By Maria Roman
Photographer James Russo
There were proud moments at the Connecticut State Capitol in Hartford on May 13, when the Latino & Puerto Rican Affairs Commission (LPRAC) held their ninth annual Tribute to Hispanic Veterans by honoring Puerto Rico’s fighting 65th infantry regiment’s receipt of the Congressional Gold Medal in commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the Vietnam War.
LPRAC’s annual event honors Latino and all veterans throughout the state and this year saw representation from nearly every branch of the military. Unique to this year’s ceremony was the recognition of two Army veterans, SFC Jorge Barreto Otero, known as the “Puerto Rican Rambo” and LT Col Alfred V. Ráscon, who was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor from President Bill Clinton in 2000. Among the heroic men and women in attendance was Puerto Rican ‘Borinqueneer’ Celestino Cardova.
Decorated veterans and active military officers, along with their families, dignitaries, politicians and community members were greeted at the opening reception and offered hors d’oeuvres of Latin American flavors while listening to live music performed by solo guitarist, Val Ramos from the Flamenco Ensemble. In recognition of Connecticut’s fallen veterans, there was a performance of “Echo Taps” by Buglers Fred Miodowski, a retired Governor’s Horse Guard and Jon Worley, a Navy veteran of the Vietnam era.
The Master of Ceremonies, LPRAC’s Commissioner Chris Soto of New London, who also served as a Lieutenant Commander in the Coast Guard, said, “All veterans are part of the fabric of our communities.” The keynote speaker was MAJ Javier Alvarado, who is active in the Connecticut Army National Guard.
The Presentation of Colors by the Connecticut Army National Guard’s 103rd Airlift Wing Honor Guard was followed by the singing of the National Anthem by SFC Juan Luis Cruz, who serves in the Army Reserves and is also the president and co-founder of the Hispanic American Veteran’s Association of Connecticut (HAVOC).
Governor Daniel Malloy, included in the program, thanked the veterans for their service while acknowledging the 50th Anniversary and the “Boriqueneers.”
Special recognition was given to Sonia Pacheco Ayala of Hartford for her role as former LPRAC Commissioner from 2002 through 2009; she held the position of Special Projects Chairperson on the original committee when she came up with the idea for the ceremonial Tribute to Hispanic Veterans.
At the end of the event, Kayla, the 21-year-old daughter of one of the honorees, Leslie Lynn Laguna, Sergeant in the Army Reserves, said that she was proud of her mother and all the veterans. “I imagined my mother being overseas, working hard, facing challenges, representing Hispanics and female Hispanics in the Army.”
Upcoming events for veterans include the HAVOC Annual Veterans Health and Benefits Symposium with workshops for veterans and their families on Friday, May 29 at Goodwyn College in East Hartford (http://www.havoct.org) and the Anniversary Tribute Weekend on July 11 and 12 at the New England Air Museum in Windsor Locks (http://www.ccsu.edu/vietnam/).
Information regarding LPRAC can be found at their website: http://www.cga.ct.gov/lprac/.