SCOTTSBLUFF — During a class reunion last year, several members of the Scottsbluff Class of 1963 decided a monument was needed to honor members of the Chicano/Mexican American community who served in the military.
“America has a long history of honoring those who answered the call the serve,” said Marty Ramirez, Vietnam veteran and one of the project organizers. “Sadly, Mexican Americans are often overlooked during those honors. We were among the most decorated of those who served during World War II.”
He said many of those veterans came from humble beginnings, but were raised in families where patriotism and love of country was strong. They were willing to serve and were proud of their military service, even when it demanded the ultimate sacrifice.
“During our reunion, we found out that 60% of the Mexican American graduates from the Class of 1963 were sent to Vietnam,” Ramirez said. “Two women even joined the Navy. So we decided to place a monument to honor those from our community who served, not just in Vietnam but all service members.”
The monument will include the names of all the local Mexican American community’s service members and those who were killed in action.
“There’s been a lack of recognition for what our Latino soldiers sacrificed during Vietnam,” said Vietnam veteran Joe Perez, who’s also helping with the monument project. “I think it’s fitting that while we’re observing the 55th anniversary of the Vietnam War, we recognize them for their service. We also need to recognize those who are serving today. It’s something we should never forget.”
Retired carpenter Ben Trevino was one of the thousands of Vietnam veterans who didn’t get a welcome back after their service. There were no yellow ribbons, only a change of clothes and transportation home.
“When I was discharged, I was processed in San Francisco at midnight,” Trevino said. “I didn’t know until later it was because of all the protestors. When I got home, my family was the only ones there to welcome me.”
Trevino related a story that meant a lot to him. About 40 years after being discharged, he was walking in his neighborhood and met a neighbor, another veteran. The man asked him if he had served in Vietnam. When Trevino said yes, the response was “Welcome home.”
Speaking at the Guadalupe Center in east Scottsbluff, Ramirez said the patriotism and pride has always been strong in Latino families. Their homes prominently feature pictures of children and other family members who are in the military.
“Here at the Guadalupe Center, this was the hub of our community where everything happened back in the ‘40s and ‘50s,” Ramirez said. “Through all the hard work, we had fun. So talking about growing up here and our experiences is sort of healing for us.”
Perez said that local Latino families knew the stories of loved ones who served, but it was never shared into the wider community. He hopes this monument will help accomplish that.
“We want this to offer a healing process not only for ourselves but also for the entire valley,” he said. “The times in our country are very divisive now and we need to have some understanding about ourselves. Conflict is never the way to solve differences.”
The monument will be placed at the Guadalupe Center during a ceremony over the Veterans’ Day weekend in November.
“It will symbolize and ensure that their legacies and stories will be preserved for future generations,” Ramirez said. “It will also be an honorable tribute to a rich history of military service of Chicano/Mexican American veterans from the valley, reflecting that we will not be forgotten.”