Joe Curcio and Richard Hernandez are lifelong friends and City of San Fernando natives who grew up in the small town.
Curcio and Hernandez are both veterans of the Vietnam War. Both served in the Marine Corps in 1968 — Hernandez enlisted while Curcio was drafted a few months later.
Decades after their service ended, the two still keep in touch with one another, although neither one still lives in San Fernando. But one of those times when they can count on seeing each other in person is during the Valley Veterans Day Parade.
They look forward to being among the many other proud veterans traveling down Laurel Canyon in Mission Hills who are participating in the 19th Annual San Fernando Valley Veterans Day Parade.
For Hernandez, he’s been a part of the parade since the beginning, when founder Fred Flores held the inaugural parade in 2004.
“We started on O’Melveny Avenue and walked up Brand Boulevard towards [San Fernando] Junior High School,” Hernandez recounted. “We walked — there were no cars — and we just walked through the street and people were alongside the street. That’s how it first started.”
Curcio’s participation in the parade wouldn’t come until much later.
“I didn’t get involved with the parades until probably six or seven years ago,” Curcio said. “It was really a humbling experience. I didn’t realize that people felt so good about the guys that served. I’m grateful for that.”
Hernandez and Curcio have known each other since they were 15 years old, when they attended San Fernando High School and graduated in 1966. Hernandez had been in Vietnam for a few months when Curcio was deployed. The two veterans humorously recounted how they literally bumped into each other while at the same compound — a very long way from home.
“We shared the same battalion rear area, but we were in different companies … and when we returned from whatever operation we were on, we all returned back to the same rear area for a couple of days until they loaded us up with new ammunition, food, stuff like that,” Curcio explained. “So for the first few months, every time we went back to a rear area, I would get together with Richard and spend that time with him.”
While spending time together in Vietnam, both men would stay up-to-date on the current news in their hometown by reading the San Fernando Valley Sun newspaper.
Both men left Vietnam in 1969 — for Hernandez, it was after he received his third Purple Heart, while Curcio left when then President Richard Nixon started to bring some soldiers home.
After the war, Hernandez worked for the US Postal Service for more than 34 years. Currently, he is an assistant varsity baseball coach at Hart High School in the Santa Clarita Valley.
Curcio worked in a factory in Sylmar for a few months before going into construction. He ran his own company for 12 years before it went under. He spent the last 15 years working as a lab technician for Anheuser-Busch brewery. He now lives in Lebec in Kern County.
Although public opinion about the Vietnam War during the years of conflict was very negative, both men look back on their service with pride. Hernandez said that he’s noticed the difference between how veterans were treated then compared to now.
“Those days, we come back [and] we didn’t get nothing,” Hernandez said. “Now … they get a key to the city or whatever and I didn’t get a key to my house. I didn’t have a house.
“[But] I’m proud to be a veteran and of the veterans serving the country who do put their lives on the line.”
For Curcio, his post-war experience has been positive, especially in the northeast part of the San Fernando Valley, where he said he hasn’t ever experienced negative attitudes from people who find out that he’s a Vietnam veteran.
“I really hope somebody has a chance to tell the people that are lining the parade how important that was,” Curcio said. “I’ve been in PTSD [Post Traumatic Stress Disorder] groups throughout the years, and there were some guys that had that [negative] experience, being treated badly when they came home, and it completely broke them for years.”
“I’m so grateful that I never had to go through that, and I believe with all my heart it’s because of where I grew up.”
For both men, Veterans Day is a time to not only think about their service to their country, but the men they served with.
“I feel proud of what I did,” Hernandez said. “I’d do it over again. It’s just something that I guess I feel good about. I think a lot of people feel good about serving their country.”
“I lost a lot of friends in Vietnam, guys that I met in the service, and I think about them all the time,” Curcio said.
The annual parade held on Veterans Day Nov.11, begins at 11:11 a.m. It starts on the corner of Laurel Canyon Boulevard and San Fernando Mission Boulevard in Mission Hills. The parade will continue south for 1.1 miles and end on Paxton Street in Pacoima. There are currently over 90 entries in the parade.
For more information, go to https://www.sfvveteransdayparade.com/.