making ability.

Horacio Rivero was born in Ponce in 1910, at a time when the Americans who ruled his native island doubted whether the inhabitants had the tools necessary to govern themselves. He would spend his entire career proving the fallacy of that assumption.

The road, however, was not easy. The people of Puerto Rico attained United States citizenship in 1917. That same year, many volunteered to fight for the U.S. in the first world war, yet they were relegated to performing minor tasks in the Panama Canal Zone.

Only nine years after that "war to end all wars," Horacio Rivero received an appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. On June 4, 1931, Ensign Rivero graduated from the Naval Academy with distinction, third in his class of 441.

As his naval career continued through the 1930s, Rivero took advantage of several opportunities to expand his technical knowledge by continuing his education. He studied electrical engineering, first at the Naval Postgraduate School in Annapolis, then at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in Cambridge, where he earned his degree of Master of Science in 1940.

Rivero served throughout the South Pacific in World War II. His first assignment, in January, 1942, was to assist in outfitting a new ship, the USS San Juan. Over the next three and a half years, he acted as a Gunnery Officer and Executive Officer on a number of ships, including the USS San Juan. He provided artillery cover for marines landing on Guadalcanal, and he participated in the capture of the Marshall Islands, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa.

For his service during the war, Rivero was awarded the Bronze Star with Combat "V," as well as the Legion of Merit. The second distinction came as a result of Rivero's successful strategies to save his ship, the USS Pittsburgh, after its bow had been torn off during a typhoon. Thanks to Rivero's direction, the ship returned to port without a single life lost.

After the war, Captain Rivero continued to excel in the service of his country. In the late 1940s and early '50s, he commanded two ships, the USS William C. Lawe and USS Noble. He completed the course at the National War College in 1953, and in 1954 he became Assistant Chief of Staff for Naval Operations.

In 1955, Rivero was promoted to the rank of Rear Admiral, and he continued to alternate between commanding ships and holding positions of increasing importance in Washington. By the end of the Eisenhower Administration, he was simultaneously Deputy Chief of Staff for Plans and Operations to the Commander in Chief, U.S. Atlantic Fleet, as well as a member of the Staff of the Commander in Chief, Western Atlantic Area.

In October, 1962, Admiral Rivero found himself right in the middle of the Cuban Missile Crisis. As Commander of Amphibious Forces, Atlantic Fleet, he was on the front line of vessels sent to the Caribbean by President Kennedy to stop the Cold War from escalating into World War III.

On July 31, 1964, Horacio Rivero made history. He was the first Puerto Rican, and the first Hispanic American, to become a four-star Admiral.

From 1968 until his retirement from the Navy in 1972, Admiral Rivero was the Commander of Allied Forces in Southern Europe. After bringing to a close a career spanning six decades, Admiral Rivero remained in public life as the U.S. Ambassador to Spain from 1972 until 1975.

Today, Admiral Horacio Rivero lives in San Diego, California. He was recently named Honorary Chairman of the American Veterans' Committee for Puerto Rico Self-Determination, an organization which draws purpose and strength from the great number of Puerto Ricans who have served in the Armed Forces of the United States. As Honorary Chairman, Admiral Rivero continues to inspire his fellow Puerto Ricans to achieve the greatness of which they are capable.