They say you can take the boy out of Molina, but you can never take the Molina out of the boy. At Molina Veterans Park, you can find a monument built to honor the eight men from Molina who paid the ultimate sacrifice while defending our country in Vietnam. They are Alfredo M. Castanon, Guillermo Willie Davila, Jr., Israel Esparza, Julius Greathouse, Jr., Jesus Moreno, Jr. Jose Angel Ortiz, Jose Luis Salazar, and Jose Manuel Trejo.
Around the monument, you can find the eight names on bricks. Each of the eight trees represents each of their lives. 8 benches surround the triangle of bricks with veterans from all wars. All eight men lived within one mile of the park and even decades after their deaths, their family, friends, as well as the community visit the monument to pay tribute and honor the eight men they’ll never forget.
"He loved being over there,” Irma Sandate told us about her brother, Israel Esparza, one of the Molina Eight. “Believe it or not. He made a lot of friends.”
She says her brother was a true patriot, loved serving his country, and when he went into the service at 17, he already had a plan in place for when he was discharged. But it wasn’t easy, Sandate said, for him to begin serving in the military.
"My mother at first didn't want him to go join the service because he was too young but that's what he wanted to do,” she said.
Once he got permission from his parents, Esparza deployed to Vietnam and was one step closer to his dreams.
"We were poor so he figured, I join, and then after I come out, I have some money to go to school,” Sandate said about her brother’s plans.
Those plans seemed to be working out until Esparza’s second deployment and then one day the family received the phone call that no family ever wants to get.
"In my mind I kept saying when I see him in the funeral home, it's going to be cleared up,” Sandate said hoping that there was some confusion and that her brother was still alive. “They made a mistake. Of course that didn't happen.”
"Everybody here in Molina knows everybody,” she said about how this loss affected the community. “So they all knew each other. We knew all of them. We were all connected somehow.”
They knew each other. They grew up together. They went to school together. Sadly, they didn't come home together.
"It seemed like we were having one of these young men come back home from burial like every month,” recalls Danny Noyola Jr., a longtime educator, community activist, and a friend to the men. “It was a sad time.”
It was a sad and devastating time that Noyola, Jr. Remembers all too well.
When we asked him how devastating it was to the community, Noyola told us, “It was tragic. It was unbearable.”
Noyola says he knows how the war changed so many lives, especially in Molina.
"Never forgot our veterans,” Noyola said. “Never. Especially these eight young men.”