Veterans honored

By Brooke Finch
STAFF WRITER
bfinch@cnjonline.com

When Ivan Sarracino hears a helicopter pass over his Clovis home near the hospital, he’s brought back to Vietnam.

Staff photo: Brooke Finch From left, veterans and brothers Steven Gallegos, Jake Gallegos and Mike Gallegos discuss their days serving in the military at Friday’s Veterans Day breakfast at American Legion Post 25 in Clovis.

Staff photo: Brooke Finch
From left, veterans and brothers Steven Gallegos, Jake Gallegos and Mike Gallegos discuss their days serving in the military at Friday’s Veterans Day breakfast at American Legion Post 25 in Clovis.

“We used to call them choppers over there,” Sarracino said. “I remember it just like yesterday. You’d hear the blades going. I still, to this day, get that feeling every time a helicopter comes by. The emotions just don’t go away.”

Sarracino doesn’t usually discuss attacks when telling his war stories, but Friday was an exception. Surrounded by fellow veterans at Clovis’ American Legion Post 25 for the Veterans Day breakfast, he shared his experiences openly.

Sarracino served in the U.S. Air Force from 1963 to 1983, retiring as a technical sergeant. He worked both in aircraft maintenance and as an operating room technician.

Given the peace activism in the U.S. in 1968, Sarracino didn’t get the send-off to Vietnam he’d hoped for when he left his wife of only two weeks.

American protesters yelled and threw things at the soldiers as they took off for war. Many of his then-18-year-old comrades wouldn’t be returning home with him.

“We were just serving our country the best we could,” Sarracino said. “I was glad to serve.”

Sarracino said he’s also glad veterans are more appreciated today than they once were.

“Veterans Day is about all the people I’ve worked with and all the camaraderie,” he said. “It’s a beautiful thing to serve, especially as a Native American. That, and my family, is what kept me going.”

Family was also a topic discussed among the Gallegos brothers as they ate the veterans’ breakfast.

Together, the four brothers’ service spans from 1972 to 2005, which includes the Air Force, Navy and the National Guard.

Two of the brothers, Mike and Steven Gallegos, recalled serving together during the New Mexico State Penitentiary riot of 1980 in Santa Fe — one of the most violent prison riots in U.S. history.

Steven Gallegos can still vividly remember the gruesome details — the smell of burning bodies and the sight of decapitated inmates — and tasks like feeding the prisoners.

“It was rough,” Steven Gallegos said. “Once you passed through that gate into the prison, there was smoke, and it’s like you entered into another world … It was pretty wild.”

But looking back at their time in the military, the brothers wouldn’t change a thing.

“This right here,” Steven Gallegos said as he looking around, “is what Veterans Day is about: Freedom, the right to vote for whichever president we want, our kids and our grandkids, friends you meet through your whole career, friends you’ll never forget. That’s why I served.

“If you were a soldier, then we were brothers; that’s the way I see it. If they were to ask me to go back in to protect this country, I would.”

He added with a laugh, “I’m a little old now, but I would still go in.”

Here’s what other locals had to say about Veterans Day:
• Navy and National Guard veteran Jake Gallegos said, “All these men and women, they all served several generations. I would gladly stand up for any of them … This is my country; this is our country. I have a lot of pride in every one of these veterans. They might’ve had brothers and sisters that didn’t make it, but I was fortunate enough to have three other brothers to serve with. I’m very proud of all of them. This is my family.”

• Army veteran and volunteer of American Legion Post 25 Cipriano Madril said, “Veterans Day is appreciation for what all the veterans have done for us. I know a lot of them who are not very healthy because of their time serving. Veterans Day means a lot to me because of my veterans. I try to help them; that’s the reason I’m here at American Legion — to try to help them as much as I can.”

• Air Force veteran and Clovis’ Disabled American Veterans Post 6 member Tim Talley said, “It’s a day to honor those that have come before us and those that’ll come after. From 1943 to 2015, there’s been an immediate member of my family in the armed services: my dad for 33 years, myself and my brother — one right after the other. I was honored to go into the military.”

• Marine Corps veteran and Disabled American Veterans Post 6 Chapter Commander Rick Madera said, “I’m glad we have a Veterans Day, but the Vietnam veterans, we have mixed emotions about it. When we came back, the people didn’t want us. Our own families didn’t want us. I’m glad to see it’s reversed itself now, and I’m glad it honors the ones before us and after us.”