by Chanel Ward
“We often hear about Red Tails, we hear about the Buffalo Soldiers, we hear about the accomplishments of a lot of other people, but we never really focus in on our Hispanic/Latino brothers and sisters who also have died in combat arms, side by side with everyone else serving in the military,” explained Ali Jackson, Dean of Students at KIPP Northeast Denver Leadership Academy in Green Valley Ranch, Colorado, in an opening statement to the entire school as he introduced a Sergeant of the 101st Air One Division.
Gonzalo Baltazar Jr., born the youngest of seven brothers who all served in the U.S. Military between 1951 and 1970. He was the only one to serve in Vietnam, he has an even more impressive catalogue of awards received during the time he served in the military and in Vietnam.
Baltazar Jr., has a Combat Infantry Badge, three Bronze Stars received for Valor, three Purple Hearts for being wounded three separate times, several Air Medals, and many medals for Good Conduct, a Vietnam Campaign Medal, and a Sharpshooter Medal are among his many honors.
He is an extraordinary man with an extraordinary story, both in combat and after returning home to the states, whose long list of awards are all telling of the man that he truly is.
“I enlisted for the draft,” said Baltazar Jr., explaining, “if you get drafted, that’s two years, if you enlist for the draft that’s 2 years, but if you volunteer, that’s 3 years.” He served the two years, enlisting at just 17 years old.
“We often hear about Red Tails, we hear about the Buffalo Soldiers, we hear about the accomplishments of a lot of other people, but we never really focus in on our Hispanic/Latino brothers and sisters who also have died in combat arms, side by side with everyone else serving in the military.”
Ali Jackson, KIPP
When asked about his thoughts on the Vietnam War, Baltazar said, “It was necessary, we lost a lot of human beings, but it was something we had to do just to show that we weren’t going to put up with communism,” said Baltazar, while stating that he’d do it all again if need be.
“It’s hard to explain, but I didn’t know that I had PTSD [Post Traumatic Stress Disorder],” said Baltazar Jr. “After years and years, they started recognizing what we had. I had friends that told me where to go for treatment.”
He spoke about the positive affects of therapy and it being a necessity. “Then when I realized that I had PTSD and had to go through therapy and talk about it, a lot, it was good therapy to talk.”
In addition to his mental well being, he also had to endure the physical trauma of war. “I’m a victim of agent orange. I have a heart disease, I had a quintuple bypass,” he explained.
Baltazar Jr., recalled coming back to the states, “there was no welcome back or anything like that for us Vietnam guys. We were treated badly. I arrived in Seattle, Fort Louis up there, and they had protests at the fence calling us names, ‘baby killers’ throwing names at us and tomatoes.”
Because of the backlash, Baltazar Jr. said that they wouldn’t talk about the war much. “We went underground, we didn’t broadcast or brag about being in Vietnam because you never know who was going to say something or attack you. They didn’t know, they just thought we were over there killing people on purpose.”
Baltazar Jr. said that he never feels as if he ever received his proper welcome home, but appreciates that things have changed for returning soldiers today.
On November 14th, Baltazar Jr. had his chance to be recognized for his service at his granddaughter’s high school, where his awards and medals were displayed and where he and his granddaughter took a ride in a 1970’s Humvee with Jackson.
Jackson’s wife, Shannon McBryer, a Latina and Corporal in the Army since 2013, also comes from a long line of military family who have served, and as not only a Latina, she was also the oldest female in the company when she enlisted just two weeks before the age cutoff.
“I don’t have anything negative to say, but there are conversations about harassment and that has happened in my short time in the military,” said McBrayer. “So, I think that it’s important that we don’t ignore the fact that women are harassed or believe that you can’t do this because you’re a female.”
McBryer will be deploying for her first time this year.
Baltazar Jr. just celebrated his 67th Birthday on November 11, Veterans Day, a day that he shares with a holiday that he is truly a hero encompassing and deserving of.
Chanel Ward is an Independent Reporter for The Weekly Issue/El Semanario.
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