Cesar Chavez is known as civil rights leader, labor icon, farmworker's champion and founder of the National Farm Workers Association. Many don't know he can also be called as a U.S. Navy veteran.
Chavez volunteered for the U.S. Navy just after World War II, and served from 1946 to 1948. The Naval service was difficult because of the immense segregation and discrimination in the 1940s, but also had a profound influence on his future work.
Despite his service, he was not given a military honors ceremony, required by law for veterans whose families request them and who are verified as eligible.
But on Thursday, the 22nd anniversary of his death, he was to receive the honor at his graveside in the Memorial Garden of the Cesar E. Chavez National Monument. The Cesar Chavez Foundation and the U.S. Navy are the ceremony hosts.
“The Navy motivated him to work for civil rights,” Marc Grossman, Cesar Chavez Foundation spokesman told NBC News Wednesday. “He thought our country was better than the discrimination he encountered in the service and at home.”
Soon after being shipped out to the western Pacific, Chavez was arrested at a movie theater in Delano for sitting, with his then fiancé Helen, in the whites-only section.
“The idea to do this came from a young sailor that found out that military honors were not rendered at Chavez’s funeral and he wanted to remedy that."
The Navy Operational Support Center organized the formal ceremony that includes a Navy bugler playing “Taps,” a rifle salute, the folding of the American flag and its presentation to Helen Chavez, Chavez's widow.
“The idea to do this came from a young sailor that found out that military honors were not rendered at Chavez’s funeral and he wanted to remedy that,” Grossman said.
That young sailor is Marco Valdovinos, a funeral guard district coordinator for Navy Operational Support Center Moreno Valley California, USA Today reported.
Watching the biopic "Cesar Chavez" directed by Diego Luna, Valdovinos saw that Chavez had been in the Navy. After doing some research, he discovered that Chavez had never received full military honors at his burial and contacted the Chavez family to ask whether they would allow the Navy to hold this ceremony. The Chavez family agreed.