Vietnam veterans announce plans for parade they never had (video)
Aug. 1, 2012 at 3:01 a.m.
Updated Aug. 2, 2012 at 3:02 a.m.
Vietnam veteran Manuel Rivera lived through battles at Marble Mountain. He learned from those who had gone before him how to survive.
"If I faced the enemy, one of us may not make it home," he said. "I'm playing for all the marbles."
The 67-year-old Port Lavaca native served for two years in the Army. He celebrated in silence because soldiers were not widely accepted when they returned home from war.
Almost half a century later, Rivera had a vision to give those men and women who served in the Vietnam War the parade they never received.
It took him a couple of years to put the plan into action because doubt plagued his mind. "What if people don't come," he said.
The father of two met with Warrior's Weekend founder Ron Kocian create fond memories of the hard-fought war that lasted almost 20 years.
Kocian announced Wednesday afternoon, in Chili's Grill and Bar restaurant, that Warrior's Weekend organizers were going to have its first "The Parade that Never Was" to welcome home the Vietnam and Vietnam-era veterans from Texas. The parade will be 10 a.m. Oct. 13 in downtown Victoria.
"This is our way to make a difference," Kocian said.
He also said there will be a noon luncheon to honor Gold Star Families, those who lost a loved one in Vietnam. Iraq and Afghanistan veterans plan to serve those families.
Victoria Mayor Will Armstrong made a proclamation, deeming Oct. 13 Vietnam Veterans Day.
County Judge Donald R. Pozzi was in Vietnam, but not on the front lines. He said he saw a lot of misery and tragedy but he's glad to have served.
During his speech at the luncheon, the judge was overcome with emotion.
"I get teary eyed even when I see these (Olympic) athletes serve America," he said.
Vietnam veteran A. Cornell Green, of Yorktown, came from a military family.
After getting bombarded with protestor's spit, he hid his uniform.
"I put it up and never wore it again," he said.
The father of eight still has mixed feelings about combat.
"You couldn't pay me a $1 million to fight again, but you can't put a price on my experience."
Joe Pena, a childhood friend of Rivera, received his draft notice at age 22.
The grandfather of three was inducted into the military days after President John F. Kennedy was assassinated on Nov. 22, 1963.
He said his unit waited for days to receive orders. Pena trained in Fort Polk, La., and later Fort Benning, Ga., as part of Advanced Individual Training in the helicopter unit.
Pena fought in the Battle of la Drang, which occurred between Nov. 14-18, 1965, and was later dramatized in the movie "We Were Soldiers."
But there was no Hollywood screening for this Port Lavaca soldier. Pena said 75 men from his company were killed.
The person who stood out in his mind was friend and comrade Hilario Depaz.
"It was horrible losing him, he only had 10 days left in service," Pena said.
Pena, who retired from the Port Lavaca Police Department, said he will think about his deceased friend during the celebration.
Rivera said the parade in Victoria will help the soldiers feel accepted.
His brother, Paul Rivera Jr., who served in Vietnam, died five years ago of a heart attack.
Rivera said his younger brother became withdrawn after the war and never fully recuperated. Paul Rivera didn't open up to anyone about Vietnam. Part of the reason he suspects Paul and others kept quiet is that they felt guilty they had survived and their friends did not.
"He probably wouldn't have come to the parade, but he'll be on my mind the whole time," said Rivera.
The grandfather of seven hopes the Vietnam parade will be the first of many in Victoria. He wants his fellow veterans to move forward with their healing.
"I have to look at the bright side, at least my kids and grandkids will be able to see me get my parade."