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Candlelight Vigil Expresses Solidarity With Three U.S. POWs

April 09, 1999|DAVID HALDANE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Braving rain and cold, about 30 people held a candlelight vigil in Santa Ana on Thursday for the American POWs in Kosovo, especially the two who share their ethnic heritage.

"We identify with the Latinos because they're from our own backyard," said Alfonso Alvarez, who organized the rally for the American GI Forum, a Latino veterans organization.

"When I saw their pictures, what I saw was a reflection of myself," he said. "It hit too close to home not to do anything."

Frederick Aguirre, another organizer, said that the three U.S. prisoners--especially the Latinos--made him proud. "This is to show our solidarity with them," he said of the vigil, "and to highlight our Latino contributions to the defense of this country since the American Revolution."

The three U.S. soldiers--Staff Sgts. Andrew Ramirez, 24, of East Los Angeles, Christopher J. Stone, 25, of Smith's Creek, Mich., and Spc. Steven Gonzales, 21, of Huntsville, Texas--were captured by Serbian forces last week while patrolling near the Macedonian border with Yugoslavia as part of a NATO peacekeeping force. On Thursday, the United States was awaiting word from Belgrade on whether Yugoslavian President Slobodan Milosevic would agree to release the three during a meeting, expected to take place today, with Cypriot politician Spyros Kyprianou.

On the steps of Rancho Santiago College's administration building, meanwhile, the vigil participants--many sporting yellow ribbons and a few wearing military uniforms--were calling for Milosevic to comply.

"Let us send a strong message to Mr. Milosevic that we support the actions of our president on a grass-roots level," Assemblyman Lou Correa (D-Santa Ana) told the crowd. Milosevic should know, he said, "that if any harm comes to these soldiers, he will be held accountable."

Ross Romero, an Anaheim real estate agent, offered a tribute to the young men's relatives. "They have families who are praying for them," he said, "humble, honest, hard-working families. It is cold and windy here, but there are others who perhaps are suffering more. How can we not support them?"

Enriqueta Ramos, a trustee of the college, emphasized global unity. "We are one people," she said. "We all suffer together, and right now it is important to remember that."

The vigil drew several supporters who are not Latino but said they identified with the Latinos' desire to be recognized for their contributions to American defense.

"I respect it," said Nadia Maria Davis, a Native American and vice president of the Santa Ana Unified School District's Board of Education. "It is one of the most honorable things that someone could do--to protect the human rights of others when their own rights haven't been protected."

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