Blog, Stories

“We owe so much to so few.”

By: Jojo Galvan
Mar 28 2023

The Vietnam War Veterans Recognition Act was signed into law in 2017, making each March 29 a day to honor and commemorate Vietnam War veterans. More than 9 million American personnel served on active duty from 1964 to 1975.

Exterior view of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Chicago, November 19, 1999. CHM, ICHi-039078

One Chicago institution with deep ties to the ongoing legacy of the Vietnam War is Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in South Chicago at 91st Street and Brandon Avenue.

Our Lady of Guadalupe began serving the predominantly Mexican families on Chicago’s Southeast Side in 1923, holding services in a former military barrack. The Mexican community developed around the city’s shipyards and steel mills, where they found steady and nearby jobs as they settled in the area. In fact, the church was an important sign that a population of once-migrant workers had coalesced into a community. In 1924, the Claretian Missionaries took over Our Lady of Guadalupe and constructed the current church edifice, a project to which parishioners in the community contributed significantly. The completion of the church marked it with the distinction of being the first house of worship in the city to offer services for Spanish-speaking people, though their early masses were in Latin. Under Claretian leadership, the church would also become home to the National Shrine of St. Jude, patron saint of hope and impossible causes.

Exterior view of the entrance to Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, Chicago, November 19, 1999. CHM, ICHi-039829

By the 1960s, at the height of the Vietnam War, South Chicago was a bustling community with Our Lady of Guadalupe at the heart of social life. Many in the community felt a call to action to serve in the armed forces as the conflict abroad continued to grow, even as antiwar protests continued to mount across the nation. For many of the Mexican men from the neighborhood who enlisted or had their number called in the draft, military service was already a part of the family history, as several older community members were veterans of World War II and the Korean War. This patriotism would come at a high cost, not just for these men’s families, but for the South Chicago community as a whole.

Vietnam veterans’ memorial at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, Chicago, November 19, 1999. CHM, ICHi-039828

Our Lady of Guadalupe is believed to be the parish with the largest loss of life in the war not just in the city, but across the entire United States. The parish community lost twelve men: Edward Cervantez, Antonio G. Chavez, Leopoldo A. Lopez Jr., Joseph A. Lozano, Michael S. Miranda, Raymond Ordoñez, Thomas R. Padilla, Joseph A. Quiroz, Dennis J. Rodriguez, Peter Rodriguez, and brothers Alfred Urdiales Jr. and Charles Urdiales Jr. Many who did return home from the war were also irreparably changed, suffering from PTSD and the shame associated with being a part of a highly unpopular militarized effort.

The mural as seen on Google Maps, October 2022.

For many, Our Lady of Guadalupe has become a place of memory and a place of healing. The men who lost their lives are forever enshrined in a memorial across the street from the church, dedicated in 1970, which includes a red stone depicting the names of the fallen. A mural honoring the soldiers was completed in 1990. Every year, the church becomes a pilgrimage site during Veterans Day and Memorial Day, when hundreds of visitors come to pay respect to those who paid the ultimate sacrifice in the name of serving their country. In 2002, an honorary Chicago street sign was installed at 91st Street and Brandon Avenue, naming it “Fallen Soldiers Corner.”

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