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 San Juan.
When they gave him a name inspired by his father’s admiration for America’s first president, the family had no idea 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.
After pursuing biology studies for three years in college, Jorge Otero-Barreto joined the Army in 1959. One year later, he made history when he became the first Puerto Rican to ever graduate from the Army’s Air Assault School.
Within a year of completing training, Otero was volunteering to go to Vietnam, the first of five deployments he would make between 1961 and 1970, during which time he would serve with the 101st Airborne, the 82nd Airborne, and the 25th Infantry Division, among others.
Otero would volunteer for approximately 200 combat missions during his five deployments, 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.
Over the course of five deployments, Otero-Barreto would earn 38 commendations, including three Silver Stars, five Purple Hearts, five Bronze Stars, five Air Medals and four Army Commendation Medals.
One commendation was earned for actions on May 1, 1968, when the platoon sergeant, along with men from the 101st Air Cavalry Division, was occupying positions designed to pin down a North Vietnamese regiment in a village near the deadly city of Hue.
Early that morning, Otero and his men began getting bombarded by a series of charges by enemy soldiers desperate to rid themselves of their predicament.
Two charges by enemy soldiers were repelled by U.S. troops. Fifty-eight enemies were killed in the charges, and the assailants were forced to limp back to the village.
Rather than wait for another assault, Otero took 1st Platoon, Company A, to the point position to lead an assault on the village.
Quickly into their advance, first platoon began taking machine gun, small arms, and rocket-propelled grenade fire from a scattering of spider holes and bunkers.
The Puerto Rican Rambo wasted no time in going to work.
Otero sprinted to the nearest machine gun bunker and quickly killed the three men manning the position.
Gathering the rest of his squad, Otero then moved through three more fortified enemy bunkers, going from one to the next until all that remained was a trail of destruction.
The assault by Otero, 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.
While the conclusion of Vietnam would mark the end of his career in combat, it would not be the last of Otero’s many lifetime achievements.
In 2006, he was named the recipient of the National Puerto Rican Coalition’s Lifetime Achievement Award. Since then, he has had veterans homes and museums named for him, and in 2011, was honored in his hometown when the city named the Puerto Rican Rambo its citizen of the year.
Read more from one of his Silver Star citations here.
Jon Simkins is a writer and editor for Military Times, and a USMC veteran.