I was only four, maybe five years old, when I said goodbye to my favorite uncle. He enlisted in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War and my grandmother’s tears told me we might never see him again.
It would be more than a dozen years later before he returned home to Adrian, MI. He wasn’t the same person I remembered.
When I was a child we would sit on the porch eating popsicles. He was someone I could share my childhood dreams and secrets. His sense of humor never failed to lift my spirits.
The stranger who returned was someone who for years had tried to use booze to escape the despair and painful memories of his past – a part of his life I could not understand.
I didn’t like the person he had become. But, during the two decades since, I’ve met many others like him.
Like them, he answered the call to serve his county. Like them, he wasn’t given a choice.
They didn’t return to a hero’s welcome. They didn’t return as victors.
Many never recovered from that experience. It took my uncle many years before he found the strength and courage to face those demons and become sober.
On June 5, those veterans will be recognized during a Vietnam Veterans Honor Roll at the University of Toledo. Three days later, Latino veterans from all wars will be publicly honored during the 2013 Midwest Latino Festival at Promenade Park in downtown Toledo.
My hope is that my uncle and other Latino veterans participate in these events.
Not just to be honored. But to also honor those who never found their way back.
Organizers for both events are seeking the names of veterans to invite and participate. For more information, contact Mark Peddicord, marketing manager for The Blade at (419) 724-6394, or firstname.lastname@example.org or Rico Neller, editor, La Prensa at (419) 870-6565.
For more information, tune in to Tony Rios’ Voces Latinas, 7 p.m., Saturday on Buckeye Cable System Channel 69.