Jaime Vazquez sat in his office last week looking at the medals received by his late father, a 24-year U.S. Army veteran who served in both World War II and in the Korean War.
“He was three inches shorter than me, about five feet tall, and was this tan-colored Puerto Rican who spoke English with a heavy accent,” said Vazquez, the head of the Jersey City Office of Veterans Affairs. Vazquez grew up in downtown Jersey City and still resides in town.
“And to think that he survived the military and flourished still inspires me and makes me proud of him,” Vazquez said.
Zoilo Vazquez was a native of Puerto Rico, then a U.S. colony, who entered the military in 1940 at the age of 20. He first served on security detail at the Panama Canal, which was a key military location during the war. Then he was dispatched to Germany to serve in the European theater until the war ended in 1945. A few years later, Zoilo Vazquez went off to Korea, serving there until that conflict ended in 1953. Vazquez retired in 1964 and returned to live in Puerto Rico where he passed away four years ago at the age of 84.
But Jaime Vazquez, who served in the Marine Corps for three years during the Vietnam War, doesn’t just want the public to know about the noble service of his father. He also wants them to know about the form he had to fill out to get the medals from the U.S. government to replace the originals missing from his father’s Puerto Rico home including the Bronze Star, which is the fourth-highest combat award of the U.S. Armed Forces.
The S-180 Form (aka Standard Form 180) is a request form pertaining to military records that veterans and/or families of veterans can fill out to get replacement medals or medals never issued, all free of charge. And that form is available in Vazquez’s office or through the internet. He hopes to have a copy of the form placed on the city’s official website (www.cityofjerseycity.com).
“These medals are part of American history in terms of the particular war, and yet also a part of the history of that family and the contributions of that veteran living in Jersey City or anywhere,” Vazquez said.
Uncovering a mystery
Vazquez is not a stranger to helping people with the S-180 form, recalling a few years ago a man from Amarillo, Texas who was visiting Jersey City and saw Vazquez talking about it on local public access TV.
The form has to be filled in with the name of the person who served, social security number, birth date, birthplace, military service, if the person is deceased and is the person retired from military service.
But sometimes that is not always easy, Vazquez said. He filled out the form about four months ago.
“I didn’t know my father’s military service number, and I didn’t know my father’s birthday,” Vazquez said. “But because he had a unique first name, and because he was in the military in Korea, they were able to track down his military records.”
“Like a lot of veterans, he would never talk about what he did during the war.” – Jaime Vazquez
‘They’ being the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, Missouri, one of 14 military record keeping facilities located across the United States where the S-180 form is sent for processing.
For Vazquez, receiving the medals is also helping him learn a little more about his father, who was divorced from his mom. His mother brought up Vazquez and his brother in Jersey City.
“When I was growing up and even when I got older, I would go visit my father in Puerto Rico during the summer,” Vazquez said. “Like a lot of veterans, he would never talk about what he did during the war.”
Vazquez plans to put the medals alongside a photo of his father in uniform in a glass case, which he is tracking down at the present time. Then the glass case will be presented to his father’s family in Puerto Rico.
For more information on the S-180 form, call Jaime Vazquez at (201) 832-1395 or access a copy of the form at www.archives.gov/research/order/standard-form-180.pdf.
Ricardo Kaulessar can be reached at email@example.com.