COVID-19 Resource Center

11/11/2022

Happy Veterans Day!

Weitkamp, Padayhag, Le Tourneau, Hatfield, McBride, O’Neal, Garcia, Alamo, Washington, Sroka, Schreckengost, Arakaki, Kramer, Stalinski, Hammarstrom, Gambino, Kimura, on and on surnames etched in black granite.  The names of 58,000 souls, men and women, who made the ultimate sacrifice, who died in service of their country.  Their names surrounded by more names in the chronological order of their casualty, family and friends etching their names with paper and pencil, and instances of older men in the moth-pocked uniforms of their youth standing, leaning on canes, or sitting in wheelchairs, at the salute honoring their fallen comrades.  Such was the scene in 1994, when I first visited the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.  Today we honor these and all our patriots, those fallen and those who returned home.  All who have served in times of war and in peace, we honor you and extend our eternal gratitude for your service to our country this Veterans Day.

During this first visit to the Vietnam Memorial, which sits in the shadow of the Lincoln Memorial and the reflecting pond in the National Mall, buttressed by the Washington Memorial and the Capital, and flanked by the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, I was awestruck.  The names seem to go on forever, starting with the first in 1958 and the last in 1975.  No mention of rank or service branch, the names of generals next to buck privates, admirals next to seamen recruits, green berets next to mechanics, all treated the same, forever memorialized for their life given.

The other thing that drew my attention, at the time, were the number of names that ended in “ez” a common Hispanic end to a surname meaning “family of.”  Of course, I looked for a Lastra, none.  Also, for a Hidalgo-Gato, my uncle’s name, who served in Vietnam as a combat veteran and returned home in 1972, after seeing combat in DaNang, Kaison and Saigon.  I vividly remember seeing him as a very young child in his army green returning home, my grandmother recounting that he was only two of about 40 soldiers that came off the plane fully intact physically.  There was one Hidalgo on the stone, joined by dozens of Hernandez, Fernandez, Rodriguez, and other Latinos.  There is a directory at the head of each side of the memorial that list the names in alphabetical order and directs you to the section where the fallen heroes name can be found.  As I looked through this directory, I then took notice of not only all the “ez’s”, but those names ending in vowels:  Garcia, Rosario, which lead to Italian surnames, Russo, Romanelli, and the Polish names ending in “ski.”  Pretty soon, what you notice is the abundance of Irish, Italian, Hispanic, Phillipino, Nigerian, Native American, Japanese, German, Swedish, Scottish, Welsh, British, French, Jewish, and other names derived from every corner of the globe on that wall.

That made sense as our veterans come from every corner of our country, big cities and small towns, and from every walk of life.  They are the descendants of those original settlers from England and France, pre-revolution, seeking religious freedom and economic opportunity, followed by others from western Europe, Asia, Africa, South America, and beyond.  Generations of immigrants that came afterwards looking to forge their course in the land of opportunity and freedom.

Throughout our history, our veterans have supported America’s pursuit of liberty in our country and abroad through military victory.  From the shot heard around the world at Concord, at the birth of our nation, to the charge at Gettysburg so that all inhabitants of this nation would enjoy the promise made in the Declaration of Independence that all “are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” and be free men and women.  These veterans liberated Europe, Northern Africa and Asia from the Nazis, and pushed back the spread of totalitarianism after World War II that led to the fall of the Berlin wall and the iron curtain.

For each of these veterans, there was an oath to defend and support the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic, and to bear true faith and allegiance to the same.  A Constitution whose preamble seeks to form a more perfect union, establishing Justice, ensuring domestic Tranquility, providing for the common defense, promoting general Welfare, and securing the Blessings of Liberty for ourselves and Posterity.  As a member of that Posterity, I am grateful for our veterans who fulfilled that oath dedicating their youth, their time, in so many cases their health and bodies, and their very life itself to that mission.

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund web page (https://www.vvmf.org/Wall-of-Faces/) has a Wall of Faces, which is a virtual wall dedicated to honoring and remembering every person whose name is inscribed on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.  Taking a look at this Wall of Faces brings me back to the reality of 1994 and what struck me in the names.  Back then we did not call it Diversity, but it was there in the names and in the faces of those soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines.  That very evident diversity used to be called the melting pot.  Any current photo of the ranks of our military, from the service academies, like West Point or the Naval Academy, the Pentagon, current and prior Joint Chiefs of Staff, to our current Secretary of Defense, illustrate that ongoing diversity, dating back to Vietnam and before.  And while the work of ensuring the Blessings of Liberty is never done, today we celebrate that these Americans, from all ethnic, religious, socio-economic, geographical and every imaginable category of background that exists in the USA, joined as one force and were steadfast in their dedication to country.  So, next time, on any day of the year, when you encounter one of these sentinels of liberty, acknowledge their oath and say: Thank you for your service.

 

Carlos M. Lastra is a partner in the firm’s Washington metropolitan area (DMV) offices and Co-Chair of the firm's DMV Family Law practice group.  He is also a member of the firm’s Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Committee.