PUEBLO — On Tuesday morning our community will say goodbye to a local Vietnam veteran who spent much of his time advocating for veterans.
The remains of Claude "Butch" Chavez will be carried in a procession from Pueblo to Pikes Peak National Cemetery in Colorado Springs. It's the final resting place for the 74-year-old man who wanted to someday create a POW-MIA memorial in Pueblo.
He passed away at the end of February before he could see that happen. The family says they are still working on a plan to continue raising money to build the POW/MIA memorial on the Riverwalk in downtown Pueblo.
His brother, Bill Chavez, says in his final moments he just kept telling his brother to fight to live.
"I kept telling him. 'I love you, fight this, fight this, fight this, and he did until the last minute he fought it," Chavez said.
Chavez says his brother passed away on February 25, 2022, from an illness.
Now, as he looks back on family photos, he jokes about his brother as any sibling would.
"He was an ornery old brother," he says. "He was stubborn."
But the laughter easily turns to tears.
"We're a family of veterans," Chavez says. "My dad was in WWII, my uncles in Korea, we were in Vietnam, my younger brother was in Afghanistan," he says as he pauses through tears. "It's gonna be a big loss."
A big loss, too, for the veteran community in Pueblo. Butch's niece, Ronda Gasperetti, says her uncle fought tirelessly to make sure veterans got the help they needed.
"Anybody I've ever come in contact with that struggled getting benefits from the VA, I was always able to pick up the phone and he'd say, 'Give me their number I'll do whatever I can to help them because they deserve it," said Gasperetti.
She says her uncle is the reason she goes out of her way to thank every veteran she meets.
"I never understood the meaning behind that until he told me what he went through when he came back from Vietnam," she said. "He was spit on when he came to the airport."
During the Vietnam war, Chavez used sheet metal to repair planes.
"He did a good job but he was in the wide open," said Chavez. "When he was working on these planes they had lights on him so he was bombarded (by attacks)."
The proof of those attacks is in the pictures. Before and after shots of planes he worked on show what he was up against. But a different kind of battle continued as he returned home to hostility from a country torn apart by debate about the war. His brother says he was determined to make sure no other veteran faced the same thing. Now his family is determined to carry on that legacy.
"I think that each one of us has responsibility to honor her veterans in any small way you can think of whether it's buying them a meal, shaking their hand, or just letting them know you're grateful," Gasperetti said.
If you'd like to be part of the procession to the Pikes Peak National Cemetery you are asked to meet in Pueblo at the Sam's club at 412 Eagleridge Boulevard at 8 a.m. on Tuesday, March 15. The burial will happen at 10 a.m. at the Pikes Peak National Cemetery at 10545 Drennan Road in Colorado Springs. The family says the public is welcome at both events.
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