The national celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month may end Oct. 15 on the calendar, but for retired U.S. Army General Alfred “Freddie” Valenzuela, the recognition of contributions made by Latinos takes place every day of the year.
That commitment is reflected in his service, his writing and speaking, as well as in his giving through the General Alfred Valenzuela Education Fund at the San Antonio Area Foundation. Formed on his retirement from the Army in 2004, the fund is supplied with revenue from sales of his 2008 book, No Greater Love: The Lives and Times of Hispanic Soldiers.
The catalyst behind the formation of the education fund was burying 21 soldiers who died in Afghanistan and Iraq shortly before his retirement. He vowed to give college scholarships to the children of those fallen soldiers.
“My passion is obviously the United States military and veterans, but it became a love affair for the families of those I lost in the war,” Valenzuela shared in an interview.
Of the 19 children served by the fund, seven have graduated from college with the help of Valenzuela and his wife, Esther. The couple has helped with tuition or money for books for additional children who have come to his attention as he speaks to veterans’ groups around the country.
The Valenzuelas interview the children for the scholarships and keep up with their academics each year to see how they are doing, but they have left financial management to the San Antonio Area Foundation, which they chose for the sound governance of the funds, handling of legal aspects and the overall caring mission of the organization.
“They have been good stewards of my money,” Valenzuela affirmed.
A San Antonio native born in 1948, Valenzuela was an Eagle Scout and set the path for military service in ROTC at St. Mary’s University, where he received a Bachelor’s degree in government and a Master’s degree in political science with an emphasis on Latin American Studies and national security affairs. He added to his education at numerous military colleges and training programs as his career progressed.
Service to his country took him to posts throughout the U.S., Africa, Asia, Europe and Latin America. In his last years of active duty, the major general (two stars) headed the U.S. Army South Command.
While in the service, Valenzuela saw the impact made by Hispanic Americans in the military.
“As Hispanics, our number may not always mirror the society in the political or social arena, but we are well represented in the military,” he said. Students with an interest in serving as officers frequently approach him for advice and recommendations. He has helped five students a year get placed in military colleges of all branches through his connections to members of the Texas delegation to Congress.
He said the trend lately has been for more women asking for his assistance to get into military academies. “They write me and send pictures and they are doing very well” in the Air Force and Naval academies and at U.S. Army’s West Point, he said.
One woman close to the general has a first-row seat to Valenzuela’s altruism.
“He is very committed to helping a service member,” said Lori Valenzuela, the general’s daughter who serves as a Texas Fourth Court of Appeals Justice. “Somebody will call him almost every day and ask for help, and that’s what he does.”
Sometimes that includes navigating the bureaucracy to help veterans get benefits they are entitled to or giving a recommendation for an admission to a military academy.
“We were raised like that. Everywhere we were in the world, mother and father helped the community, especially the military community,” Lori Valenzuela said. “My mom is of the opinion that if we can help someone, we will.”
The general has served on numerous boards as a director or in leadership positions during the last 16 years including Boy Scouts of America, Boys and Girls Club, St. Mary’s University, Communities in Schools and Haven for Hope. He was also appointed by President Barack Obama to the World War I Centennial Commission.
It was presiding over funerals of soldiers under his command before his retirement, however, that set the stage for the next chapter in the general’s life.
“At the time, burying those soldiers – he had done it many times before – but it affected him differently this time,” Lori Valenzuela said. “He wanted to help keep the legacy (of their service) within these families … He wanted to give his energy to these families.”
If you or someone you know is interested in opening a philanthropic fund with the Area Foundation, our Development and Donor Services Department will gladly take the time to go over our available programs and options. Get started by checking out our websitefor more information and to make an appointment.Travis E. Poling is a New Braunfels-based freelance writer and member of the San Antonio Area Foundation Marketing and Communications Department’s new Storytelling Ambassador contributor network.