Commentary: Veterans are an important part of our history

FILE - In this undated file photo American World War I soldiers wave their helmets after the Nov. 11, 1918 Armistice was signed in France. Hundreds of troops died on the final morning of World War I _ even after an armistice was reached and before it came into force. Death at literally the 11th hour highlighted the futility of a conflict that had become even more incomprehensible in four years of battle. (AP Photo, File)

At 11 a.m. on Nov. 11, 2018, the United States of America will commemorate the end of the First World War.

This event took place on this date and time in 1918. My grand uncle Edurado Romero was one of the soldiers sent to France to fight for the United States of America. I still remember seeing a picture of him in his Doughboy uniform when I would visit his home in Ranchos de Taos, New Mexico. He looked very young but proud to be in the Army.

World War I was supposed to be “the war to end all wars." Needless to say, this was not the end of war for all mankind. World War II soon came along. Most of my uncles and my father, Mike Martinez, saw action in Europe and the Pacific. One of these uncles, Luciano Martinez II, was captured in the Philippines, forced to participate in the Bataan Death March, and imprisoned by the Japanese for three years until he died, just before the war ended in 1945.

As I was the first male born in the family when word of his death came the following year, I was named Luciano in his honor.

My uncle Steve Valerio served as a paratrooper in the next war, Korea. He earned the Silver Star fighting on a godforsaken,frozen hill to save the life of his best buddy, a Native American soldier who was like a brother to him.

After the war, my uncle Steve stayed in the Army to complete a 20-year enlistment. For a while he was stationed at Fort Douglas in Salt Lake City, Utah. Sometimes he would take me on post with him wearing his uniform with all its decorations and combat boots. For me, It was a special occasion whenever I could be with this man who was admired wherever we went.

My turn for wartime service came a few years later in Vietnam, during 1967-1968 with the U.S. Army. My cousins Toby Valerio and Henry Vargas were in-country at the same time, and we all took part in the Tet Offensive of 1968. The number of American soldiers serving in Vietnam was increased to over 500,000 during this year.

Unlike soldiers from other wars, we Vietnam veterans were not appreciated by many when we came home. The war was unpopular. One of my friends who fought in an infantry unit told me that he discarded his uniform in a trash can and put on his “civvies” at the airport when he returned from Vietnam. He said he did this because of the taunts and malicious chants directed at him by angry demonstrators as he entered the terminal in SanFrancisco.

My nephew Dave Banks served in the U.S. Marine Corps during the First Gulf War. My son Miguel Martinez was already in the Corps when 9/11 occurred. He also served during the beginning of the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars. His five-year enlistment was extended when the Iraq War began in 2003 because of the Stop-Loss Program.

Our family knows about war, patriotism, and service to country. Through my participation in various military veterans organizations, I have met hundreds of former and active-duty warriors. They truly are the backbone and strength of our nation.

Fewer than 1 percent of Americans serve in the military today, but those who do enlist represent all ethnic groups, creeds and socioeconomic backgrounds that exist in our current social structure.

Most veterans don’t ask for thanks. Many won’t talk about their experiences — with one exception. They will talk with other veterans “who have been there”. I have seen this happen quite often in VFW and American Legion halls, and in the VA Hospital. If they do tell you about their war please listen respectfully. Veterans are an important part of our history.

Soon there will be no living World War II, Korean or Vietnam War veterans. but as long as our country needs soldiers for future wars there will be veterans. We should honor and remember them for their service and sacrifice. As the Marines like to say, "Semper Fidelis” meaning “Always Faithful.”

Let us be faithful to those who have served when our nation called.

Luciano S. Martinez, Murray, is a retired Utah educator and member of the VFW, American Legion and Vietnam Veterans of America. He will join four of his Vietnam buddies in New Orleans, this on Veterans' Day for a 50-year homecoming celebration.