October 21, 2014

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Lorain family lost a hero in 1968

LORAIN — Charlie Sanchez can still see the tears on his mother’s face.
He had come home from school and opened the door of his Lorain home to a scene he now wants to forget. His whole family — both parents and eight brothers and sisters — were sobbing on the living room furniture.
A telegram had come just an hour before. Their son and brother, Angel Luis Sanchez, had been killed in combat from a bullet wound to the head, it read. The year was 1968, and Angel Sanchez had only been in Vietnam for six weeks.
Angel Sanchez was one of 98 Lorain County soldiers killed in action while fighting the Vietnam War. He also was one of seven parishioners from Sacred Heart Chapel in Lorain who were killed.
“My Aunt Gladys was the one who pulled me out of school,” Charlie Sanchez said about the day he learned of his brother’s death. “I just remember punching the wall and being in disbelief.”
The family didn’t know what to believe, he said. There was always the possibility that the military had made a mistake. Angel had only been there for six weeks — how could this have happened?
But 10 days later, the body of his brother was delivered to Dovin Funeral Home in South Lorain.
“He received a bunch of medals — a Purple Heart, Silver Star and Bronze Star — but at 14 years of age, medals didn’t impress me,” Charlie Sanchez said. “I would rather have had my brother back.”
His brother was 21 years old in 1967 when he was drafted into the Army. He was born in Puerto Rico and had immigrated to Lorain when his father was recruited by U.S. Steel to work in the steel mill. He had dropped out of Lorain High School a few years before but had re-enrolled just before his draft number was called.
“He wanted to go. He felt he had an obligation,” Charlie Sanchez said.
Angel Sanchez was sent to Da Nang on the east coast of what was then South Vietnam. The military told his family that he destroyed two Viet Cong bunkers by himself using grenades and a machine gun before being fatally wounded at the third and final bunker. Noticing his heroics, the rest of his squad ran out and avenged Angel’s death by destroying that last bunker.
Charlie Sanchez became angrier and angrier as the years passed. He thought about how his brother would never play baseball or football again and how they would never again go to Lorain harbor.
When he enrolled at Oberlin College in 1972, he joined other protesters there and even marched on Washington. Although he is still against the war, he said he has learned to be proud of what his brother accomplished.
“Now at 54 years old, I’m proud of his actions,” he said. “He served our country.”
He sees similarities in the Vietnam War and the war in Iraq and doesn’t believe our troops should be over there either. He already was asked by a priest at Sacred Heart Chapel to pray with a 20-something Lorain resident who was leaving his wife and child behind to go to Iraq.
Still, he believes the troops deserve everyone’s support regardless of feelings toward the war effort. With the upcoming unveiling of the Vietnam War memorial in Amherst, he hopes that more people will reflect on those who sacrificed.
“I think that is awesome,” he said. “I lot of these guys never got the support they deserved. I’m very grateful for what they’re doing.” 
Contact Adam Wright at 329-7151 or awright@chroniclet.com