'Your Story Won't Be Forgotten': 600 Names Added to Scottsbluff War Memorial
Updated: Mar 24, 2022
On Veteran’s Day, Nebraskans are paying homage to all our veterans, including Mexican-Americans in the Panhandle. Three new monuments with some 600 names engraved in stone will be revealed Thursday.
It was a bone-chilling day in Scottsbluff, in the heart of the town’s Hispanic community when Marty Ramirez unveiled the five-foot black marble monument in 2019. Names of local Mexican-Americans killed in action are engraved on the back. Now, three new monuments with around 600 more names will be unveiled to remember the Latinos in the Panhandle who served in the line of duty.
Marty Ramirez organized the construction of the monument. He grew up in Scottsbluff, the youngest of 11 kids, working the sugar beet fields along the North Platte River valley. Two months after graduating from Chadron State College., Ramirez was one of the many Mexican-Americans who were drafted to fight in the Vietnam war.
"One of the things that if I ever get to heaven, I'm going to ask God, 'How could you put a college graduate in the frontlines?' he said. "I have no answer. There was a few of us, but why me?"
Ramirez was the radioman on his first field mission. He carried a 75-pound backpack with a radio, batteries, and other supplies inside. He was second in line, walking along trails in Bien Hao, until he saw a large enemy campsite.
"I just stopped and saw the water boiling, just natural curiosity. They had just been there, and I stopped. And seconds later, there was this huge blast. Probably a mine from the trees. I don't know," he said. "And it killed the first seven. So, that was my first experience close to death."
It wasn’t his last. Ramirez was almost killed eight times, and he’s one of the lucky ones. Scholars said about 20% of the war’s casualties were Latinos, when they made up only 10% of the US population. The ones who did come back, like Joe Perez of Scottsbluff, were in the barrio, with unpaved roads and no streetlights. They continued to face discrimination.
"One of my buddies, classmates, the barrio boys, told me that when he got back home, and I think all of us, we were not greeted at the airport, except by family members," Perez said. "And one of my classmates thought we were second class citizens because we got no recognition."
Marty Ramirez earned a Purple Heart. Perez served more than two decades in the Colorado Air National Guard after Vietnam. But, they never talked about their service until the Scottsbluff Class of 1963 reunion in 2018.
"Through our continued conversations, it looks like nine of the 13 of us Latinos had spent time in Vietnam at one time or the other," Perez said. "And then we said, 'Wow, you know, we need to do something about this."
Veterans Day in 2019, was just the start of their monuments.
"We wanted to honor the boys who gave the ultimate sacrifice, their lives, fighting to be Americans and recognized as Americans," Perez said.
They were discriminated against, stereotyped, and called names, Marty Ramirez said. Though now their service is being recognized, the years they weren't still stung.
"When people come up, and say, 'Thank you for your service,' It's like hitting me with a stun gun," he said. "I don't know how to react, seriously. I just kind of say, 'thank you,' because this should have happened when we came back, and look at all that hadn’t part."
That’s why it’s important the barrio boys are unveiling the monuments. Also, why Ramirez spent years tracking down the names of some 600 fallen heroes. He feels bad he’s missed some names already, but they ordered a fifth monument for those names to be engraved in the future.
"As Chicano and Mexican-American, and other Latino military people, your story will not be forgotten," he said. It will be remembered eternally by these monuments."
The float parade starts at 11 a.m., then the monuments will be unveiled outside the Scottsbluff's Guadalupe Center.