When people hear the word “war” for most people the first thing that comes to mind is “firearms, bombs and killing people” but for many veterans who have been part of one they have a different definition in their head. For many veteran’s war means hell, which according to the oxford definition it means “a situation, experience, or place of great suffering”. Many of those warriors who fought during War World II brought back home the battlefield, and those combat experiences that makes them act in illegal ways to deal with the post-traumatic stress they have suffer while in the front lines. Many people classified our veterans as criminals when they break the law or commit a crime and believe they should be locked up in jail just like a criminal would be. But for many of those veterans who break the law they do it unconsciously in their need to cope with the stress of their military service. If this is one-way war affects our American born veterans, how does it affect those service men who have joined the military with an “illegal” immigration status and were promised a better life or even better, citizenship once they would return home to a society that sees them as aliens. The American G.I. Forum was originally created to give Latino veterans equal rights but over the years has become a fight for all Latino’s not just veterans. There are many inequalities that Latino veterans had to face post WWII. The goal of the American G.I. forum was to focus on Latino veteran’s inequalities, education, and civil rights.
The American G.I. Forum was created by Dr. Hector P. Garcia. He was born in Mexico and came to the Texas, United States when he was a kid when his parents fled the Mexican Revolution. He served as an infantryman as well as medical doctor in World War II. When he returned from war he began working with the Veterans Administration. It was there where he saw that his fellow Mexican American veterans were not receiving the medical attention and educational benefits they needed to. Most Mexican-American that were part of WWII served as enlisted infantrymen and gunboat attendants on the front lines of war. Upon return from war, these Mexican-American service men faced long delays when they attempted getting their financial, educational and health benefits that were promised to them by the G.I. Bill. A well-known case of a horrific unjust act that occurred was the case of Private Felix Longoria which led to the American G.I. forum to take action. Private Longoria was a Mexican-American soldier that died during World War II. Four years after his death, his remains were shipped to his family in Texas. When his family tried to bury Private Longoria at the only local funeral home the funeral home refused because, “the whites wouldn’t like it” and that, “We just never made it a practice to let them Mexican Americans use the chapel and we don’t want to start now.” This event infuriated Dr. Hector P. Garcia. When someone goes off to war the government should not only have utmost respect for the soldier but for the family as well. In this case, after the media and politicians found out, they had Private Longoria buried in a national cemetery. But if it wasn’t because the family stood up and fought for the rights of deceased veteran Felix, he probably would’ve been buried in a cemetery far away from his family and without the merits of a veteran he earned by giving up his life for a country that did not protect him and his family nor community from discrimination.
Another known case that helped pushed and fight for the rights of Mexican American veterans was the case of Purple heart Macario Garcia being denied service at a food place. A purple heart is a military decoration given to veterans that were wounded or killed while serving. For some of these servicemen that joined WWII, they joined because of their generational expectations to serve and for other to show that they were also Americans. Many of these men were at the front lines of battle risking their life so that when they would come back home they would be treated as American. For many of them, they saw their service in the military as an evidence to prove that they were American because of the sacrifice they made for the country. On their return home this wasn’t the reality. The surrender of the Nazis in World War II was not the end of the struggles that purple heart Macario Garcia had to face on his return home. On September 1945, he stopped for a meal at the Oasis Café, even though he was wearing his full uniform with all his chest covered with his combat decorations, he was refused service because he was Mexican. “I’ve been fighting for people like you, and now you mistreat me” is what Macario told the owner of Oasis which cause many other white people present in the establishment to rush in to defense of the proprietary. He wasn’t looking for a fight, he was looking for food and a welcoming back to his home, a home that he risked his life so that everyone part of the country he risked his life for would be free and live in peace. But this country didn’t care if he risked his life or even if he died at war because all they cared about was to feel superior and treat minority groups like they were not humans. But this case of Macario wasn’t unusual in Texas, as many restaurants had signs up on their doors that read “No Mexicans or dogs” and they would have it in English and Spanish. Given the fact it read “or dogs” gives the sense that they saw Mexican Americans as nothing more than just animals that you can mistreat and abuse because you see them as helpless.
For many Mexican American servicemen, serving in war was for them fighting for the same equalities that many civil right groups were fighting for.
Socially, Mexican Americans endured many obstacles to obtain equal opportunity in education and employment. Due to high poverty rates among the Mexican American community, they were conveniently placed in the position to be drafted or chose the military as their way of gaining better opportunity. The Selective Service boards were strongly bureaucratic and “were hardly representative of mainstream America.”32 Directed by General Lewis B. Hershey, ninety percent of the directors of local boards were former or current top-ranking officers in the military who appointed members that shared the same mentality.33 According to James Westheider, “the average local board member was male, white, middle-aged, and middle class…”34 This unfairly targeted ethnic minorities and poor whites for military duty. During the Vietnam War, more than 15,410,000 draft-age men received deferments, were exempted, or were disqualified to serve.35 The majority of those who did receive deferments were white and middle to upperclass men which indicated that “a disproportionate number of working class whites and minorities were drafted.”36 Called “manpower channeling,” men who went to college were seen as having important skills that needed to be preserved at home, therefore, those who were not eligible for educational deferments because they could not afford it or were “not as smart,” were likely to be drafted into the military.37 Seen as a way to combat poverty, the government developed “occupational” programs within the military to assist young men in obtaining employable skills. In reality, the programs, such as Project 100,000, were designed to increase military manpower with the growing demand of the war. The United States government took advantage of the ethnic minorities and poor whites through its unfair Selective Service boards and deferments for the more privileged.