Vietnam vets, others celebrate Veterans Day

Nov. 11, 2011 at 5:11 a.m.
Updated Nov. 12, 2011 at 5:12 a.m.

Leanna Marie Soria waves her flag in patriotic fashion while watching the parade floats go down Main Street on Friday morning.

Leanna Marie Soria waves her flag in patriotic fashion while watching the parade floats go down Main Street on Friday morning.

It had been about 40 years since Tibo Robles and many of his friends had talked at length about their experiences in the Vietnam War.

Arriving back in the States to crowds of people who spat on them, shouted obscenities and accused them of being "baby killers" and "drug-users," the less than warm reception for the soldiers who survived one of the most unpopular wars in U.S. history led Robles and others to hang up their uniform upon arriving home and talk about their involvement in the war as little as possible.

That is, until Veterans Day 2011.

Robles and others agreed to participate in Victoria's annual parade and ceremony celebrating Veterans Day, a federal holiday honoring military veterans. They walked alongside a float built by friend and fellow Vietnam veteran Bruno Valderrama.

"We felt we owed it to the 50,000 vets who didn't come back," said Robles, 61.

While the men, all of Victoria, had previously come to the parade as bystanders, none had participated in the parade or ceremony.

An hour before the parade began, Robles, along with fellow Vietnam veterans Santos Mascorro, 61; Gilbert Moreno, 62; Lupe Garza, 63; Sam Casanova, 62; and Domingo Valderrama, 61, worked to prepare their float for the parade.

The float, a replica of the bunkers constructed by soldiers in the Vietnam War, featured a black wood shelter flanked with piles of green sandbags used to protect soldiers from gunfire; fake guns; 40 mm shells; and palm trees to replicate the thick jungle brush of Vietnam and surrounding areas.

Known by many as the Band of Brothers, the men donned authentic dog tags, fake grenades and flashlights and wore green fatigues and combat boots, reminiscent of the standard-issue military attire they once wore.

Mascorro said he volunteered to join the military when he was 22 years old.

"I felt like I wanted to volunteer myself," he said. "I wanted to support my people from Victoria."

Bruno Valderrama reflected on some of the horrors soldiers faced while holed in the bunkers during Nam.

"It was horrible. Your life didn't mean anything over there. It wasn't a good place to be," he said. "Nobody wanted to be there. We all wanted to be at home."

Valderrama, who said it took him about two weeks to build the float, said his unit was responsible for providing ammunition to the soldiers and transporting the dead bodies from one place to another.

According to data provided by the Congressional Research Service, 58,220 U.S. service members died during the Vietnam War.

"To many young people, it's a history lesson," said Robles. "To us, it is real."

The Band of Brothers' float was just one of many in the parade.

Also in the parade were the Miss Victoria royalty, area fire departments, high school bands, and the Victoria school district JROTC.

Most people stayed after the parade downtown for the ceremony on the courthouse steps.

A hush fell over the crowd as the United States and Texas flags were raised over the steps of the courthouse. The crowd placed their right hands over their hearts while the Victoria East High School Band played a moderate tempo version of the "Star Spangled Banner."

Victoria Mayor Will Armstrong was the guest speaker.

"War in our history is a natural state. We are either getting ready for war, in a war, or recovering from a war," said Armstrong.

"Not one of these presidents managed foreign policy with perfection. All had successes and mistakes," said Armstrong, as he slightly delved into politics as they related to foreign wars. "No one man, no one party can get all the credit or can take all the blame. But we never fail when work together."

The day's events were a crowd success.

"We always should remember," said Loretta Jones, 61. "We need to be reminded about that."

Hatti Bryant, the 10-year-old daughter of veteran Travis Bryant, was happy to learn more about veterans, a topic her father has discussed many times before.

"It was just fun to see," she said. "I get to hear so many stories like what he did."

Her father applauded Victoria for making a big to-do for the event with the parade and ceremony, something he never saw happen while living in Corpus Christi.

"I loved it," he said. "It was heartwarming.'



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