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South Chicago church honors fallen soldiers amid push to refurbish Vietnam War mural

Avani Kalra, Chicago Tribune on

Published in News & Features

About 200 people gathered in the basement of Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church in the South Chicago neighborhood Sunday to pay tribute to 12 members of the community lost in the Vietnam War.

“On this Memorial Day weekend, we remember and give thanks to those who have given their lives in the service of our country,” the Rev. Steve Niskanen said, opening the program with a prayer. “When the need was greatest, they stepped forward and did their duty to defend the freedoms that we enjoy.”

The ceremony, which included a visit to South Chicago’s Vietnam Memorial across the street from the parish and a wreath-laying by the families of soldiers, came as several local organizations are raising money to refurbish the mural on the site of the memorial.

The Southeast Side Vietnam Veterans and the South Deering American Legion Post 1238 are working with Ald. Peter Chico, 10th, to secure $100,000 to repaint the mural. The groups also want to refurbish the portraits of the 12 fallen soldiers at the top of the mural.

Fred Carrizales, a Vietnam War veteran who has been involved in efforts to refurbish the mural, said preserving and honoring the community’s history is incredibly important to him.

He said pride in service runs deep in South Chicago, and honoring service is a tradition that his father and grandfather raised money for before him. South Chicago is often overlooked, he said, which means the community looks after and honors itself.

“As a Vietnam War veteran, I just want to remember them,” Carrizales said. “The fellas up there walked the streets with me. We played baseball together, we went to school together, we went to church together, we graduated together. We pull together as a community to honor them.”

According to the Chicago History Museum, the parish is believed to have experienced the largest loss of life of any church in the United States during the Vietnam War. The neighborhood hosts an event to remember the fallen soldiers in the community twice a year –– once for Memorial Day and once on Veteran’s Day.

 

Chico said that because of that history he has made renovating the mural a priority and has been meeting with a task force in the community for about a year.

“Well before I was born, and well before I became the alderman, this South Chicago community made a commitment to never forget the men who lost their lives in Vietnam,” Chico said. “We told the families we will never forget. We told the families we have their back.”

Chico and his partners announced Sunday that the Home Depot has committed to providing $25,000 dollars in supplies for the mural. The team is still raising money to pay artists and announced a GoFundMe to be set up later this week.

Monica Rodriguez has lived in South Chicago her entire life and always attends these memorial events, she said. At 63, she lives in the same house she grew up in, just a block away from the church.

She said it’s touching to see such a concerted effort to remember veterans. Rodriguez’s brother lost his arm in Vietnam, she said, and as she gets older she worries the community will forget about stories like his. She said the push for a renovation has shown her that’s not possible.

“Whenever we’re gonna forget them, we can’t. They’re on the wall,” Rodriguez said. “All of these guys that are up there, they never came home. That generation, their bond, it’s now up to their kids and grandkids to keep it alive.”

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