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The Fourth of July, a national holiday celebrating the anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence in 1776, seems a fitting time to consider freedom and the men who have fought to preserve it.

Some of them are still seeking acknowledgement, said Dr. Marty Ramirez of Lincoln a retired University of Nebraska professor who just happens to be part of the Class of 1963 at Scottsbluff High School. As such, Ramirez is one of the Barrio Veterans who fought in Vietnam.

There are at least five others from that class who grew up in the southeast part of the Panhandle community and went to elementary, junior and senior high together. The six are working to create a memorial at the Guadalupe Center to recognize Chicano/Mexican American soldiers. Ramirez said 60 percent of the Chicano/Mexican Americans in the Class of 1963 were drafted and sent to serve in the Vietnam War.

Ramirez, a retired psychology instructor at UNL, said this is a group of veterans who have been largely overlooked. “We were drafted because we were poor and vulnerable,” he said. “What they didn’t know is that we were real fighters and survivors.” He explained the struggles that helped mold the Barrio Veterans.

“We worked in the farm fields in the summer and if we were lucky, our parents would let us play baseball when our work was done,” Ramirez said. He did and enjoyed the travel and earned a ticket to Chadron State College because of his athleticism. Then he got drafted.

As with most Vietnam veterans, there were no welcome home celebrations and no recognition. Chicano/Mexican Americans have been forgotten since. He said Chicano/Mexican Americans in the military were excluded from the collective historical consciousness of the country.

“We didn’t know that there were Latinos in Korea and in World War II because we didn’t talk about it,” said Joe Perez, another veteran and class member. This monument would provide this honor to young, old, male and females who are proud of their military service, he said, and it might bring some healing.

Ramirez, Perez and classmate/veteran Bennie Trevino of Gering have already laid the groundwork for the monument and begun fundraising. They want a dedication at the Guadalupe Center to coincide with Veterans Day in November.

The monument will honor the sacrifices, services and patriotism of Chicano/Mexican American soldiers in the Scottsbluff North Platte Valley who served in the military. Perez said faith, commitment and appreciation got them through hard times. All three said they called on those same values to get them through their time in Vietnam.

Chicano/Mexican Americans have made a huge impact on the Panhandle communities and the geography better known as the Valley. Once billed as Nebraska’s Valley of the Nile, the North Platte River and a series of irrigation canals and inland lakes made the area every bit as rich as the land of Egypt along the Nile River.

With the monument purchased, the group is launching Phase Two of the project, the gathering of names. They believe there could be as many as 500 to 1,000 names of Chicano/Mexican Americans who served in the military. Financial donations and names can be forwarded to the Guadalupe Center or to Ramirez at 402-310-4590 or martyramirez1@gmail.com or Joe Perez at 970-673-5975 or joeperez803@yahoo.com.

This is a great project, worthy of moral and financial support. The Barrio Veterans will accept both.

J.L. Schmidt has been covering Nebraska government and politics since 1979. He has been a registered Independent for 20 years.

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