Marcos B. Armijo, World War I soldier and Distinguished Service Cross recipient, was born on January 10, 1893, at Rincon, Doña Ana County, New Mexico, to Cesario Armijo and Adela Barela. Armijo was one of nine children. The family later relocated to Socorro, New Mexico, before settling permanently in El Paso, Texas. There, Armijo married Maria Salazar and worked as a mechanic for the Texas and Pacific Railway. The couple had one son, Eduardo, in 1914. Armijo also worked in a local print shop prior to entering the United States Army in November 1917.
Armijo was inducted into the U. S. Army in El Paso on November 26, 1917. After attending basic training at Camp Travis, he was sent to Europe aboard the Tuscania, a luxury ocean liner requisitioned for use as a troop transport. While en route to Liverpool on February 5, 1918, the Tuscania was torpedoed and sunk by a German submarine in the Straits of Moyle. Armijo survived the attack and was later credited with rescuing a drowning American nurse.
Upon arrival to England, Private Armijo was assigned to Company C, 125th Infantry Regiment, Thirty-second Infantry Division. On August 3, 1918, while participating in the Aisne-Marne Offensive near Fismes, France, his unit came under heavy German artillery bombardment. During the barrage Armijo was hit by an incoming shell and lost both of his legs. Although severely wounded he lifted himself onto his elbows and calmly rolled and smoked cigarettes while awaiting medical attention. He continued joking and encouraging the other members of his unit to maintain their morale until he was evacuated to a field hospital, where he died on August 5, 1918.
Armijo’s fellow soldiers were clearly inspired by his remarkable level of composure. Future San Antonio mayor and United States Congressman Fontaine Maury Maverick, who claimed to have personally witnessed the event while serving as a first lieutenant, later recalled, “Nothing I’ve seen has ever impressed me as much.” In recognition of this, Armijo was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, making him one of just four Hispanic Texans to receive the medal during World War I. The official citation from the War Department read (in part): “By [his] display of nerve he conveyed to his comrades an unconquerable spirit of fearlessness, pluck, and will power.”
The reports of Armijo’s death that emerged from the battlefield were widely circulated by Texas newspapers. The Spanish-language press and Mexican American leaders, in particular, held his example as proof of their community’s loyalty, patriotism, and sacrifice in wartime. In El Paso, Armijo was celebrated as a local hero. The Marcos B. Armijo Veterans of Foreign Wars Post No. 2753 was established and named in his honor in 1932. Additionally, the city of El Paso created Marcos B. Armijo Park in 1937. In later years a community center, library, and aquatic complex—all bearing his name—were built on the premises. Armijo’s remains were eventually returned to El Paso, and he was buried in Evergreen Cemetery.