by Mike Senyo
photography by Emmah Obradovich
Alfredo Avelar of La Verne remembers what it was like to come home and not be welcomed because of the role he played as a soldier in the Vietnam War. Like many veterans, he faced the outcries and isolation that most of the American public then placed on its veterans. Society turned its head, and no one put out his hand to help these lost souls.
Avelar is afraid the same is happening to the vets returning from Iraq. “I didn’t want to be those same people who treated me like that; it’s why I support the troops in Iraq,” Avelar says. “At least they know that someone is supporting them. It’s scary; it’s very scary. I never realized how bad it was until I started seeing things,” Avelar says. “I get articles from around the world, and they’re not on CNN, and I’m like, ‘What’s going on.’”
Avelar has set up what he calls a chapel dedicated to the veterans of the Iraq war. It includes names of those who are overseas on their tours of duty, as well as a number of personal military memorabilia from his own collection. Anyone can come to the bivouac and place items inside as a sign of support for the troops. Aside from serving as a monument to the troops, Avelar also intended for the bivouac to serve as a reminder to the community that the country is at war. “If you look at the streets, we don’t act like we are at war,” he explains. “I don’t think our country really feels that we are at war.”
It started in 2004 when Avelar began to line candles on his Damien Avenue walkway and driveway. It grew from there. Some might feel that the veteran is doing this to bring attention to himself because of the lack of attention he received when he returned from Vietnam.
“My feeling is that this war is exactly like Vietnam, and I don’t want these guys coming home to the same reception I got,“ he explains.“ I do it for myself. It is an American thing that anybody can say whatever they want to in this country. Everybody has a right to be critical of what I’ve done.”Although Avelar does not support the current administration’s policies, he feels that everyone needs to support the troops. “A soldier does not make policies. He follows orders,” he explains. According to Avelar, America today is not aware of the entire situation in Iraq. “We have soldiers doing their third tour of duty,” he says. “Who is going to take their place?” he asks. “Not everyone realizes that we have more than 1,000 soldiers AWOL because they do not agree with what is going on.”
Avelar does not trust the American media news and gets all of his information from the Internet. “The majority of the people don’t have the time or effort so they just rely on CNN or FOX news for their information. We need to be informed,” he stresses. “Without information, you cannot make a good choice. If you are not really told the whole truth, you are not going to get a good answer out of your head. As long as our country is being controlled by the misinformation by the media, it’s going to continue in the direction it’s headed now.”
Avelar is vehement about letting people know that other countries’ news outlets are telling the true story of the war. However, he says, it is only a matter of putting in the time to find out this news.
“War is money, and Iraq is the second largest oil reserve in the world. We’re building 14 bases in Iraq, and from that point we’ll be branching off to Iran and Syria. The power of this country is using war to get into these resources.”
Avelar wants the people in La Verne to remember who is doing the fighting. He knows what it is like to be forgotten and does not want that to happen to his fellow soldiers.