Vietnam veteran leads Western Springs VFW parade
Giana Chamberlin, 8, of Western Springs, marches in the annual Memorial Day parade in Western Springs. Chamberlin joined other members of the Forest Hills Brownies. | J.Geil ~ For Sun-Times Media
Updated: July 1, 2012 11:31AM
For Mel Villicana of Western Springs, Memorial Day is a day to remember the friends he lost in Vietnam.
“As I’ve gotten older I think more and more about friends. I lost two personal friends, one that I grew up with, one that I knew very closely died,” said Villicana, who was the grand marshal of Monday’s parade. “And I knew eight others that are on the Vietnam (Veterans Memorial) wall, members of my platoon and my company.”
Villicana was a combat medic in the Vietnam War. He received the Purple Heart for being wounded.
“I was drafted in 1968, May of 68. I served in Vietnam from July of 1969 till April of 1970 with the US Army,” Villicana said.
When Villicana returned home, soldiers were not given parades, like many receive now. “When I came home I came home by myself,” he said.
But things have changed with multiple organizations honoring troops as they return from Iraq or Afghanistan.
“Personally, I am glad to see it. I really am,” Villicana said. “I think they deserve it. (War service) is a short time in your life but its time when you did serve. You were called and you served,” he said.
Villicana said that after the Vietnam War he and other veterans were hesitant to join VFWs.
“(War) was something that you want to forget. You really didn’t want to be around other vets to remind you. And you kind of felt shut out,” he said.
With time, however, the generation of men who fought in Vietnam began to get involved with places like the VFW. Now, many of them have taken on leadership roles at these organizations.
“I think that eventually (veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan) will take to it because it’s a great organization. They do a lot of good for the community and they do a lot of good taking care of other veterans,” he said.
Villicana is now 63 years old. He is married, has three children and is retired from a career as a trader on the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange.
This Memorial Day, he thought of those friends and fellow soldiers he knew, who died in Vietnam.
“I think you have to keep them in your memory and realize the sacrifices that they did, that they died for a cause,” he said.