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Best Vets

Local chapter of American GI Forum marks 50 years

By Emily Grube

THE SAN JOSE chapter of the American GI Forum is celebrating its 50th anniversary on Nov. 7 with a gala event complete with no-host cocktails, dinner and dancing. Charles Lostaunau, a veteran himself and the chairman of the celebration, is excited about "one of the most prestigious events of the year." He expects between 400 and 500 guests in suits or military attire. The list of those attending includes elected officials such as San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed, community people, business people and members of veterans groups from the Gold Star Mothers to the American Legion. Also in attendance will be a group of returning veterans from Afghanistan. The evening will include presentations by San Jose civic leaders; NBC's Damien Trujillo will be the MC.

The organization came to prominence after World War II in Corpus Christi, Texas, when Felix Longoria, a private killed in action, was denied his right to a proper burial. "Dr. Hector Garcia started the organization," says Lostaunau. "[He] founded it on the basis of advocating civil rights for veterans." With Garcia's diligence and the help of future president Lyndon B. Johnson, Longoria was buried in Arlington National cemetery "with full honors, and he was the first Mexican-American to be buried there."

The national coverage of the Felix Longoria affair helped the group blossom into hundreds of chapters. The San Jose chapter, also known as "Old Number One, is the largest chapter in the state of California and the nation," says Lostaunau. It is made up of volunteers, both veterans and civilians, who strive to better their community through protecting the rights of veterans, granting scholarships to Hispanic youth and upholding the cultural heritage.

Fire & Desire will perform a selection of Latin music as well as "old school favorites" for the dancing portion of the night. Jerry A. Mendez of the band sees the opportunity to play for the organization as "an honor. These veterans come back having provided a service to our country and they are not provided the attention that they deserve. ... [The AGIF] provides a much needed service to honor these veterans."

THE AMERICAN GI FORUM ANNIVERSARY GALA takes place Saturday, Nov. 7, at 5:30pm at Unify Hall, 765 Story Road, San Jose. Tickets are $50. (408.499.8369, 408.829.0329 or 408.775.3251).

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