Mario Sanchez was fresh out of high school in 1965 when he was drafted to serve in the Vietnam War. The native of Eagle Pass, Texas, soon became a Marine thrust into combat. The veteran says he was lucky to return home alive.
“A lot of my friends from my hometown that I went to school with never made it back,” he said. “Vietnam was a bad war, but we served our country regardless, and that’s why we should never forget our veterans.”
Returning from an unpopular war, Sanchez did not find resources for vets on college campuses at the time. The former high school principal and Immediate Past Commander of the San José chapter of the American GI Forum recounted his experiences to an audience celebrating the ribbon cutting of the newly renovated San José City College Veterans Resource Center.
Times have changed considerably since the Vietnam War era. The SJCC VRC serves 200 student veterans from around northern California and is growing as more veterans learn about the services the center provides, said SJCC Veterans Coordinator and Counselor Alex Lopez.
“Our message to veterans is please use this room. This is your room to study, gather, learn, or take a break from the day,” he said.William Garcia, SJCC Vice President Student Affairs
The VRC provides a space for vets to gather, socialize, and form relationships with other veterans, providing a comprehensive approach to support services that increase veteran student success. That approach includes close collaboration with Financial Aid, Counseling, the Veterans Resource Center, the Veterans Student Association, and the Student Affairs Department.
SJCC Vice President of Student Affairs William Garcia spearheaded the effort to remodel the VRC, established in 2014, and bring in new furniture, appliances, and technology to make the space more welcoming for student veterans. “Our message to veterans is please use this room. This is your room to study, gather, learn, or take a break from the day,” he said.
SJCC President Rowena Tomaneng, San José Evergreen Community College District Intermin Vice Chancellor Beatriz Chaidez, and SJECCD Board Vice President Maria Fuentes also provided remarks during the ribbon-cutting ceremony.
Sanchez, who attended De Anza College and San José State University after Vietnam, embarked on a successful career in public education. He urged younger veterans to get involved in organizations like the GI Forum, which provides direct services to vets. “We cannot forget the vets out there suffering and struggling,” he said. “So please, young vets, get involved; our older generation cannot do this forever.”
The SJCC Veterans Resource Center may be the catalyst to inspire a new generation of veterans to follow in his footsteps.