By Don Vaughn

“To kill a tiger, you have to become a tiger.” 

Such was the personal motto of Sgt. 1st Class Jorge Otero Barreto (USA-Ret.), one of the most heavily decorated American soldiers of the Vietnam War. Over the course of his military career, Otero Barreto was awarded 38 military commendations, including three Silver Stars, five Bronze Stars, five Air Medals, and four Army Commendation Medals. 

Otero Barreto was born in Vega Baja, Puerto Rico, April 7, 1937, to Eloy Otero-Bruno and Crispina Barreto-Torres. He was given the name Jorge because of his father's admiration for George Washington. Otero Barreto attended college for three years, studying biology, and joined the Army in 1959. In 1960, he became the first person of Puerto Rican descent to graduate from Army Air Assault School. 

Otero Barreto served five tours in Vietnam between 1961 and 1970, first as an advisor to Vietnamese troops. He served in a variety of units over the course of his career, including the 101st Airborne Division, the 25th Infantry Division “Tropic Lightning,” the 82nd Airborne Division and the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, notes the documentary Brave Lords, which chronicles the Puerto Rican experience in Vietnam. 

An accomplished jungle fighter, Otero Barreto participated in nearly 200 combat missions during his time in Vietnam. His astounding record led the media to later give Otero Barreto the nickname “The Puerto Rican Rambo,” after the fictional character made famous in films by Sylvester Stallone. 

Otero Barreto was wounded five times during his time in Vietnam, resulting in five Purple Heart commendations. 

In the years following his military service, Otero Barreto received numerous honors and public recognition. In 2006, he received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Puerto Rican Coalition. In Springfield, Mass., a transitional home for veterans was named after him. 

In addition, Otero Barreto's hometown of Vega Baja honored its most famous son by dedicating its military museum to the much-decorated warrior. In 2011, the city also named Otero Barreto its Civic Citizen of the Year.