Since World War II, a member of Art Guzman’s family from Pacoima has served in every major conflict involving the United States. His uncle Manuel served in WWII. Two other uncles, David and Rupert, were in Korea.
Then came Vietnam.
Seven of the 10 Guzman brothers served during that era. Benjamin was the first one drafted. He was followed by Thomas, Ishmael and Art. Brothers Eddie and Frank would later join the Marines, followed by Steve who joined the Army. The family military tree continued growing with nephews who served in Kuwait, Afghanistan and Iraq.
“One was coming and the other one was going,” said Art, recalling the deployment by he and his brothers during the Vietnam War.
Art was in Vietnam from 1971-1972 and was left with strong memories from the conflict, as was his brothers. But for many years, they never talked about what they had seen or experienced there.
That all changed in 1984, when they went to Washington, DC, and visited the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall.
For Art, it was a wake up call.
“I told the guys on the Wall that I would tell their stories,” the 69-year-old veteran said.
Since then, on Memorial Day and Veterans Day, Art creates a military display in front of his home.
“I’ve always felt very strongly in supporting veterans and acknowledging their sacrifice,” he said. “I’m determined to do this, and I do it to never forget — just to remember and honor those who have gone before us.”
This year the coronavirus pandemic has canceled Memorial Day parades, remembrances and events of all types.
But not Art Guzman’s exhibit. The Sylmar resident plans to display his annual tribute to veterans on May 24 and 25, just as he’s been doing for more than three decades.
Art first started his exhibit with a few items of his own: his foot locker, his “boonie” hat, his jungle boots and a copy of a sketch he had brought back from Vietnam (the original is now at the Bakersfield National Cemetery). He would also take these items to his children’s schools, and said he got a “great response.”
His memorabilia display has expanded to include uniforms from World War II, Korean War, Vietnam War, Iraq and Afghanistan, flags and POW bracelets and wrist bands. Art also has a couple of training rifles from WWII he’ll be displaying with helmets, to “signify the fallen.”
And, “I can tell the story about each uniform,” he said.
The display is usually set up in his front yard for passersby to view and admire. Visitors often ask questions, some of which can become deep and probing.
But there are some alterations this year, in part because of the pandemic. Art said he will use yellow tape to rope off the parking area in his front yard, and will place the uniforms on stands.
“It’ll be [more] visual so people can drive by,” says Art, who plans to put up posters on nearby streets to let people know about it.
He also expects to have his kids man “phone trees” to let others know that his display will be there. And he himself is passing the word around to fellow veterans because, well, “it’s for the community.”
But those who want to walk by and see it can still do so.
“If they decide to turn the corner and park and walk up to it, the walkway will not be obstructed,” Art said. The setup will still allow for a safe distance between the public, the items and Art, who will be available to answer questions and share stories with those who decide to walk past the exhibit.
For Art and many of those who see it, the display can be “therapeutic.”
“It’s emotional,” Art said. “People come up and say, ‘my dad served in Korea, my brother served in Vietnam.’ They start reminiscing about a high school where they were drafted, they start sharing; it’s a sense of pride.”
That’s why, Art said, he feels that despite the limits and restrictions the coronavirus has placed on everyone, Memorial Day is something to always be commemorated.
“Times are tough for everybody, but especially deaths in the military; it’s here today and forgotten tomorrow, and we need to show some gratitude and pride in our country,” Art said.
And this year, when events noting this important day are being canceled amid the pandemic, Art feels more compelled than ever to remember and honor his fellow soldiers and other veterans who are no longer here.
“It’s in my heart to do it,” he said.
Art Guzman’s Memorial Day display can be seen at 15057 Larkspur Street, in Sylmar. The exhibit will be displayed on Sunday, May 24, from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m., and Monday, May 25, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.