By Dr. Ricardo Romo
“ A nation reveals itself not only by the men it produces but also by the men it honors, the men it remembers” John F. Kennedy.
On a sunny Good Friday morning, April 19, 2019, the Fox Tech Vietnam Memorial Wall arrived at the front entrance of San Antonio’s Fox Tech High School. The names of 23 soldiers who attended Fox Tech and were killed in action in Vietnam are engraved on the black granite stone. The military branch of service is listed next to each name.
The eight thousand pounds black granite memorial had traveled 1231 miles from Rogan Granite Industries in Lynwood, Illinois where it was sculptured to San Antonio. With the aid of a large heavy crane, the monument was lowered to a mound adjacent to Main Avenue and parallel to Buffalo Run Street in front of the entrance to Fox Tech High School.
Fox Tech is the oldest public school in San Antonio. At different times in history, the school hung plaques honoring soldiers killed in World War I, World War II, and Korea. In most cases, these plaques have been moved from the main administration building to the school basement.
Our quest to find the names of Fox Tech students killed in action (KIAs) began in 2010 when Spurs owner Peter Holt, a highly decorated Vietnam Veteran, asked a number of us who attended public schools in San Antonio to assist in locating photos for what would be an addition to the Washington Vietnam memorial.
I and a team of Fox Tech alumni visited our high school and found an absence of a plaque or mention of alumni killed in Vietnam. No one even knew the names of Fox Tech alumni who lost their lives in Southeast Asia.
This seemed odd to us since other public schools in the city with similar losses have placed monuments on their school grounds honoring their Vietnam casualties. Notably, Edgewood with 34 KIAs, Lanier with 23, and Harlandale with 24, all had monuments to their fallen heroes.
In the fall of 2010, I founded a research data team, Faces With Names, whose primary job was to recover names and photos from Fox Tech school and well as family records of casualties from the Vietnam War. We became part of a national goal to locate photos of each of the 58,000 names on the Washington, DC Memorial Vietnam Wall.
An estimated 500,000 Texans, men, and women served in the Vietnam War. Casualties from the Lone Star State numbered 3,415, of which 362 hailed from Bexar County.
I was honored to be a founder of phase one of the efforts honoring the Fox Tech 23 KIAs, men who lost their lives in the years between 1955 and 1975. From 2010 to 2017, the Faces With Names research team, led by our chief investigator, Charlie Calderon, a Tech alum and Navy veteran, was able to locate photos of not only all 23 of the Fox Tech KIAs but also of all the 362 Bexar County casualties of the Vietnam conflict. More than ten Vietnam veterans and friends assisted us in the Faces With Names Project and they will be recognized separately in La Prensa.
In early 2016, Ralph Morales, a 1962 Fox Tech alumni who had served 13 months in Vietnam with the 3rd Marine Division, proposed the monument idea to the SAISD to honor the fallen heroes from Fox Tech. With the support of Fox Tech principal Jennifer Benavides, the school board granted permission and allowed its educational foundation to receive funds for the monument.
Morales also recruited Richard Lopez Garza, a Tech alum who served as a Second Lieutenant Field Artillery Forward Observer with Company B, 196th Light Infantry Brigade. Garza, a San Antonio Attorney earned a Bronze Star and received a Purple Heart in injuries sustained due to a land mine explosion. Garza assisted the Fox Tech monument project with dedication and passion. Garza envisioned a granite monument that could be placed in front of the entrance of Fox Tech on Main Avenue.
Initially, Morales and Garza examined granite stones from Texas quarries. None appealed to them. Garza researched the construction background of the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington, DC, and determined that the same black granite used for the famed Vietnam Wall would ideally serve to honor the Fox Tech fallen heroes.
Garza contacted the Vietnam Wall construction company, Rogan Granite Industries in Cook County, Illinois, and discussed the purchase of a similar monument with the same stone for the Fox Tech memorial. The black granite used in Washington, DC hailed from Bangalore, India and had been chosen because it could be polished to a bright black.
Garza and Morales traveled to the Rogan plant and were surprised to learn that no other Vietnam memorial in America had thought of utilizing the same black granite, a stone which was quite unusual, but could be found in abundance in Bangalore, India.
The new vision of a black granite memorial appealed to members of our Faces With Names team and several, including Charlie Calderon, Rosalinda Trevino Berlanga, Eloy Cabello, and Rose Mary Garcia soon joined the effort to make that happen. They were joined by several other veterans that Morales and Garza recruited to assist in the fundraising and promotion effort. I was a member of the new team that over 24 months managed to raise $30,000 to meet the expenses of having the memorial crafted, engraved, and transported to San Antonio.
Richard Garza prepared a letter stating that, like the Washington D.C. Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall, “Our monument wall is intended to memorialize –but also to heal”.
Tom Rogan, the CEO of Rogan Industries and a Vietnam veteran, mentioned to Garza that the Fox Tech black granite memorial would be the only one of its kind in the nation other than the black granite Vietnam Wall in the nation’s capital.
Hundreds of San Antonians donated to the Fox Tech memorial, and my good friend Bobby Corbo, also a Vietnam veteran, assisted us greatly with transporting and placing the monument in a proper destination.
Ralph Morales, who led the effort and devoted 40 months to the monument planning, welcomed Fox Tech Vietnam War Fallen Heroes Memorial Committee on that beautiful Good Friday day on April 19, 2019, when the Fox Tech monument was delivered. The official unveiling is set for May 18, a Saturday at 10am at the front entrance of Fox Tech High School.