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Valley veterans pay tribute

November 12, 2001|By AARON CLAVERIE, Staff Writer

CALEXICO — At sunrise Sunday, about 30 men and a 17-year-old girl walked silently between the graves of the soldiers buried in Mountain View Cemetery here.

Every once in a while, the group of service veterans and volunteers would stop to read the name on a marker — checking to see if it was someone they knew or with whom they served.

If the headstone marked the grave of a U.S. armed forces veteran, they would sink a flag into the grass.

A flag was placed above the headstone of Jack Camacho, 1930-1991, U.S. Air Force.

And Winfred Wolfe, 1931-1998, U.S. Army.

And Daniel Ramirez, 1934-1995, U.S. Army-Korea.

And Juan Lopez, 1928-1994, U.S. Army.

And John Zuniga, 1928-1996, U.S. Army-Korea.

And the rest of the headstones of the 179 veterans buried here, including Calexico veterans killed in the line of fire.

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In the past, the job of placing the flags would take a handful of veterans two hours or more, according to veteran Joe Vindiola.

This year there was a good turnout and, "When I got here at 6:15, almost all of the flags were gone," he said.

As he spoke, veterans walked over to his truck to find out if there were any more flags.

Vindiola handed over the two he had and said, "We're going to need some more flags — unfortunately."

Vindiola, who served 26 years in the U.S. Air Force and the U.S. Navy, brought his 17-year-old granddaughter with him to place the flags.

They walked together.

"This is the 10th year she has been out here," Vindiola said.

The granddaughter, Karen Cuen, started helping place the flags when she was 7 and has been helping her grandfather at Veterans Day events and Memorial Day services ever since.

On Sunday, the pair was joined by around 28 veterans from Calexico's Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1637 and American Legion Post 90 and Heber's Amvets Post 94.

Korean-American filmmakers from Los Angeles taped the veterans as they went about their annual task for an upcoming documentary.

The placement of the flags, a menudo breakfast afterward and a 10 a.m. ceremony at the cemetery were some of the final events of a busy Veterans Day weekend for Calexico veterans.

Vindiola said, "Yes, we have been busy. We were at Blanche Charles (Elementary School) on Wednesday, then the Calexico High School event on Thursday. On Friday we were at Dool (Elementary) School.

"Oh, the Dool School event was great. The kids are so good. They come up and shake your hand like this" — he mimicked the tentative handshake of a small child — "and say ‘thank you' (in a small voice.)"

Carl Vindiola, Joe Vindiola's nephew and a Vietnam veteran, said the weekend has definitely been full of activities but, "It's worth it."

Holding a plastic bowl full of menudo, he continued, "especially considering what happened on Sept. 11," he said. "It really makes you appreciate what happened to the country during Pearl Harbor."

Later in the day, right before the 10 a.m. ceremony, Jesse Grimm, an Army veteran of 24 years, and four other veterans stood near the flatbed of a truck that carried the rifles that would be used in a salute.

Grimm said the tragedy of Sept. 11 has definitely had an effect on the past week's activities but he said it was hard to describe exactly how.

"The younger generation … woke up to realize that we do have veterans and that the U.S. was made free by the veterans," Grimm said.

He said there has been more of an outpouring of appreciation for veterans since Sept. 11.

Fellow VFW post member Jesse Garcia said, "There has also been more respect for the flag — which is good."

Garcia said there have been more questions from the kids with whom he talks. He said children want to know about wars and about airplane bombs.

"The little kids, they want to know, ‘Did you shoot somebody,'" Grimm said.

The rest of the veterans laughed.

"Yeah, they do ask that," Garcia said.

Later, after a flag-raising ceremony and a prayer, the veterans fired three volleys into the air. The sound cracked the sky, sending birds flying from trees.

After the rifle squad memorial, the flag-raising and the playing of "Taps," Carl Vindiola wrapped up the short ceremony for the 70 or so veterans and family members gathered around the cemetery's flag pole.

Vindiola said, "The ceremony is short. It's always short because what we feel is important.

"It's really not important what is said but what you feel."

>> Staff Writer Aaron Claverie can be reached at 337-3419 or claverie7@hotmail.com

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