A Salute to the Veterans : Olvera Street Celebration for Soldiers From Desert Storm


In contrast to the shunning that many Vietnam veterans felt when they returned home 20 years ago, "Bienvenidos Desert Storm" will extend an enthusiastic public welcome to Los Angeles-area veterans of the Persian Gulf War.

Los Angeles City Councilman Richard Alatorre and the American GI Forum, a Latino veterans group, are sponsoring the event on Sunday, April 21, at Olvera Street Plaza.

"Not enough was done the last time, after Vietnam. I don't want to see that revisited again, and that's the reason we're having the tribute to the veterans and their families," Alatorre said.

In addition, a special tribute will be paid to Latino veterans of all wars, who have won 37 Medals of Honor, a figure that is proportionately higher than any other ethnic group, said Al Avila, Alatorre's chief deputy.

The homecoming, which will be held from noon to 6 p.m., will include Desert Storm displays, as well as community booths, food and entertainment. A number of veterans will speak about their experiences in the victorious effort against Iraq and about previous U.S. wars.

Special booths also will be set up to provide information and referrals for the veterans and their families about education, stress management, family relations, medical treatment, job training and job placement, according to Avila.

Los Angeles-area veterans, families and members of the community are invited to attend the ceremony, said Ruben Treviso, the event's coordinator and regional chairman of the American GI Forum.

Persian Gulf veteran Maria Lomeli-Conant said soldiers appreciate the city's effort. She, however, will be back on duty in Ft. Riley, Kan., when the welcome takes place.

"It's really a good feeling for all of the people who are returning," said Lomeli-Conant, 22, an Army communications specialist who is a graduate of Alhambra Adult High School. "They'll appreciate that they show concern and care for us, not like in Vietnam. It's like we're not being kicked to the curb. They're making us feel really special about ourselves."

Lomeli-Conant said she was received warmly by members of a Latino support group that her mother had joined during the 42-day war. She attended a meeting of Support for Latino Military Families and the people there were "really glad that I'm back," she said.

"When we returned (to the United States), we were surprised at the American people," she said. "We didn't expect as much support as we received."

Marine Cpl. Eligio Barajas, 23, said: "The support we got was great. . . . We were shocked because it was so much. We didn't expect people to go out of their way to welcome us home."

Barajas, who grew up in Montebello and graduated from Schurr High School, said: "This is something we'll never forget for the rest of our lives."

The Marine team leader was among the first U.S. ground troops to move into Kuwait to drive out Iraqi forces. Hundreds of Iraqi troops surrendered to his 5th Marines unit as it moved into the southern part of Kuwait City, Barajas said.

A total of 1,059 Marines in his unit went into Kuwait and "all 1,059 made it back" without a single casualty, said Barajas, who plans to attend college when he leaves the service next year.

Barajas said he and his family are looking forward to the Olvera Street welcome. "I'm happy that people in the military are getting recognition for what we do," he said. "Too bad it took a war to get that recognition. I hope that as months and years go by, people will not forget the people in uniform."

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