by Marc and Julie Anderson
TOPEKA — It was the last place Richard Vasquez, a member of Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish here, visited before he left for the Vietnam War.
Vasquez, a member of the 9th Infantry Division that served in the Tet Offensive of 1968, said he — like so many other parishioners who have served in the nation’s military — stopped at his church specifically to ask the parish’s patroness, the Blessed Virgin Mary under the title of Our Lady of Guadalupe, for her protection.
Arriving home from the war but prior to going anywhere else, he said he and countless others returned to the church to offer prayers of thanksgiving for their safe return.
Now Vasquez and all military veterans of the parish have a place of honor there. On May 5, Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann blessed a veterans memorial on the church property’s south side.
The $10,000 granite monument stands six feet high and features the emblems of the country’s various military branches. Between the emblems and an American flag is a depiction of St. Michael the Archangel, patron saint of the military.
Money for the monument was raised by selling memorial bricks. The bricks sit at the monument’s base and are engraved with the names of military veterans from the parish, as well as their service dates, ranks, places they served and military honors.
“We were able to sell approximately 150 bricks. So, that was very fortunate for us to do so. Now that the monument is up and displayed, more and more families want to purchase a brick,” Vasquez said.
Applications for memorial bricks will be accepted for the foreseeable future.
After paying for the monument, the bricklaying work and other expenses, Vasquez said the remainder of any funds raised will be donated to the parish.
During the actual dedication, Father Peter Jaramillo, SSA, who hails from the parish and who served in the Army, said many of the veterans who worked tirelessly toward the memorial’s completion served during the Vietnam War era.
“It was a time when there was a lack of appreciation for our nation’s veterans, and these men gave thanks to almighty God for their service and were grateful to come back home alive and so thus the inspiration for this monument is the story that they tell,” he said.
This monument, he added, symbolizes an awareness of and a pride in the vital contribution of the Guadalupe community.
“It says look at what the Mexican-American people have done, continue to do, and [how they] are proud of their history and love for this country and love for the church,” he said.
For Vasquez, who first approached then-pastor Father Jerry Arano-Ponce in 2019, and saw the project through from conceptualization to dedication, the memorial is a dream come true.
“My dream is now fulfilled,” he said, “and we have a place of honor in our community where our soldiers who gave everything for our country can be remembered.
“I am so thrilled the monument was erected on our church property. It’s an honor for us.”