For years, a memorial sat at San Manuel High School, honoring its students who died in the Vietnam War.
But last year, Bill Haro, who also attended the school, was informed that a name was missing.
Army Sgt. Tony R. Arriaga, who was killed in 1966, wasn’t listed.
Not only was the memorial inaccurate, but Haro said it was hidden — so hidden that some people didn’t even know it existed.
“It just struck a nerve in me that their families have suffered all these years and people just forgot about them,” Haro, who served in the Army for four years, said. “I said, ‘We can do better than this.’”
After hearing about the memorial, Haro met with his friends, who also attended San Manuel High School, for breakfast — something he does monthly.
“Before I left, they had done the math on (modifying the memorial) and we said, ‘We’ll just pay for it now,’” Haro, 69, said. “That’s the kind of guys our community raised.”
With the money from Haro and his friends, the memorial was fixed. Haro even added engravings for the veterans’ ranks and the date they died. It now hangs in the school’s gymnasium.
But Haro wanted to do something more.
With the help of dozens of artists and craftsmen, Haro decided to create an even larger memorial for all of San Manuel to see. It’s so large he calls it a billboard.
“I decided to build this billboard to acknowledge these guys openly,” he said, adding that he and his friends designed it with the thought of longevity.
Haro started working on the memorial, which is on the property of Redhawk Copper in San Manuel last summer.
“(The CEO) had two wooden poles there,” Haro said. “It used to have different organizations of San Manuel on there, but it fell apart.”
So, Haro asked if he could build a memorial there. The answer was yes.
“I wanted the families to know we hadn’t forgot about them,” he said. “They suffered tremendously. It’s a tribute to them.”
Now nearly a year later, the memorial is complete.
The memorial is double-sided and stands tall enough to be seen as you’re driving into San Manuel, about 50 miles northeast of Tucson. It’s red, white and blue with flowers on the ground, several flags and photos of the fallen servicemen.
“I see a lot of memorials with names and lettering, but I wanted to put a face to the names,” Haro said.
“When I put that dang thing up, I was talking to a Vietnam warrior, who was wounded and shot five times,” he said. “We were talking while they mounted the memorial on the stand and his face came to life. It’s like the (servicemen) were brought back to life.”
Haro spoke to family members and did a lot of digging in military archives to find information and photos.
In addition to Arriaga, the six other servicemen honored in the memorial are Army Pvt. Norman Garrett, who died in 1965; Army Cpl. Mark A. Bateman, who died in 1967; Army Pfc. Johnny M. Garcia, who died in 1967; Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Allen W. Ingram, who died in 1968; Navy Torpedoman Third Class Gary Graves, who died in 1968; and Marine Corps Sgt. Arthur M. Garcia, who died in 1970.
Haro knew five of them. All seven attended San Manuel High School.
“They had a lot to live for, but they gave their life for our country,” Haro said.
“It’s brought more enjoyment to me in seeing these people honored, and that’s what it’s really all about.”