By Maricela Lechuga
Politics & Culture Reporter
With some dressed in uniform and others in black leather biker gear, veterans congrugated at the St. Patrick’s Church in Watsonville on Tuesday.
The blow of a horn signaled over 40 veterans to start the march that would end at the Veterans Memorial Building, where over 200 people waited to honor all veterans.
“Standing tall and looking good, we oughta be in Hollywood! We’re standing tall and looking good, we oughta be in Hollywood!” was one of the cadences chanted by the veterans marching in unison.
Julian Garcia, who led the cadence, joined the armed forces in 1970 as a military policeman and was stationed in Vietnam for one year. Later, he was active in the military but served domestically until 1994.
He talked about the significance of Veterans Day and how important it is to honor veterans for the work they have done in securing the freedom of our country. He also talked about the importance of veterans’ organizations and the role they play in helping reintegrate soldiers into society. Organizations such as the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and the American Legion provided a space for him to talk about the war.
These groups also help people work through negative reactions they may receive once they come back.
“When we got back form Vietnam we didn’t get much of a homecoming,” Garcia said. “We got spat on and were called baby killers, stuff like that. You never talked about the war, you only talked about it with other veterans that served, and the only other place you could meet those guys was at the VFW or the American Legion.”
Garcia also talked about the generations of fathers and sons who endured a rough homecoming and have tried to make a difference for their returning sons and daughters by taking a proactive stance.
“A lot of the soldiers that served in Vietnam are fathers now, and the soldiers that are going over to Afghanistan and Iraq are our sons or our grandchildren,” Garcia said. “Because we didn’t want them to receive the same kind of treatment that we got, we honor them and we call them heroes.”
Ernest Perez served in Vietnam, and is one such father. He talked about the improvement in the way veterans are honored now in comparison the way he was honored upon his return from Vietnam.
“When I first came from Vietnam, I got off a bus station at 2 o’clock in the morning. I came from a combat zone right into my hometown and that was it,” Perez said. “Today the celebrations that they have for soldiers coming back [are] a big difference. It just seems like it is more appreciated then it was back in the ’60s and ’70s.”
Despite the improvement in the way veterans are honored by civilians upon their return, many veterans still feel there is a lot more that the government should do to honor their services to this nation.
Organizations such as Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) feel that the more adequate way of honoring veterans is to provide better healthcare benefits for all veterans.
“The best way to serve our veterans is to honor the commitments that we have made to them,” said Franchesca Lo Basso, spokesperson for IVAW. “As of right now the government isn’t doing a good job of taking care of the mental health and other physical health needs of veterans. They are not following through with promises made to veterans.”
Former Watsonville Mayor Bill Johnston served in World War II for five years. He talked about the need for better retirement plans and healthcare benefits and how the government hasn’t done enough to take care of veterans.
When asked if he felt honored throughout the years, he talked about the nature of the situation: that it took new conflicts for veterans of previous wars to garner renewed support.
“[Veteran support was] dwindling a little bit,” Johnston said, “but with the Korean and Iraq wars, it’s [been] brought back to life — unfortunately.”