A Glorious Salute to the Sons of East L.A.
With the dreaded ground war under way, East Los Angeles--and points beyond--closed ranks Sunday behind La Verne Avenue.
“I live on La Verne Avenue,” Joseph Alvarez, a resident of Brooklyn Avenue in Boyle Heights, repeatedly told friends at a U.S. troops support rally at Belvedere Park. “So do I,” broke in friend Martin Garcia, who has spent the last 28 years on Eastman Avenue in City Terrace.
Residency was even claimed by Joel Griffith of Milwaukee, Wis., who decided to drop by the rally organized at the park by a veterans’ group. “I don’t speak Spanish and I’m not even Mexican,” Griffith said, comically gesturing to his pale features.
“But I live there, too.”
The more than 200 people who attended the rally at the park’s Alberto C. Diaz Plaza--and who hooted and clapped their support for the U.S.-led coalition--went out of their way to greet several of the parents from La Verne, who among them have five sons in the Gulf. Four of them are in infantry units.
Irene Yracheta, who had been awake since 3 a.m. to catch any news of her son’s unit, chatted with strangers attracted by her picture button of son Adrian, a member of the 82nd Airborne Division.
Theresa Sanchez, who took an overseas call last week from grandson Joe Villarreal Jr., led a contingent of family members to the rally. Each of them, holding a homemade sign supporting the troops, were repeatedly asked to pose for snapshots.
And Robert Tristan, in neatly pressed jungle fatigues, stood watch over the gathering while holding a U.S. flag.
“Hey, if any protesters show up,” he growled, “I’ll take care of them.”
The Belvedere Park rally was not the only place where the La Verne parents were warmly received Sunday.
In a modest recreation center in Lincoln Heights--a stone’s throw from a monument to the heroes of Mexico’s 1810 and 1910 revolutions--about 300 people attended a potluck celebration organized by El Centro de Apoyo Para Familias Latinas Militares.
There, the group supported by Comision Femenil de Los Angeles and other Latino professional organizations welcomed Rachel Reyes, Timothy’s mother.
Sunday’s events were a welcome break from the news late Saturday that the ground campaign--which the parents instinctively knew would occur--had begun.
Yracheta was on her way home from her brother-in-law’s hamburger and taco stand on 3rd Street, just down the street from Belvedere Park, when she heard the news.
“I didn’t know what to think,” the soft-spoken mother recalled. “What can I say? I hope he comes home safe.”
Maria Martinez, whose son William is in the 82nd Airborne Division, was at home with grandchildren Venessa, 14 months, and Andres Miguel, 5 months, when she was told by Rachel Reyes of the land battle.
Without a word, she quickly hugged Reyes and then retrieved an 82nd Division banner from a back room for display in the small living room. “God be with my William,” she said.
The parents of Ramon Sandoval Jr. and Manuel Castro, both of the Marine Corps, stayed indoors to be alone with their thoughts.
Reyes and husband Steve were lounging at a nearby park, after a day of shopping at a favorite mall, when they learned of the allied invasion.
“I got scared right away,” she said. “That Saddam, I ought to get a hold of that guy myself. . . .”
Once home, they received a steady stream of well-wishers at their flag- and sign-decorated house on the east side of La Verne near Olympic Boulevard.
Tristan, a friend of Steve Reyes since their days together at East L.A.'s Griffith Junior High School, immediately rushed over. “I feel left out, like I should be over there,” Tristan told his friend, choking back tears.
“But I want you to know one thing. I’ll be there for you--right now, tomorrow, whenever.”
Steve Reyes, who lost a brother in Vietnam, stared into his friend’s eyes, grabbed his hand and said, “Thanks.”
Rachel Reyes’ niece, Loana Amaya Gomez, and husband Javier joined Rachel and Steve in front of the large Quasar TV set in the living room when President Bush spoke to the nation on Saturday.
Noting that the President looked “upset and angry,” they listened intently as Bush spoke. When the President ended his speech with ". . . and may God bless the United States of America,” the Reyes living room broke into vigorous applause.
“I’m with you, George,” Steve Reyes told the TV set.
The support was no different on Sunday at Belvedere Park.
Every mention of the troops, the United States or East L.A. prompted a chorus of cheers and Marine grunts of joy from those in attendance.
“I was in the Marine Corps for 11 years, 7 months, 26 days and 16 hours,” said Tristan, who lives in another part of East L.A. “But I should have stayed in because I’m from La Verne, too.”