By THE PULSE NEWS MEXICO STAFF
Each September, the people of Mexico pay homage to a group of six military school boys known as the nation’s Niños Héroes (Children Heroes).
Although there is to this day much debate as to the accuracy of their tragic tale, their fateful sacrifice at Chapultepec Castle is regarded as an example of national pride and uncompromised patriotic commitment.
What is undisputed is that the six young cadets died defending Chapultepec Castle — which at the time was being used as their school — during the final days of the Mexican-American War.
On the anniversary of the Battle of Chapultepec each year, a grateful nation remembers the events of Sept. 13, 1847, when, as Mexico fought to repel U.S. forces seeking to capture the capital in a war that would affect the fates of both nations and their relationship for many years to come, the Niños Héroes made a last stand to defense the symbolic fortress.
The Battle of Chapultepec would be a deciding factor in Mexico’s capitulation to U.S. forces and the eventual ceding of over half this country’s territory to its northern neighbor.
Deciding against sending further reinforcements to assist in the occupation of Mexico’s northwest territories, then-President James K. Polk sent an army by sea to Veracruz in order to seize Mexico City and force an end to the bloody, two-year campaign that broke out after the 1945 annexation of Texas, a former Mexican territory.
Upon entering the capital, U.S. forces vastly outnumbered and quickly overwhelmed the estimated 3,400 soldiers, led by General l Antonio López de Santa Anna, defending the capital.
However, about 400 men attempted to resist the storming of the castle, which was seen as a principle point of defense for the city and a symbol of its continued independence from the invading forces.
Now a Mexican Military Academy, the castle had an estimated 200 soldiers defending it, half of whom were cadets, who instead of finishing their training and going off to war had the war brought to their doorsteps in the form of an artillery barrage that began at dawn on the morning of Sept. 12.
After just a few hours of aerial bombardment, U.S. forces charged the castle, placing dozens of ladders against the walls and pouring over the sides, forcing General Nicolás Bravo to sound the retreat.
But six young cadets — Juan de la Barrera, Agustín Melgar, Vicente Suárez, Francisco Márquez, Fernando Montes de Oca and Juan Escutia — ranging in age from 13 to 19, refused to follow their leader’s orders and fought to protect the Mexican flag atop the castle.
As the cadets fought to the death, Escutia reportedly wrapped himself in the Mexican flag and threw himself from the ramparts to keep it from being captured by the enemy army.
Today, a mural on the ceiling of the castle depicts the young man who defied an entire army, draped in the flag of the republic and falling to his death.
In 1952, a white marble Monument to the Children Heroes was designed by architect Enrique Aragón and sculpted by Ernesto Tamaríz to grace the main entrance to Chapultepec Park.
With the castle still standing guard behind them, the six pillars represent each of the heroic cadets, who were interred under the monument upon its completion.
In 1947, then-U.S. President Harry S. Truman laid a wreath on what was then a simple stone monument in front of the castle, remarking that “brave men do not belong to any one country,” a simple act that did more to heal the wounds inflicted by that battle than any other gesture during the previous 100 years.