Vietnam Veteranos: Chicanos Recall the War
In their own words, twenty-four Vietnam Veterans including their families, tell a deeply personal and often painful account of how their military experience in Vietnam shaped their lives. These interviews form the basis of the written material composed in the 246 page book, Vietnam Veteranos: Chicanos Recall the War by Lea Ybarra. Her scholarly work adds to the growing repertoire of publications on Chicanos who served in America's armed forces, more specifically during the Vietnamese Conflict in the years 1961 to 1975.
The oral contributions of the Veteranos are compelling given the enormous emotional, personal, physical and spiritual sacrifice they endured so young. Each narration by the Veteranos captures the essence of the time and space of that era including their shifting attitudes and opinions before, during, and after the war. Moreover, the awareness of race and class issues including Chicano Cultural Identity become evident in American's discriminatory attitude toward Chicanos and the communities in which they lived.
In an effort to judiciously present the unique war-time experiences of the Veteranos, the author organizes the book into three parts that are further sub-divided into ten chapters. Major themes which arose out of each separate interview have been grouped together and they range from youthful idealism, patriotism, cultural identity, to the lasting psychological and medical impact on themselves and on their families.
In part one, The Vietnam War and the Mexican American Community, Ybarra contextualizes the war for the reader with a brief historical account of why the United States fought in South East Asia, and its resulting economic, environmental, personal, and political aftermath. Several notable studies are cited focusing on Chicanos and the war along with their respective analysis and significant research findings.
In part two, Veterans Recall the War, personal accounts of the war are told in vivid and often graphic and gruesome detail. This is the part of the book where the Veteranos relate their amazing ordeal of survival not only in SE Asia but in America as well. The Chicano Vietnam Veterans interviewed were just out of high school when they went to Vietnam, many of whom felt a strong and patriotic duty of becoming military soldiers because someone in their family or community was a soldier. Likely to influence their attitude toward the war was when they were deployed to Vietnam, for example soldiers deployed before the Tet Offensive in January 1968 believed strongly that the U.S. involvement in Vietnam was to fight communism. Those involved in Vietnam after the Tet Offensive in March 1968 held the belief that the U.S. was in SE Asia for corporate gain rather than freedom and liberty. Their political awareness grew from the rising antiwar movements sweeping communities across the nation. Three Veteranos interviewed believed the armed conflict in SE Asia was morally wrong and thus applied and received Conscientious Objector status, despite the enormous resistance given by the draft boards. Those who did go to SE Asia and fought experienced overwhelming psychological and medical issues when they returned home from their respective tours of duty. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Agent Orange syndrome were two illnesses unknown before the Vietnam War era. However, many years following the war when thousands of Veterans presented similar symptoms with unknown etiologies the Veterans Administration Hospital's could no longer ignore the fact that the Vietnam Veterans shared a common experience. The stresses of war had a chronic mental [End Page 304] and physical effect on the veterans which made it very difficult to manage and cope with the severity of their illnesses. As a result, families and loved ones were directly affected by the Veteranos condition. Many Veteranos turned to drugs and alcohol as a way to deal with the madness that was Vietnam. Further analysis of issues presented in this book is summarized in the third and final part.
Although the Vietnam War ended over thirty years ago, the Vietnam Veteranos continue to live with the impact the war had in their life, in their families, and in their communities. Some Veteranos interviewed went to college and are successfully contributing to society while physical and mental disabilities limited others from integrating back into society. As we have learned in this book, it is the socioeconomic disadvantaged individual who fought the war. This book is relevant today since the U.S. is embroiled in a conflict in the Middle East and many Hispanics are serving in the military.