News Column

Hispanic Vets Recognized

June 10, 2002

Victor Martin.

New York -- Recovery and compilation of first-hand accounts of Hispanic soldiers who fought for the United States in several wars is a major part of the broader Veterans History Project of the Library of Congress.

The initiative seeks to preserve for future generations the living memories of millions of veterans and civilians who took part in the two World Wars, Korea, Vietnam and the Persian Gulf, and to show the true value of their contributions and sacrifices.

"(These recollections) will give a better understanding of Hispanic veterans, for a better understanding of all we contributed to this country in the wars, ranging from the Civil War to Afghanistan," veteran Francisco Ibarra, who spent 13 months in Vietnam, told EFE.

Ibarra, national commander of the GI Forum, said the discrimination Hispanic veterans faced after World War II has practically disappeared, as there are organizations and programs dedicated to them and there is greater appreciation of their role in defending the United States.

"We have 39 Hispanics who received the Congressional Medal of Honor, the highest honor for courage in combat," he added.

But he acknowledged that, like many other veterans, Hispanics often found it very difficult to talk about wartime experiences.

"I spent more than 20 years without telling my children that I was in Vietnam. What I lived through there was very hard, things not all of us can discuss," added the Mexican-American Ibarra, who was wounded in combat.

Something similar happened to retired Lt.-Col. Charlie Mendoza, a Puerto Rican who spent more than two years in Vietnam.

"I never discussed with my sons or daughters the more than 20 years I was with the army and if those experiences are not preserved, they will lost to future generations," said the cheerful 68-year-old, who is now a part-time municipal judge in Georgia.

"When the country needed our help, the Latinos were always ready," Mendoza said, adding that on a recent trip to Texas, he was surprised at the large number of Hispanic names recorded on monuments honoring World War II veterans.

Mendoza said the Veterans History Project will expand knowledge about important periods in the history of the United States on the basis of testimony and objects contributed by many former veterans and civilians.

It will also help people understand how wars change individuals and societies, and how some veterans found a way to move forward after seeing - and often experiencing - so much suffering.

"I love my life, my family, my friends. I always thank God for letting me go on living, improving myself and doing more for my community," Ibarra said.

Some 19 million veterans currently live in the United States, but they are dying of at the rate of 1,500 a day, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The promoters of the initiative, which is part of the work of the Library of Congress' American Folklife Center, considers it vital to assemble testimonies and personal belongings that are part of Latino history in the United States.

Source: Copyright 2002 Efe. All Rights Reserved.

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