Alfonso Padilla also featured in special, which will re-air throughout May.
By Josh Bootsma
LANSING, Ill. (May 4, 2022) – On Memorial Day last year, Gloria Chavez-Gomez continued her annual tradition of attending a ceremony near Our Lady of Guadalupe Church to honor the memory of her brother, and 11 other local young men who were killed in the Vietnam War. At the memorial, she met Edgar Vargas, a producer at Chicago public television station WTTW.
11 months later, Chavez-Gomez was featured on WTTW’s hour-long special titled, “Our Soldiers, Our Lady of Guadalupe,” as part of the station’s “Chicago Stories” series.
The special, which will re-air throughout the month of May on the station — and is available to watch online — focuses on Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Parish, and 12 young men from the church family who went to Vietnam and never returned.
When she was 17, Chavez-Gomez remembers a knock on the door and her mother fainting upon hearing Antonio Chavez — 18 at the time — had been killed in Vietnam.
55 years later, Chavez-Gomez agreed to be a part of a WTTW feature about the tragedy because she believes keeping her brother’s memory alive is important — as well as the memories of the other men that were killed.
“It wasn’t hard to do the interview. I took pride in doing it, because we have to keep their memory going,” Chavez-Gomez said. But some of the questions kind of hit home. And it was like, ‘Ok, I need a minute.’ I kept holding my hand to the chair saying, ‘Don’t cry, don’t cry.'”
Chavez-Gomez was interviewed about her brother, the neighborhood she grew up in, and how the community has responded to the deaths of the young men. Many of her scenes were filmed at her home in Lansing, though some footage was taken of her as she revisited locations in the South Chicago neighborhood, her childhood home.
Lansing insurance agent Alfonso Padilla is also featured in the special, as Padilla’s younger brother Tom was killed in Vietnam.
“He used to ask me for advice,” Padilla said in the special of his younger brother, “‘If I get called into the army’ — because he figured he would be called once he finished high school — ‘Should I go? What do you think?’ And I go, ‘Well listen, it’s up to you.'”
Telling stories, keeping memories alive
Chavez-Gomez’s loss early in life has impacted her community involvement later in life. Part of the Lansing Jr. Woman’s Club, the 45-year Lansing resident actively seeks to promote and honor veterans as often as she can.
Currently, she’s working to help prepare for a veterans appreciation dinner on May 12.
“I’m not a reporter, I’m not in the news media. I’m just a little person that’s trying to keep their memory alive,” Chavez-Gomez said of her brother and others like him.
“We are Americans. It doesn’t matter from what gate you flooded in from, what country. The whole thing is we are here, we are Americans, and we need to stand for each other and help each other. A lot of that is being totally reduced because everybody is doing their own thing. Come back, come back, that’s all I can say,” Chavez-Gomez said.
Old friends from as far back as high school have reconnected with Chavez-Gomez already since the feature first aired, and she’s hoping that her story — and that of her neighborhood 55 years ago — can continue to bring people together today.
How to watch and read
“Our Soldiers, Our Lady of Guadalupe” airs throughout May, with one airing in June. The schedule for the feature is below. According to WTTW’s website, WTTW is available on Comcast channels 11 and 191 and on RCN channels 11 and 611, while WTTW Prime is available on Comcast digital cable channel 370 and on RCN channel 37.
- Thursday, May 5 at 9 p.m. on WTTW
- Friday, May 6 at 7 a.m. on WTTW Prime
- Friday, May 6 at 4 p.m. on WTTW Prime
- Saturday, May 7 at 1:30 a.m. on WTTW
- Monday, May 30 at 7:30 p.m. on WTTW
- Tuesday, May 31 at 9:30 a.m. on WTTW Prime
- Wednesday, June 1 at 1 a.m. on WTTW
Editor’s note: The Lansing Journal has included as many Lansing connections to the PBS special as we are aware of in this article. If a reader knows of another Lansing connection, please contact us at [email protected]
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