CALEXICO — The military way of life was something Joe Vindiola loved, and eventually craved, he just didn’t know it early on in his career with the armed forces.
“I thought I made a mistake. I was 19, young. It was extremely hard, mentally and physically,” said the veteran. “It’s hard to put it into words … (it’s easier) when you talk to other veterans.”
His first go-round was with the Air Force, where he spent a decade, from 1955 to 1965. He enlisted just two weeks after his graduation from the new Calexico High campus, where he was senior class president.
Considered a veteran of the Korean conflict and the Vietnam War, Vindiola said he only went overseas once, to Spain, after he re-enlisted for an additional six years when his first two were up.
A would-be flyer who couldn’t pass the pilots exam, Vindiola found his groove when he earned his stripes as a crew chief, a job he proudly held until he retired out of Omaha, Nebraska.
It was after he left the Air Force and became a postal worker with the U.S. Postal Service that he began to crave that military life again. So, he enlisted, in the California Army National Guard.
The institution was highly visible in the Imperial Valley in the years in which Vindiola was a member (he joined in the late 1970s), as companies and armories were present in Calexico, El Centro and Brawley, all of which are gone today.
Vindiola was with the armory in Calexico for some 16 years, retiring in 1992.
“Once I joined the California National Guard, I went from planes to tanks. That was a great company,” he said.
Now 85 years old, Vindiola, who was born, raised and will likely pass in Calexico, said days like Veterans Day and Memorial Day, which is around his birthday, are special to him.
He’s a proud military veteran, but a realistic one.
“The younger generation these days, they don’t understand what military service is all about,” Vindiola said. “War doesn’t serve anybody any good. … You see these nameplates around our monument (Calexico Veterans Memorial at City Hall), some are deceased, some alive. … Some are struggling, some have health problems, some from injuries during conflicts, some age-related.”
He has participated in Veterans Day events just about every year since he became active in the old Veterans of Foreign Wars post in Calexico that has since dissolved and the American Legion Goree-Lake Post 90 in Calexico, which is still going strong.
Vindiola used to be commander for the post — from 2004 to 2011 — but these days he’s slowed down with age and has let others take over the reins of helping run the show.
“I’ve lost a lot of good friends since I’ve been in the American Legion,” he said, referring the passing of older veterans who have been members of the Goree-Lake post.
On Wednesday, Nov. 11, Vindiola was to once again join his brothers and sisters in arms to commemorate those in Calexico and around the nation who have proudly served in the armed forces during ceremonies at both Mountain View Cemetery and the Veterans Memorial just a few paces north of City Hall on Heber Avenue.
Vindiola was to be at both; that’s what he said during an interview Tuesday, Nov. 10. He expected things to be a but more low-key this year due to the pandemic, saying that public gatherings of more than 10 people are frowned upon, so the American Legion wouldn’t be laying out the miniature American flags on the graves of veterans Wednesday, but he said cemetery staff promised they would take care of that.
And he thinks there were only to be about 10 veterans or so of the post’s 40-some members at the Veterans Memorial, due to physical distancing. But he wasn’t certain.
For the city of Calexico, it put in quite a bit of effort this year in getting ready for Veterans Day, even in a pandemic.
Although a service and ceremony has not been staged at the Veterans Memorial in a few years, City Manager Miguel Figueroa said Nov. 4 that Public Works staff under manager Liliana Falomir, had worked hard to get the area cleaned up and ready for the Nov. 11 event.
Also, to coincide with Veterans Day, the city issued a proclamation Nov. 4 regarding the 100th anniversary of the “Memorial City Hall,” which at 408 Heber Ave. has been restored in recent years and now houses the Mexican consulate office.
Calexico council member Lewis Pacheco was to speak at the Veterans Memorial ceremony and likely read from the proclamation.
According to the proclamation, the Calexico City Council in 1919 hatched plans to erect a “Memorial City Hall as a noble tribute by (the) people of Calexico in honor of her soldier and her sailors who have served in the nation’s wars.”
Dedicated in 1920, the old City Hall served as a meeting place for the American Legion Goree-Lake post in its basement for some 75 years, before the building stopped being used and was renovated.
Several Calexico-area vets were at the Nov. 4 council meeting to hear the proclamation issued.