Some years ago, I had what turned out to be an important conversation about Latinos and military service with Jose Aguayo, the founder and first director of Museo de las Americas, a major institution that occupies an important place in Latino heritage. He mentioned that he was working on a Latino Age Wave grant from the Latino Community Foundation of Colorado that called for him to interview a number of Latino veterans and tell their stories.
The result of his work is The Color of Duty: Stories of Latinos in the American Military that highlights the contributions of 34 warriors in the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines that served in World War II, Korea, Vietnam, the Middle East and Afghanistan. Aguayo tells the stories in a straight-forward way and yet with that special sense that comes from his own service in the 82nd Airborne Division.
Jose Aguayo weaves the elements of a good tale that not only reveals the personalities of soldiers in battle but also surrounds them with a historical context of country, community and family including the cultural attitudes of the time that very much influence the perspectives of young people going to war. The words of the veterans also reveal realities beyond being drafted or volunteering that speak to comradeship and complications of friendships in life and death situations.
Each Latino warrior story is associated with a theme peculiar to his or her experience. For example, the Ray Alvarado story is told under the heading of “Survivor” because his transport the HMT Rhonda was sunk off the coast of Africa on its way to the China/Burma/India Theater of Operations. The Lloyd Deherrera’s story is narrated under the heading “Sunk in Iron Bottom Sound” because his light cruiser, the USS Atlanta, was sunk off the coast of Guadalcanal.
“The Devil in Baggy Pants” theme is associated with the story of Alfred Hurtado, a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne Division where the baggy pants image comes from. “We’ll call you Jason” referring to Jason Rivera curiously enough has nothing to do with his role in the Normandy invasion and Patton’s 3rd Army.
Rather, it is his name that was changed by the nuns at school from Jesus to Jason because because they felt that the name “Jesus” was reserved only for God. The irony is that the name Jesus is common in Latino culture.
Aguayo’s interviews reveal the undertones of discrimination in various forms. First and foremost is the story of Dr. Hector P. Garcia, founder of the American GI Forum who was not allowed to practice medicine in World War II until well into the Italian campaign.
Dr. Garcia came home after the war to fight for the rights of Latinos beginning with those of Private Felix Longoria who was refused burial in his home town and forcing an appeal to the future President Lyndon B. Johnson for burial in Arlington National Cemetery.
Finally, the stories of those who served in Vietnam reveal the traumatizing experience of coming home to insults like being called “baby killers” and even being spit on when in uniform. This was done to draftees who had to go to win a war that was already lost.
The 34 veterans in the book are from Colorado and the Denver area. Chances are that many readers know these warriors and would find The Color of Duty a fine addition to their memories.
You can acquire a copy by emailing Jose Aguayo at
email@example.com or by calling 303-433-1825.
There is a book signing by Jose Aguayo at the American GI Forum, at 1717 Federal Blvd. on Sunday, Feb. 19 from 2 to 4 p.m. Veterans showcased in The Color of Duty will also be present for signing.