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Pico Rivera Slow to Accept Vietnam Veteran's Idea : One Man's Mission for Memorial

December 14, 1986|RICHARD HOLGUIN | Times Staff Writer

Frank Somohano wants to build a memorial to Ronald L. Andrews, Ruben M. Armenta, Frank Barreras III and 21 other Pico Rivera residents who died during the Vietnam War.

Somohano is on a mission to memorialize the nation's Vietnam War dead in their hometowns. The Vietnam veteran began his campaign in Bridgeport, Conn., and he hopes it will spread throughout California and the United States.

"There are a lot of vets out there suffering from Agent Orange, physical wounds and psychological wounds," Somohano said during a recent interview at his Pico Rivera home, where he lives with his wife and three sons. "I think that what most Vietnam veterans are suffering from now is a sickness of rejection.

"There are 58,000 who aren't sitting with us and I feel something must be done in their hometowns."

Referred to Committees

But Somohano has run into what he says is rejection of his own from a local veterans coalition and, in turn, the Pico Rivera City Council. Both bodies have referred his idea to committees, and that has angered Somohano, who wants to see a marble-and-granite memorial, dedicated to Pico Rivera's 24 casualties, in front of City Hall on Memorial Day.

"It's just a matter of time," Somohano said steadfastly. "There will be a memorial dedicated to the Vietnam War dead of Pico Rivera."

City officials and the president of the Veterans Council, which represents five Pico Rivera veterans groups and their auxiliaries, counter that Somohano is overly anxious.

"I'm sure he thought we should have jumped off the roof for him," said Jesse Villegas, a Vietnam veteran and president of the Veterans Council. "It's just a lack of communication that's preventing any progress."

The idea for hometown memorials came to Somohano several years ago when he lived in Bridgeport.

"I happened to be driving with a friend of mine and I had this flash. I thought how many? Who were they? And what is being done?" he said.

List of Names Sought

Shortly thereafter, Somohano began contacting local and federal government officials--including President Reagan--to find out the names of Bridgeport's 29 Vietnam War dead and to lay the groundwork for the town monument.

At first, fund-raising was slow, but Somohano eventually exceeded his goal of $8,000 for the monument, which was dedicated in front of Bridgeport's Town Hall on Memorial Day 1983. Other memorials were built in Connecticut, including monuments to Stratford's five Vietnam War dead and Guilford's three casualties, as a direct result of Somohano's efforts.

When Somohano moved to Pico Rivera two years ago, he brought his idea to memorialize California's more than 5,800 Vietnam War dead in their hometowns.

According to records, Somohano obtained from the office of the Secretary of Defense more than 600 cities and towns in this state suffered losses during the Vietnam War. Those figures include missing and captured soldiers who have been declared dead.

Needed as Supplement

Somohano says the hometown memorials are needed to supplement the memorial in Washington to the 58,113 men who died in the Vietnam War and the proposed memorial in Sacramento to California's Vietnam casualties.

"What if you live in Tacoma, Wash., and your brother died in Vietnam? Can you go to Washington, D.C., to view the tribute to your brother whenever you want?" Somohano asked.

Somohano served in Vietnam with a transportation outfit of the 1st Marine Division from June, 1967, to July, 1968. He helped move men and supplies up and down the coast of Vietnam. Currently unemployed, Somohano is a sergeant in the Army Reserve and says he has been accepted to begin training in January as an Army recruiter.

He said he would raise the $13,000 needed to erect the monument from local residents and business but needs the city to donate a 20-square-foot parcel of land in front of City Hall.

He Began Last April

He first pitched his idea to the City Council last April and was referred to the 15-delegate Veterans Council, which organizes the city's Memorial Day and Veterans Day celebrations each year and provides counsel on veterans affairs.

"We felt a project of that nature should have broader support than that of just one individual," Mayor Gilbert de la Rosa said.

When Somohano presented his idea to the Veterans Council in June, a Korean War veteran grilled him on why he planned to memorialize only the city's Vietnam War dead, Somohano said. The Veterans Council pointed out that the city already has a war memorial near the city library, which could be modified to include Vietnam casualties.

The Veterans Council referred the matter to a committee it formed that day.

"That aggravated me," said Somohano, who sought a letter of support he could take to the City Council. "They should have supported me that very night."

'Genuine Interest'

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