Art Guzman, an Army veteran who fought in the Vietnam War from 1971-72, remembers other military personnel who didn’t make it home from that and other conflicts.
On Memorial Day, May 27 — as he’s been doing for several years now — he will put together a patriotic display of flags, photos, rifles, boots, and helmets from WWII, the Vietnam War, and other conflicts including Afghanistan, on the front yard of his Sylmar home located on the 15000 block of Larkspur Street.
He also creates the display on Veteran’s Day.
“It’s a very deep, emotional day because a lot of us didn’t come back and nobody tells their story,” said Guzman, 68. “They’re never mentioned or talked about. [The setup is] to show the neighborhood we need to remember our fallen veterans.”
Seven of Guzman’s 10 brothers would serve in the military, — both the Army and Marines. He said three of his older brothers also saw combat action in Vietnam. By the time Guzman arrived there, the fighting — the US first became involved with the conflict in 1955 — had already been raging more than 15 years. “I realized that the war had taken a toll on a lot of the GIs,” he said.
The US government was now starting to downscale its involvement in Vietnam, Guzman said, and restricting its owns soldiers’ ability to engage the enemy without first receiving direct permission. So even though “we were still getting sniper [fire], grenades thrown at us, we couldn’t [always] shoot back,” Guzman recalled.
He said a lot of the soldiers were “hooked on dope and they were getting very frustrated.”
He remembered a night where he had to go to the “fire line,” and started talking with a guy who “seemed in very bad shape.” It was about 1 a.m., and they were on guard because the “enemy always tried to sneak in.”
A couple of weeks later, that same soldier thanked Guzman for talking and praying with him that night.
“Because of my faith and talking to him [that night], he didn’t end his life. He told me ‘I already had pulled the grenade pin to blow us up,’” said Guzman, who added he didn’t know about the grenade at the time.
He says the memories of what they went through are with veterans all the time, and just about anything can trigger them — sometimes when you least expect it.
Recently, Guzman was at the Hollywood Bowl, attending a performance of “The Little Mermaid” with his daughter. It was raining and someone sitting nearby started smoking marijuana. The smell triggered a vivid memory of being back in Vietnam, where Guzman attended a show by comedian Bob Hope in a similar setting, under the rain and with the smell of marijuana in the air.
“For me, I was back in Vietnam, with my 60-calibre machine gun and my rain poncho,” Guzman said, who can feel emotionally overwhelmed by some of those flashbacks.
He knows it’s the same for other veterans, who miss buddies they served with and who didn’t return. The names are too many to count.
That’s why he builds his display, so they’re not forgotten.
“Some (people) say they appreciate it,” says Guzman. “For me I do it for the guys that can’t speak for themselves.”
Ed. note: On Monday, May 27, a Memorial Day observance will take place at the Pioneer Memorial Cemetery in Sylmar from 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., and include the laying of wreaths, flag raising and a rifle salute. Participants include the Marine Corps League San Fernando Detachment#1277, and the American Legion Post #76. The cemetery is located at 14451 Bledsoe Street in Sylmar.