Thursday, November 11, 2010

Veterans Day 2010 Naturalization Ceremony for U.S. Service Members
(reposted from 11/11/07; updated 11/11/10)

Last night, I listened to the VOA's Names Are Read to Mark 25th Anniversary of Vietnam Veterans Wall. All of a sudden I thought, "I wonder what happened to my POW/MIA?".

When I was freshman in high school, the Viet Nam war was coming to the end. A classmate, Molly Olds, who was an "army brat", convinced me, a Catholic "peacenik", to wear a POW/MIA memorial bracelet. The name on my bracelet: Richard R. Perricone. I never knew what happened to this POW, so I "googled" Perricone. There he was on the POW Network--free and alive--living in New York with his wife. Wow! I hope he is in Washington DC this weekend with his fellow vets. I hope he knows peace.

(Update; many people wrote to say Stff Sgt. Richard Perricone is alive and well).

The VOA story also brings to mind one of my students, Nguyen Kiem Long, formerly of the South Viet Nam Air Force and the Milpitas Adult School Senior ESL Class. He is currently in New York attending to family business, and I and his classmates miss him so much. He is a living example of a free and prosperous Viet Nam.

ARVN Veteran Do Ngoc Xuan
proudly displays his US Citizenship Papers

I also honor Do Ngoc Xuan, a farmer forced to flee the South and join the army. After working the night shift, he came to the Senior ESL class every day in preparation for US Citizenship--the ticket to freedom for his relatives still in Viet Nam. His goal is shared not only by the Vietnamese students at our school, but by the immigrant communty at large.

I also remember my father, Gene Gagliardi, who financed his college education via a ROTC scholarsip at the University of Illinois, Champange-Urbana. His service on the USS Hancock qualified him for further education and housing loans via the GI Bill, enabling our large family to realize the American Dream. On a similar quest, many young immigrants choose to join the military in hope of improving the lives of their own families.

Several years ago, I was conducting an English placement testing at Milpitas Adult School. I started chatting with a Latina and her husband. She spoke English quite well, so I asked her why she wanted to attend ESL classes (i.e. "Would GED be a better choice for you?"). She said, "We just took my son to the bus for the Marines. He is going to Iraq. I am so afraid. I have to do something or I will go crazy!" and she burst into tears. Her husband gazed mournfully at her and could only hold her as she wept.

Over the succeeding years, Iraqis and Afghanis have joined Vietnamese, Chinese, and Mexican students community at our school. Despite many problems, the woman has persevered in her GED studies; her son successfully served in Iraq and Afghanistan, and continues to serve in the US Marines. The son recently returned home on leave and his mother had many concerns. I told her to talk to Fr. Michael Hendrickson, our local Catholic pastor and Naval/Marine chaplain, who had just returned from a tour of duty in Afghanistan. She reported that he understood her perfectly--only families who had children "over there" could understand, and was so grateful for his compassion and the sympathy of 'others.'

On Veterans Day, let us remember the US service men and women, their families, and our allied commrade-in-arms, fighting for the freedom of their own country.

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