Luis Lalama - US Army Veteran - Miami, FL

I have known Mr. Lalama (Luis) for many years, he is my friend, neighbor, and father-in-law. I have witnessed his commitment to the goals, and dedication to the purposes, of veterans’ groups such as the Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA), and to the welfare and benefit of veterans as a whole.

Luis works tirelessly on a daily basis to not only ensure that veterans’ best interests are served, but that veterans are represented in the community with the dignity and honor so richly deserved.

Luis’ work as delegate to Florida State Council and President of VVA Chapter 620 has enabled that organization to thrive, and he is personally responsible for increasing chapter membership with more than 50 new members. He has been an active member of LULAC for more than 25 years. He is also a patron member and membership director for the Jewish War Veterans Post # 243, and has increased membership at that organization. Luis organizes and participates in numerous fund raising activities, tribute events, and membership drives, and is always working to recruit new members for all Veterans organizations.

Luis is a creator and active participant in the Vietnam Veterans Speakers Bureau, which works to educate local middle and high school students about Vietnam, and veterans before, during and after the war, and he travels throughout South Florida area high schools to present awards to JROTC cadets for their outstanding achievements. He volunteers on a regular basis to feed and clothe homeless veterans and community residents, and participates monthly in food distribution programs that provide free food to veterans and families in need throughout Miami-Dade County.

The quantifiable and positive impact of Luis’ work among veterans and in the community as a whole has led to the Miami-Dade County Proclamation of May 29, 2014 as Luis E. Lalama Day, in recognition of his efforts in the Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Parade by Miami Mayor Carlos I. Gimenez, Chairwoman Rebecca Sosa, and the Members of the Board of County Commissioners. He was also recognized as Member of the Year in 2014, by the VVA Florida State Council. Although I am not a veteran or a member of VVA, I know many that are, and each would join me in voicing the honor, respect and support felt for Luis as a comrade, friend and brother.

American history is full of Hispanic-Americans who have gone above and beyond the call of duty to protect Americans and people all over the world. I believe a great one lives right next door to me. He is my Grandfather, Luis Lalama.

He came to America from Ecuador at age 16, a lifelong dream. Then a year later, while still settling in to this new lifestyle, he was drafted to the Army and volunteered to serve in the Vietnam War. During that time, he worked hard to learn English, fought bravely to protect his country and fellow soldiers, and became Sergeant First Class before returning home to an America that did not agree with the reasons of the war. Still, life for him went on. Soon he married and had four kids, three girls and one boy. He raised the boy to follow in his footsteps and join the army, and his daughters to pursue advanced degrees in education, science, and psychology through the Florida university system. He became a banker… a good one too. He helped people start businesses and buy houses in the Miami area by helping them get loans from the bank. He became Vice President of the branch, and then went to other branches to help them be successful too. He was so good they sent him to other branches to spruce them up!

When he got older, he joined groups offering comradery, donations, and support to veterans. He donates time and effort to things like the Farm Share, where he helps to distribute surplus foods to needy people. He volunteers on weekends to do this, even in the heat of the Miami sun. He also goes to the flag ceremonies to honor the retirement of a great and symbolic flag. Not to mention, he takes the time on Memorial Day to put down flags on soldiers’ graves and honor their memory. Besides that, he worked in the Foster Care Review Board, to go over neglected children’s cases and make recommendations to the judge so that those kids could have the best parents available for them. He even organizes an annual event honoring the Four Chaplains… four selfless military men of different religions who came together and sacrificed their life jackets to other men while their ship was sinking during World War II. Now, he is the Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) and Association of the US Army (AUSA) president for the Miami chapters.

He has done a lot for the community and for veterans. The Miami-Dade Commissioner even proclaimed May 29, 2014 as Luis E. Lalama Day! Although he does all these things, he still finds time to play and interact and talk with his family. He also picks me up from school, takes care of me from time to time, and teaches me life lessons. For this, he is not only my Grandfather, but a great American, and my hero… and should be the next Florida Veterans’ Hall of Fame winner!