This mural was painted on the wall of Post 41 in 1985. It is a replica of a stamp created in 1984 to honor the contributions of Hispanic veterans. (Photo by Alexandria Coleman)
by Alexandria Coleman
While many veterans were greeted with parades and celebrations after returning home from World War II, Ray Martinez and other Hispanic veterans in the Valley were met with yet another battle.
As many of these young veterans returned from the war, eager to start their families, Hispanics and other minorities faced harsh discrimination when it came to renting or purchasing a home.
Mortgage agreements during this time included specific clauses to prevent minorities from living north of Van Buren St.
Because of this discrimination, much of the Hispanic population was concentrated in several neighborhoods or “barrios” in the southern part of Phoenix. Hispanic veterans within these neighborhoods were not allowed to join other American Legion posts, which led Martinez and a group of 15 men to start an organization of their own in 1945: American Legion Thunderbird Post 41.
Since the Post 41 building was completed in 1948, it has served as a place for the community to come together to listen to music, socialize and hold events. Riverside Ballroom, the Calderon Ballroom, Abel Hall and several gathering places used to attract local residents as well; however, all of these places have since disappeared, Post 41 commander Louie Garcia said.
“The only remaining one here is this post,” Garcia said. “It serves as a social gathering place for a lot of people…We have people from the community who are not veterans that come here and they socialize and participate in our events here.”
The post, which is near Second Ave. and Grant St. in south central Phoenix, regularly hosts holiday dinners and other gatherings that are open to the public. Most recently, Post 41 invited children and families from the surrounding area to participate in an annual Easter egg hunt. Robert Hernandez, the post’s public relations officer, historian and former commander, said these events are among his fondest memories.
“I get to capture…the smiles on the kids’ faces, and they’re realizing that they are participating in something they might not have had the opportunity to.” Hernandez said.
To the members of Post 41, family is of utmost importance.
Family members of veterans are encouraged to participate in the American Legion through a number of programs including the Women’s Auxiliary and the Sons of the American Legion. Through the Women’s Auxiliary, daughters and wives of American Legion members assist with the post’s events and other endeavors.
Lorraine Vasquez, former president of Post 41’s Women’s Auxiliary, is eligible for the group through her husband Rudy Vasquez, who served as the post commander in the early 1970s and has been a member of the post for nearly 50 years. After spending countless hours at the post over decades, it has become a central part of their lives.
“We’re at home here,” Lorraine Vasquez said. “This is our home.”
The post has also brought Lorraine and Rudy Vasquez closer by giving them plenty to talk about, including gossip, she joked.
Because many of the members grew up in the surrounding area, several of them went to school together as children.
Joe Perez, a member of the Sons of the American Legion at Post 41, is one such member who grew up in one of the local barrios. At 17 years old, Perez joined the National Guard and served for four years.
Because he was not active duty and did not serve during a designated war era, he was not eligible to become a legionnaire. Instead, Perez became a member of the Sons of the American Legion, which is a program for those whose fathers served during wartime. This has given him the opportunity to reconnect with many of his old classmates from Lowell Elementary School on First Ave. and Buckeye Rd.
“The unity we have here, it’s rather unique from most American Legion posts,” Hernandez said. “Not only do we have the camaraderie of served in various branches of the military, a number of us also grew up in the area, so we are a little tight-knit group.”
Hernandez mentioned that he has run into several people that he knew from elementary and middle school including Richard Lucero, Post 41 member and past commander.“We’ve known each other since we were seven and eight years old,” Lucero said. “You can come here anytime and know somebody.
Alexandria got both a bachelor’s and a master’s degrees in public relations at the Cronkite School. In addition to her current position as the PR and social media specialist at Maricopa Corporate College, Alexandria has interned at Make-A-Wish Arizona and has had her work published in The Arizona Republic.