Latinos in Vietnam
After watching a six-part series on PBS called Latino Americans, I began thinking of those I encountered on my two tours of duty in Vietnam. On my first Vietnam tour from 1967-68, we had several Latinos in the 68th Assault Helicopter Company but no one seemed to make an issue out of it. All that counted were their qualities as soldiers.
I recall one maintenance warrant officer with us who was commissioned while there to 2nd Lt. He funded a good party at our little officers' club that night. I think he was from Puerto Rico. He was good at his job and kept our aircraft ready and safe to fly.
There was one crew chief in the Mustangs named Gonzales, aka "Gonzo." He was good; had to be as a Mustang. It was good to be flying his ship shortly after he received a care package from home as he received and shared Mexican goodies which enhanced our "C rats" memorably. Introduced to tamales thanks to Gonzo; salsa too. Does great things to "ham & eggs chopped" but doubt it could help "ham & limas". We didn't have chili on our "C-rat" menu back then but I be surprised if it isn't available now.
He was shot in his tail section which was brought laughs from all the guys for some months after he was shipped home. Something about a bullet which ricocheted off a mini-gun mount striking him up through his seat. He recovered and has a story that he shares with a few I suspect.
I saw him in 1969 while at some mass event in Germany when he recognized me in the crowd. He may have remained in the Army but I never saw him again.
My last crew chief was of Dutch and Indonesian descent. Although we only flew together for a month or two before I left, it was evident that he was very good too and certainly got better after I was gone.
I can't recall any Latinos in the 478th Aviation Company Heavy Helicopters on my second tour 1970-71, though there had to be more than a few there too.
We did have a full-blooded Navajo pilot (Cal Gatewood), a Canadian and Janos Karo, a Hungarian refugee. And can't leave out Gary Weis, a guy with a genuine Hitler signed, swastika bearing a 1942 German birth certificate.