Wednesday, March 31, 2010
California Yesteryday, for the first time ever, the state celebrated "Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day." One man has been fighting for this recognition for nearly a decade.
Jose Ramos was 19 when he went to Vietnam as a medic. "On February 19, 1968, we walked into a perfectly executed ambush," he said. "Within a couple of minutes I had eight men dead, two died later, and it was always my fault."
Like so many other veterans, Ramos struggled when he returned home to East Los Angeles. War had left its mark. "As a medic, I didn't save all the eyes, all the limbs, I didn't save all the lives," he said, "and when I came home there was a tremendous amount of guilt for being a survivor. I'm sure for along time I confused God because in Vietnam, I begged him not to let me die and when I came home, I questioned him, why did you let me live?"
Ramos became addicted to drugs and alcohol, and in 1994 he tried to kill himself. He planned to make it look like an accident so his family would still get his death benefits. But after getting treatment, he began to find a new purpose: the creation of a special day to recognize Vietnam Veterans, who were often not welcomed home after the unpopular war.
"America wanted to heal this wound," Ramos said. "They just didn't know that they wanted to heal this wound."
Ramos began his campaign nearly a decade ago - standing on street corners, asking people to sign petitions. He bicycled from his home in Whittier California to Washington, D.C. And last year, Governor Schwarzenegger made it official in California by signing a bill that creates Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day every March 30. That's the date the final combat troops left Vietnam in 1973.
The governor believes Ramos' persistence paid off. "This is what's so special about this guy," Schwarzenegger said. "He comes up with the idea and then he is like a tick. He hangs on you and he fights and he fights and he fights until he gets it done."
Recently, Governor Schwarzenegger joined Ramos as well as a number of other Vietnam Veterans - and actor Jon Voight - to celebrate the occasion. The group gathered in front of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on the State Capitol grounds.
Actor Jon Voight said he's ashamed of the way America treated its veterans when they returned from Vietnam - and he says California's new annual day of celebration contains an important lesson.
"Let today be a reminder to honor our heroes when they are called to serve this country. Under no circumstance shall we ever turn our backs on them again. May God bless all the suffering souls of this forgotten war," Voight said.
"We're remembering the fallen," Ramos said, "but we're standing up for the living. This is a living memorial."
After the ceremony, Jose Ramos was in high spirits as he showed off his framed proclamation with the governor's signature.
"I've met a lot of veterans who are finally able to say, you know what I am a Vietnam Veteran, and I am coming home," Ramos said. "They've never acknowledged it, they've never admitted it but they're doing it today. Today they're proud to be Vietnam Veterans."
And Ramos isn't done yet. His next goal is to get federal legislation passed to create a special day for Vietnam veterans all over the country.