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Crisis in Yugoslavia

Turnout of Support for Captive East L.A. Soldier

Vigil: Attendees say they want the family of Staff Sgt. Andrew Ramirez to know they care about him.

April 04, 1999|CAITLIN LIU | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Some well-wishers came bearing balloons, flowers, cards or ribbons Saturday. Some brought along their children. Others came just to look or to pray.

Most were strangers, but they said they wanted the family of Army Staff Sgt. Andrew Ramirez of East Los Angeles to know that they care about him. They also hoped to show their solidarity with all three U.S. servicemen taken captive last week by Yugoslav forces.

"It's very emotional for us, especially since it's Easter weekend," said Denise Vargas, a homemaker who lives a few blocks from the Ramirez home but does not know the family.

"We just want the Ramirez family to know they're in our prayers, in our hearts," said Vargas, who carried silk roses, yellow bows and long, curly ribbons.

David Arellanes and his wife, Norma, of Downey placed a bouquet of fresh flowers next to the front door of the Ramirez home.

"There's a lot of people who don't know any of these people but have feelings [for them]," David Arellanes said.

The assortment of gifts and symbols of hope grew bigger and more colorful throughout the day. Next to a pot of white Easter lilies someone left a Bible. Someone else draped rosary beads over the gate. Beside about 20 candles was a wicker basket containing yellow chrysanthemums, a stuffed bunny and candy. Balloons fluttered in the breeze. In the middle of it all stood a small statue of the Virgin Mary and the infant Jesus.

Some in the mostly Latino groups of visitors merely stood in silent tribute; others came at great effort.

After she struggled out of a car and hobbled across the street using a cane, Estella Alcorcha of Pico Rivera selected a spot on the fence above an American flag. There she tied a small card depicting Jesus and the apostles. Then she burst into tears.

"I worry about them," the grandmother of three said.

Three generations of the Mendoza family--Alex Sr., Alex Jr. and his son, 5-year-old Jarett, tied red, white and blue balloons to the fence.

"We're here for one of our homeboys," said Alex Sr., a Korean War veteran who grew up in East Los Angeles and still lives in the area.

Alex Jr., who is in the Army Reserve and lives in Hacienda Heights, said he wanted Jarett to "see the sacrifice" the soldiers have made for their country.

In the early afternoon, members of the Ramirez family left the house to gather at an undisclosed location.

"Everyone's doing all right," Ramirez's father, Andrew Sr., said as he left.

"We really do appreciate everything that has been happening," said the soldier's sister, Nadine, adding that her father "thanks everyone for their support. It's been great to learn how much everyone cares for my brother."

Kneeling to light a candle he had brought, Jack Tellez of Whittier, who came with his wife, Marie, and their three daughters, said: "Andrew Ramirez is a big hero. He's a big-time role model . . . for youths."

With a wad of burning paper, Tellez tried to relight all the other candles, whose flames had been extinguished by the wind.

"Gotta keep the flame going so he can find his way home with the light," he said softly.

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