Upon returning home from the Vietnam War in 1970, I became aware of the high casualties sustained by fellow classmates, friends, and acquaintanceds in our school district in San Antonio. The news that so many died in the war was sad and painful. It is a pain that never goes away. Some fifty-seven years later, I am still in turmoil with wanting to know why so many Latinos died in that war. I have realized the only alternative to deal with this immense loss is to faithfully remember our friends, classmates, and community neighbors who gave their lives in the service of their country.
The Edgewood Community in the Westside of San Antonio has only recently been recognized for having an extraordinarily high casualty rate in the Vietnam War. During the 1960s, when young men from Edgewood High School went off to war, the community was surrounded by thriving businesses and growing families. The school district responded to this population growth by adding two new schools: John F. Kennedy and Memorial.
Growing up in the Edgewood community I learned early on about the social, political, and ecnomic disparities surrounding the Edgewood School District. We witnessed
discrimination, which included housing exclusion and segregation, colored balconies in movie theatres, and downtown separate water fountains. And yes, there were gangs, conflicts with police and school authorities, and other forms of discrimination. But the people of the Edgewood Community endured. They survived despite the injustices and managed to protect their children and somehow, maintained their schools, while their sons served in the military.
During the Vietnam War, the Edgewood School District alumni, graduates, and drop-outs alike, whether drafted or enlisted into the military, recognized the importance to serve in the military. They served in all branches of the military, and many served in Vietnam. The unfortunate results of this service were 55 casualties from this small community between the years 1965-1971.
There are many accounts of how and why Latinos from Edgewood High School joined the service. I found two stories that are useful in our understanding of this era. In thinking about their decision to leave school and enter the military, Carlos D Luna recalled: “We were anxious to get out of the barrio (neighborhood) and school because our friends who had already enlisted and served in Vietnam were dying, and felt we had to do something about it.” His best friend Joe G. Longoria agreed with him and both left school to enlist in the U.S. Army. They eventually served
respective combat tours, but only Carlos De Luna returned home to the Edgewood Community.
Unfortunately, Army Specialist 4 Joe G. Longoria was killed on April 19, 1969, while pursuing the enemy as part of “Operation Washington Green” in the Binh Dinh Province, South Vietnam. Longoria’s death was also an irony due to his and De Luna’s concern for their neighborhood friends dying in Vietnam; which prompted them to join the U.S. Army to fight in a war to save lives.
To date, the EISD Alumni plans a special remembrance on Memorial Day to commemorate and honor those alumni who fought and died in Vietnam. The event has become an annual community gathering that solemnly pays them tribute for their service and sacrifice.
Notwithstanding, the loss of 55 young Mexican American/Latino men, as well as those, who returned from the war with crippling medical and mental problems is tragic and unforgivable. I recall my return home in late June 1970 to learn Mayor McAlister denigrated his Mexican American constituency on the national television Huntley-Brinkley Report. This was the unexpected welcome home greeting.
I also recall there was no public “welcome Home” for the returning servicemen in San Antonio and elsewhere. No matter, because our families were there, and within
ourselves, we were proud of our service. Regrettably and long forgotten, the city was not thankful to the men and women who served. City leaders failed to acknowledge the sacrifices of those who served their country and instead continued with business as usual.
Dr. Mario D. Longoria served in the U.S. Navy, from 1966-1970. His naval duties included tours to the Gulf of North Vietnam in 1967-69. He earned degrees from Santa Monica City College and California State
University-Northridge. In 2014 he was awarded a Doctorate in English from the University of Texas at San Antonio. He is the author of two books.