Please Join us in Denver (FRI & SAT)

Hello, friends. Once again, we are headed to Denver this upcoming weekend for a couple of Literary Events. We hope to see you there. As always, any questions or comments, please email our Publisher, Joe Barrera at jjbarr46@gmail.com, or our Artist/Editor John Lewis at larevistaalmagre@outlook.com

GI Forum vets book event

Both locations are easily accesible from I-25.

Joe Barrera: The Christmas Truce

It was not the same as the famous WWI Christmas Truce of 1914 on the Western Front, when French and British soldiers came out of the trenches and mingled with their German enemies, exchanging gifts and singing Christmas carols, to the consternation of their commanders. The truce in my war was a ceasefire nevertheless. At least for a few hours, or even for a day or two, depending on where you were. The ceasefire had been announced by both the U.S. and South Vietnam. The Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese agreed to it, somewhat reluctantly. They immediately violated it, firing their ubiquitous mortars at U.S. base camps. That was our version of events. The VC and the NVA said that we were the instigators.

Christmas Flower

Christmas 1967 was a clear, peaceful, sunlit day. We were set up on a hilltop near the Laotian border somewhere west of the 4th Division’s 1st Brigade Base Camp at Dak To in the mountainous Central Highlands of South Vietnam. The series of bloody hill fights known as the Battle of Dak To had terminated a few weeks earlier. Like other battles far away and long ago, Dak To is largely forgotten. I cannot forget it and I am forever sorrowful because too many comrades died. The NVA mauled the 173rd Airborne Brigade on Hill 875 and 3/8th Infantry of the 4th Division at Hill 1338. 1/8th Infantry, my unit, had been involved on 1338, and firefights, ambushes, mortar and recoilless rifle attacks on unnamed hilltops. Now we dug in, licking our wounds and wondering when the next attack would come out of the North Vietnamese sanctuaries in Laos. Soldiers always know it. They had deliberately put us out there. We were the bait to entice the North Vietnamese out of their holes.

But for a short time the Prince of Peace reigned. Out of the bright blue sky a double-rotor Chinook helicopter swooped down and landed at the LZ we had hacked out of the thick forest. The ramp lowered and crewmen pushed bulging orange-colored sacks onto the ground. They ran back into the cavernous hold and emerged carrying mermite cans full of hot food. People we never saw out in the field appeared: the company XO, the supply sergeant, the mess sergeant, the company clerk, and the usual shammers and profile-wavers. These base camp commandos lined up the mermite cans, broke out the paper plates and proceeded to serve the less-fortunate grunt infantry Christmas dinner, turkey with all the trimmings. Others opened the orange sacks and out tumbled cardboard boxes, packages from home. The Army had come through. We were not forgotten after all.

I got two packages. The smaller one was from my lady love in Mercedes, the little dust-blown south Texas town five miles north of the Rio Grande. In 1750 my ancestors had settled on the north bank of the Big River, on “la merced,” the Spanish land grant which gave the town its name. I remembered my great-grandfather’s land. But he lost it to the American taxes he never understood. How I longed to be back there, dust notwithstanding. The bigger package was from my Dad, stationed with the Army in Kaiserslautern. The whole family was in K-Town, frolicking with the frauleins. I could have gone with them but I chose Vietnam instead. My girl had sent stationary, pens, envelopes, and sweet-smelling lotion-saturated wipes. She was ready for the first kiss and knew that I had not bathed in months. My father’s box was full of canned Mexican goodies, tortillas, hot sauce, tamales, cinnamon-laced chocolate, all the usual Mexican Christmas delicacies. How did he get all that stuff in Germany? That must have been some commissary in Kaiserslautern.

 

Joe Barrera, Ph.D., is the former director of the Ethnic Studies Program at UCCS, and a combat veteran of the Vietnam War.

Joe Barrera: Heroes Make Us Who We Are

Reminder: Our sixth issue, Veterans, will be coming out soon. Keep your eyes and ears open for the latest updates and information.

red rock canyon hiking COLORFUL
View from Red Rock Canyon

Are heroes molded by the societies which produce them, or do heroes create the values that define societies? It’s a perennial question. Colorado Springs is imbued with the military ethos and we take the question of war heroes seriously. For me this is especially poignant. I still crave peace on my journey home from the Vietnam War. Searching for it, I met recently with The Pikes Peak Heroes Legacy Committee, another of our distinguished citizens’ groups dedicated to honoring veterans and their legacy.

The Pikes Peak Heroes Legacy Committee “exists for the purpose of honoring and remembering the sacrifices of heroes among us, to ensure that their legacy is preserved in our community for future generations.” To that end, the Committee is dedicated to creating a permanent, mobile, museum-quality exhibit to honor the legacy of the flagship of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, the USS Arizona, sunk on December 7, 1941. And the Arizona sailor and  survivor, Donald G. Stratton, the 96-year-old retiree who lives in Colorado Springs. But more than that, the Committee wants us to remember that the heroes of Pearl Harbor, even if only a few remain, are very much alive. The traditions they represent are also very much alive. The Committee is chaired by Capt. Bob Lally, (US Navy Ret.). Vice-chair is Col. Stan VanderWerf, (USAF Ret.). Committee members are Lisa Bachman, USAF Veteran; Dr. Andy Cain, (USN Ret.); Matt Coleman (USN Ret.); LtCol. Bill Linn, (USA Ret.); CDR Mark Seglem; (USN Ret.); Mary Beth Burichin, CSprings Airport; Welling Clark, (USN Ret.); Bill Nelson, attorney-at-law; Andy Vick, Cultural Office of the Pikes Peak Region. Nikki and Randy Stratton represent the family of Don Stratton. We owe all of them a sincere thanks.

The panel has already succeeded in re-naming the new Fillmore Street bridge at I-25 after Don Stratton. No doubt they will succeed with the new exhibit, which will be on display at the airport, there to greet both residents and visitors and educate them on the values which we prize in this community. But the fund-raising is still underway. Contact the Center for Regional Advancement, a 501(c)3 organization affiliated with the Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce, to donate.

I feel that a country, a society, a culture makes heroes. We know that America is somehow exceptional, that we live for truth, freedom, justice, fairness, and equality. And for one other thing. We live for kindness. These are high standards. We may not always live up to them, but we never stop trying. I believe that is what makes us “exceptional,” that we never stop trying–and that we are always ready to defend these virtues. The men who died at Pearl Harbor died defending them.

As he writes in his book, All the Gallant Men, Don Stratton was enraged at the treachery of the Japanese, the way their pilots grinned and waved at the American sailors they were mercilessly strafing and bombing as they flew their planes twenty-feet off the water at Pearl Harbor. The Japanese attack was against all that Americans hold dear. Five minutes into the Pearl Harbor attack every American sailor and Marine had made the steely resolve to avenge the death and wounding of their comrades. The sheer cruelty was against all the rules of kindness. Kindness is an American virtue. Yes, sometimes we forget ourselves and behave in a cruel manner, but we always remember who we are and come back to kindness. Kindness springs from the truth that we are all equal. There was one man who certainly believed in equality. This man believed in it so much that he disobeyed orders for the sake of the equality he felt with his shipmates. In doing so he saved Don Stratton and five other men. Joe George, the man who saved Don’s life, was the perfect example of kindness. Read Don’s book. You will be inspired to live up to American values.

Joe Barrera, Ph.D., is the former director of the Ethnic Studies Program at UCCS, and a combat veteran of the Vietnam War.

 

Joe Barrera: First Thanksgivings

We should always give credit where credit is due. I’m thinking of the Native Americans in this season of Plymouth Rock, Captain Miles Standish and John Alden, who both wanted to marry Priscilla Mullins, the only marriageable woman left after all the others died of disease and sheer heartbreak on the pestilential tub called the Mayflower. Priscilla must have been pretty tough. Tisquantum was there, the kidnapped and returned Patuxet Indian better known as Squanto. He had learned English during his sojourn in Europe and was able to translate for the Pilgrims and negotiate with hostile tribes, which saved the Plymouth colony from annihilation. Indians helped Europeans in the New World. This relationship is part of Thanksgiving lore, a gift from American mythology. We think of Captain John Smith and Pocahontas at Jamestown, Leatherstocking and the Mohican, Chingachgook, Sacagawea and Lewis and Clark, and the cowboy version–the Lone Ranger and Tonto. Native Americans helped white people in this land, which for Europeans was often strange and savage. Of course, it never seemed to work the other way. We give thanks for Indians like Squanto, who introduced us to the turkey which the Pilgrims ate at the banquet in 1621, when they celebrated the anniversary of their arrival. Except they ate venison, not  turkey, but turkeys are part of the myth. Besides, they are so much more fun for kids to draw, along with men carrying blunderbusses and wearing hats with buckles.

Frozen Berries Color
     photo by: Marian Lanham

We honor the New England Thanksgiving, but there was an earlier one, on the banks of the Big River, el Rio Grande, when the Spanish mining magnate, Juan de Onate, brought 500 settlers north from Santa Barbara in the the present state of Chihuahua, in 1598. This is important to know because American history is incomplete without the Spanish contribution. Knowledge of Spaniards, Indians and Mexicans is crucial if we are to understand our present situation. Onate’s aim was to colonize northern New Mexico, which meant that the Pueblo Indians had to bear the brunt of European exploitation. This was true whenever Europeans encountered native peoples. But the Spanish were different from the English. Spain did not drive out the Indians to make room for white settlement, unlike the English. Spain sent mainly soldiers and priests to the New World, unlike the English who sent entire families. This meant that Spanish men often married Indian women. Onate was married to the granddaughter of the Aztec emperor, Moctecohzuma, and the settlers he led had already begun el mestizaje, the mixture of Spanish and Indian blood and culture, which characterizes Mexico and the U.S. Southwest.

The settlers crossed 600 miles of waterless desert, a journey every bit as hazardous as the Atlantic crossing. They finally reached el Rio Grande in what is now El Paso/Ciudad Juarez. So grateful were the people to find water that they had a real thanksgiving, the same as the Pilgrims more than twenty-years later. They prepared a feast of fish from the river, and staged pageants, among them the reenactment of los moros y cristianos, the battles between Moors and Christians, celebrated to mark the reconquest of Spain and the expulsion of the Moorish king Boabdil in 1492. The Catholic monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabela, drove out the best part of their industrious population, the Muslims, and also many Jews.

The Spaniards, in spite of extensive intermarriage with Native Americans, transferred their rage against Muslims to the Indians  The following year, 1599, Onate sent his nephew, Juan de Zaldivar, to Acoma Pueblo, to demand provisions from the people there. The Indians attacked the soldiers, which prompted Onate to retaliate. He punished the Acoma people by cutting off the right feet of the men and selling many of the children into slavery. The Acomas have never forgotten this but Spanish justice caught up with Onate. He was tried for his crimes and banished from New Spain. I cannot think of similar punishment for English crimes. Regardless, we can learn from this and truly give thanks for the Indians who made European settlement possible.

Joe Barrera, Ph.D., is the former director of the Ethnic Studies Program at UCCS, and a combat veteran of the Vietnam War.

Joe Barrera: Comanches in Downtown Colorado Springs

During Hispanic Heritage Month we honor the true history of this region. This year marks the 239th anniversary of an event that occurred in what is now downtown Colorado Springs. In 1779, don Juan Bautista de Anza, the Spanish colonial governor of New Mexico, came down Ute Pass with 800 soldiers, militia, and Ute and Apache Indian allies. They were in search of the feared Comanche chief, Cuerno Verde, so called because he wore a buffalo headdress with the horns colored green. Cuerno Verde had been terrorizing the isolated colony of New Mexico on the northern frontier of New Spain. So deadly were his raids and so ineffective the response from the decaying Spanish empire that New Mexico was in mortal danger. But then Anza was appointed governor. His task was to destroy the Comanche menace and restore peace to the colony.

Anza was not a Spaniard, but a Creole, born in Sonora. Creoles ranked second in the social hierarchy of New Spain. Above them were peninsular Spaniards, who were the general officers. Below the Creoles were the mestizos, those who were a mixture of Indian and European. Further down were full-blooded Indians and Africans. In this racial caste system, Anza was considered “white” but he could not ascend into the higher ranks of the Army in spite of his proven ability as a soldier. “Los gachupines,” the Spaniards, kept him forever a lieutenant colonel. But they needed him. In 1776 he led an expedition from Sonora across the Mojave Desert and up the California coast and founded San Francisco. This was the first time that Spaniards and Mexicans had crossed the waterless desert into California. Anza did it in record time, with a large party that included women and children, and without loss of life.

To understand Anza we need to know some history. The Spanish frontier was unlike the Anglo American frontier. It was a static frontier that did not advance, like the Anglo frontier. Native Americans lost their lands on the Anglo frontier. On the Hispanic frontier Indians and Mexicans lived side by side. On August 15, 1779, Anza left Santa Fe with an army made up of Spaniards, Creoles, mestizos, Indians, and Africans, people now known as Mexicans, and marched northward into what is now Colorado. He wanted to go up the San Luis Valley, through South Park, down Ute Pass, and catch the Comanches in their usual hunting grounds, the plains east of the Front Range. The New Mexican “vecinos,” the settlers, were familiar with this vast area. They had been hunting and grazing sheep here for generations. “Los vecinos” guided the expedition down Ute Pass, and on August 31, 1779, Anza and his troops attacked a Comanche camp at the confluence of Fountain and Monument Creeks. They had surprised the Comanches, just as Anza intended. They chased the Indians for miles, down through what is now Pueblo, all the way to the foothills of Greenhorn Peak. It was near this mountain, named after the Comanche Chief, that on September 3, 1779, Anza met and defeated Cuerno Verde. It was a huge victory. Anza had saved New Mexico and perpetuated the eternal presence of Indo-Hispano people in this region.

Joe Barrera, Ph.D., is the former director of the Ethnic Studies Program at UCCS, and a combat veteran of the Vietnam War.

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La Llorona in Denver: @ the Rudolfo “Corky” Gonzales Library

Thank you to everyone who came to Karen’s reading in Denver. We had a wonderful time–met wonderful new writers, artists, and literature enthusiasts. We hope to hear back from our new friends and look forward to our next visit. Thank you Denver Public Library Staff, you made this a breezeless, beautiful event.

Karen Gonzales (Bio Pic) copy

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Event in Denver: Saturday August 25

Come join the growing Almagre community this Saturday up in Denver. Issue 5 contributor, Karen D. Gonzales, will be reading her memoir about encountering the legend of Lady Llorona.

RCG Denver Event

go to: DENVER PUBLIC LIBRARY

~Hope to see you there,
the Almagre Staff