Fighting for Dignity of VeteransBy Brenda Gazzar Staff Writer Pasadena Star News ****************************************************************
WHITTIER — When combat medic Jose G. Ramos returned home from the Vietnam War, the decorated Army veteran was wracked with guilt over the men he could not save.
Already smoking pot, he turned to cocaine to keep him awake when the nightmares worsened. Then he started drinking heavily. Ultimately, he didn’t care whether he lived or died.
“It’s only been the last six or seven years, I started finally getting my life back,” said Ramos, 64, who has been clean for about 20 years. “I don’t feel old when I look at the mirror; I feel good … I want to live. I couldn’t say that eight or 10 years ago.”
Today, as the founder of the Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day project, Ramos has dedicated his life to ensuring that no veteran feels alone or helpless again.
Ramos has been the driving force in getting cities in Southern California, including Whittier and Los Angeles, to pass resolutions acknowledging the service of Vietnam veterans by declaring a “Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day.”
“I don’t want to see anymore Joses running around; they don’t need to come home and feel abandoned, feel alone,” he said. “They need to come home and feel welcomed home and that’s what we do.”
In 2009, Ramos’ lobbying efforts paid off when then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a bill proclaiming “Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day” at the Twentynine Palms Marine Base.
“This is what’s so special about this guy,” Schwarzenegger said of Ramos, who stood at his side, during the ceremony. “He comes up with the idea and then he’s like a tick. He hangs on you and he fights and he fights and he fights until he gets it done.”
Soon after, many other states adopted similar legislation.
And many credit Ramos’ efforts in helping influence President Barack Obama’s decision earlier this year to declare Vietnam Veterans Day on March 29, the date the last American combat forces withdrew.
Rep. Linda Sanchez, D-Cerritos, said meeting and talking to Ramos a decade ago is what inspired her to begin her work honoring Vietnam veterans. She said it convinced her that she should do all she could to pass a “Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day” in Congress. Ramos, a retired physician’s assistant, also serves on Sanchez’s Veterans Advisory Council.
“I would bet that Jose’s tireless efforts were one of the many compelling stories that influenced the President’s decision to make the presidential proclamation of a Vietnam Veterans Day this year,” Sanchez said in a written statement.
After participating in and being inspired by a 1998 bicycle tour through Vietnam with war veterans from both sides, Ramos rode his bicycle from Whittier to Washington, D.C. in 2000 asking the White House to proclaim March 30 as a national “Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day.”
In 2004, the nonprofit’s cycling team rode across country to Washington, D.C., and in January 2008, Ramos conducted a three-day solo vigil in front of the White House.
The nonprofit also holds an annual celebration at California High School in Whittier for veterans of all wars. The first WHVVD event, held in 2008, attracted some 3,000 veterans and community members, he said.
Ramos also helps connect veterans in need of a range of services, including transportation, housing, health and mental health services.
“That man in my opinion is a hero; he’s a living legend,” said Joe Leal, the founder of the Vet Hunters Project which aims to prevent and end veteran homelessness. “In my opinion, I think he deserves a monument (in Whittier). … There are ‘Welcome Home Vietnam Veteran Day’ events all over the U.S. because of him.”