I’m writing this column on the 75th anniversary of D-Day. The day has deep emotional significance for me, as it does for so many. However, my emotion on this solemn day is tempered with regret. The History Channel has been running excellent documentaries on D-Day, but again, as I have pointed out many times before, documentaries completely ignore the Latino presence in World War II. This ignorance extends to society in general.
This is too bad because I know the price that Chicanos and other Latinos paid in blood on bloody battlefields. I have personal knowledge of this. As I have said before, I grew up listening to my uncle Reynaldo Zuniga’s stories of landing on Omaha Beach with Company I, 23rd Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division. He came ashore on D+1, but as he always said, “the Germans were still shooting at us.” He fought at St. Lo and St. George D’Elle, and was badly wounded during the siege of Brest in September 1944. He was a modest man and never bragged, but he was also a very realistic kind of guy and believed in telling it like it was. He felt that he was delivering a cautionary tale to a kid like me, but all he did was to make me want to do the same thing. When Vietnam came along, I had to go.
I’ve been about writing my war experiences in The Gazette, and I’m grateful that I live in a community that appreciates what I say, and with a newspaper that emphasizes patriotism. If I am anything I am a patriot. But as readers know, my definition of patriots is this: “Patriots are people who love their country’s virtues but hate their country’s faults.”
Today I want to remember what happened when I came back from Vietnam. I’ve written about that before but now I would like to focus on the attitudes of the Sixties Generation, the baby boomer beneficiaries of the Pax Americana won by their fathers.
By 1970, when I started at Colorado College the rebellious attitudes that characterized the 1960s were in full bloom at that august institution.
This was not unique to CC. College campuses across the nation were full of anti-war activism. And rightly so, because the Vietnam War was a tragedy for all of us, for the Vietnamese, and especially for the soldiers who fought the war. Unfortunately, however, too many our compatriots confused politics, the war, their abhorrence of the lies and corruption of the Johnson and Nixon administrations, which made the prolongation of the war possible, with the soldiers who answered the call of duty and fought the war.
No one now can deny that the war was started and prolonged because too many government officials did not want to admit that they had been wrong all along. The evidence in many books is overwhelming. I suggest that you read Gen. McMaster’s book, “Dereliction of Duty,” as a good starting point if you doubt the truth of this.
Anyway, when I was a student at Colorado College I was thrown into a culture of privilege that simply did not understand the motives of a working-class guy like me and my reasons for volunteering for the war. Working-class people at CC were and are rare, and war or no war, I was a “rara avis” there. That’s just the kind of place it is, I still love the place, and I am not complaining about it. But the elitism bred by this class difference can be considered a fault.
The upper-class kids at CC certainly made life rough for me. Many times I brought it on myself because I was outspoken and defended soldiers, especially combat veterans. I have never learned to just keep my big mouth shut, especially when I am trying to win friends and influence people.
But very few of my fellow students understood why I pointed out the unselfish virtues of the combat veterans. Self-sacrifice is common among American fighting men. But the kids imagined that I was pro-war.
Of course, I was not. Anyone who is a true combat veteran cannot be pro-war, even if we see the need for war and will volunteer for war.
What I am describing is the hostility against the Vietnam veterans, and not just at CC. On the anniversary of D-Day, I look at the old soldiers and envy the respect and love they have always received. Not so for the Vietnam vets, even if the country has changed and made it up to us. This is a fault. And like I say, as a patriot I always point out my country’s faults.
Joe Barrera, Ph.D., is the former director of the Ethnic Studies Program at UCCS, and a combat veteran of the Vietnam War.