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Bel Air High School to honor alumni Vietnam War veterans

Vietnam War veterans

Bel Air High School is holding a special ceremony Thursday to honor Vietnam War veterans.

The veterans being honored were also Bel Air students at some point in their life.

Organizers have worked tirelessly this week to get ready for the ceremony.

As part of the ceremony, a posthumous diploma was given to the family of Luis Borrego, a Bel Air student who was drafted during his junior year and died in service.

"I am so honored, because like they said the Vietnam veterans were never honored or anything. So when they said it was going to be about my brother, I was just crying and crying and I thanked them so much," said Gloria Borrego-Melendez, Luis Borrego's sister.

"Hopefully he's up there somewhere looking down, smiling, because, at Bel Air, we haven't forgotten our veterans, the sacrifices they made. Some of them sacrificed everything," said Charles Garcia, Bel Air's principal.

CBS4 spoke with a Vietnam War veteran and Bel Air graduate, Robert Rangel.

He says his high school community lost more people than he ever realized.

“Back then not so many had been identified as we have right now,” Rangel said, “and, by the way, the list keeps getting longer and longer.”

Rangel says he thought there were only seven people lost to the war, but recently wastold there were about 20.

A memorial, called the Freedom Trees Memorial, was built in 1972 near the school's track and football field.

When the memorial was built there was a ceremony held to honor the lives lost to that point in the war which ended in 1975.

Plaques and the names of the soldiers who never made it back home to their Lower Valley community sit in the memorial.

Faculty members say the memorial doesn’t get much attention.

Some students are unaware that it’s even there; however, Rangel remembers and still visits.

“A lot of these guys right here were my neighborhood buddies,” Rangel said, pointing to the memorial.

“We're still brothers even though they've passed away … . We still think about them, you know,” said Rangel.

Rangel said Thursday will be emotional but he is just happy to see it happen for his friends.

Organizers of the event will make sure veterans, their families and students know that Vietnam veterans are not forgotten.

The ceremony coincided with National Vietnam War Veterans Day, which was recently recognized nationally to be celebrated on March 29.

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