The following documents were prepared in February 2007 by Ms. Penny Falcon of Aurora, Illinois and a member of the Hispanic Pioneer Committee. Ms. Falcon and her research contributed to the recognition of SFC Diaz's military service on the Kane County (Illinois) Veterans Memorial.
Ms. Penny Falcon's speech to the Kane County Board to request that they add SFC Diaz's name to the Kane County Veterans Memorial.
Madame Chairman, honorable board members. My name is Penny Falcon and I am here on behalf of the Hispanic Pioneers Committee to recognize Sgt. Rafael Angel Diaz, whose name will soon be added to the Kane County Veteran's Memorial.
When the Veteran's Memorial was approved in 2004, Mr. Diaz's name was omitted because there was insufficient proof to establish his residency here. But with the help of your chairman and the Hispanic community we were able to provide the evidence needed to add Mr. Diaz's name to the memorial.
I would like to share with you a little about who this fallen soldier was.
The notation on the Vietnam Memorial Wall points out that Rafael Diaz was born on Nov. 29, 1940, and that he died one day after he celebrated his 30th birthday. It notes that he was a Sergeant, but nothing about the journey that led to the title. It says he was from New York, and, indeed, that was where he enlisted. But the Vietnam Memorial Wall couldn't possibly tell the stories of the 58,000-plus soldiers who lost their lives in the Vietnam War. So beyond noting the cause of Sgt. Diaz's demise, it tells little more about who Sgt. Diaz was, or what he meant to the U.S. Army or his family.
Rafael Diaz was born in Caguas, Puerto Rico, the son of a military man, and was raised by his aunt in a suburb of San Juan. When he turned 17, he decided to visit the United States - and his mother.
Once here, he stayed. Before marrying his wife, Brunilda, Rafael enlisted in the Army. The Army sent Rafael across the country and overseas. He served for a while in Korea, where he was injured. He trained to be an officer at the United States Army School of the Americas. He took a jungles operation course in the Panama Canal Zone and attended drill sergeant school at Fort Ord. For a time, he was stationed in Germany. He trained soldiers and he trained military dogs. Along the way, the family grew, as first Elizabeth, then Rafael Jr., then Robert was born.
The Diazes were living in California when Rafael got the call to go to Vietnam. He decided to move his family to Aurora, close to his brother, Marco Antonio, while he served his country.
Rafael arrived at Camp Hocmuth, an Army base in Phu Bai, in late August. About 35 people were in the platoon, most of them dog handlers. Diaz, who was second in command, was tasked with motivating a platoon that had seen too many men and dogs lose life and limb as they walked point, searching for booby traps and mines.
The Vietnam conflict was in its 12th year. Morale was low, and drugs were plentiful.
Sergeant Diaz apparently had gotten on the bad side of some platoon members due to his style and efforts to enforce drug policies.
Sometime in the early morning hours of Nov. 30, a platoon member slipped from his bed and rigged a Claymore Mine on a sandbag wall near Rafael's bunk. The blast sprayed shrapnel and blew a 5-foot by 5-foot hole in the billets where Rafael slept. Rafael was pronounced dead an hour later at a nearby hospital.
Sgt. Diaz had been a victim of fragging, assassinated by a member of his own fighting unit.
Brunilda decided to have her husband's remains flown to his "tierra, his land, where his heart was." His body was laid to rest in the Puerto Rico National Cemetery. Diaz had about a dozen medals, including the bronze star, to his name.
We might never have known who Sgt. Rafael Diaz was. That he had a thing for convertibles, that his nickname was Suggy, or that baseball was his second love, if it hadn't been for Kane County's Veterans administrator John Carr and Board Chair Karen McConnaughay.
The Illinois list of deceased soldiers lists Sgt. Diaz as living in Kane County at the time of his death. But the National Archives Record of Vietnam has New York as his home of record. The discrepancy led to his name being left off the Kane County Veteran's Memorial.
But when I spoke with Mr. Carr during research for last year's Hispanic Pioneers Breakfast, he brought up Sgt. Diaz's name. And Chairman McConnaughay asked the 300 people in attendance at the breakfast for their help in finding Mr. Diaz's family. That plea eventually led me to Liz Diaz, the daughter of Sgt. Diaz.
So I would like to thank Mr. Carr and you, Madame Chairman, for helping us to give proper tribute to Sgt. 1st Class Rafael Angel Diaz.
Ms. Penny Falcon's press release sent to area newspapers regarding SFC Diaz
Material contributed to this website by Ms. Penny Falcon.