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Barry L. Romo, July 24, 1947 - May 1, 2024, Chicago


Barry L. Romo, a long-time member of Vietnam Veterans Against the War and lifelong advocate for anti-war and veterans causes, passed on May 1, May Day.

Barry Romo was born to Louis and Lillian Romo on July 24, 1947. He was raised in a tight-knit family in San Bernardino, California, as a devout Catholic, and he attended St. Aquinas High School. His father’s family is Mexican American with roots going back hundreds of years in California and New Mexico. His mother was a British “war bride” (as Romo liked to say). His older brother was Harold Louis Romo (born in 1921), who was a parent to Robert (Bobby) Romo, Richard L. Romo, and Beverly A. Romo, and his older sister was Glorine Romo (born in 1928), who had three children, Gary, Linda, and Randy.

After graduating high school, Barry enlisted in the US Army in 1966. He was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant upon graduation from Officer Candidate School (OCS) at 19. He was sent to Vietnam in 1967 and served there until May 1968, first as an Infantry Platoon Leader and subsequently as a First Lieutenant and Battalion Staff Officer. He was a participant in the January and February 1968 Tet Offensive. He was awarded the Combat Infantry Badge and the Bronze Star with “V” Device “for heroism in connection with military operations against a hostile force.” In May 1968, his nephew Robert was killed at Dong Ha, and Barry escorted the body home to Rialto, ending his military service in Vietnam. He then commanded an Infantry Vietnam Training Company at Fort Ord, California, before being honorably discharged in January 1969.

After serving in Vietnam, he got into San Bernardino Valley College because a History Professor, George Ashton, helped him fill out his papers and get classes while he emerged from his combat state of mind. While attending Valley College, Barry began to get involved in activism, including openly opposing the war he had fought in. He joined the peace and justice movement and participated in the Winter Soldier Investigation in early 1971. He helped to organize other veterans on the West Coast to participate in Dewey Canyon III in Washington, DC, in April 1971, when hundreds of Vietnam veterans threw their medals away.

Elected to the National Office of Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW) in 1972, he traveled across the country organizing and speaking for peace. He also helped to organize The Last Patrol, the veterans' demonstration in Miami against the Republican National Convention in 1972.

Barry would return to Vietnam in December 1972, this time to Hanoi with Christmas packages for 535 prisoners of war, along with Telford Taylor, a chief prosecutor at the Nuremberg War Trials, and the pacifist singer Joan Baez. He lived under Nixon’s infamous Christmas bombing for its entire eleven days. The only combat veteran to have fought in the South while later living under bombings in the North (except POWs), he documented the bombing of foreign embassies, hospitals, workers’ houses, and even POW camps. Baez would record the album Where Are You Now, My Son? based on their experience. Years later, the History Channel’s 2011 documentary Vietnam in HD featured Barry’s military service and activism.

His work in the 1970s started a lifetime of organizing against war and in support of greater veteran benefits. He also fought to increase veterans’ rights, including the expansion of VA healthcare, the recognition and treatment of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Agent Orange exposure, support for homeless veterans, and decent benefits for all veterans regardless of discharge type.

In 1987, Barry was part of the first post-war VVAW delegation to Vietnam and spent ten days there. He felt it was better to visit Vietnam as a guest of the government of Vietnam than as an invader sent by the US government. In 1989, Barry went to the Philippines to document the abuse of child prostitutes by US service members, along with human rights violations by the US trained and funded Philippine military. In 1999, he traveled to Colombia to investigate and document a massacre at Santa Domingo village on the northern border. He visited the village in the contested countryside and found proof that the Colombian military had used US helicopters and bombs to kill 19 people—including seven children—in cold blood.

Barry was responsible for publishing the VVAW newspaper, The Veteran (and its precursors), for 23 years. In the late 1980s and 1990s when membership and interest waned, he kept VVAW going. Barry's apartment served as VVAW's National Office for many years, the focal point for work, meetings, and parties.

Along with serving as a VVAW National Coordinator for over four decades, Barry was a former Branch President of his facility for the National Postal Mail Handlers Union, AFL-CIO, until he retired in 2009. As part of this work, he was a union steward who staunchly defended the rights of his coworkers.

In the 1980s, Barry served on the Veterans Advisory Committee for Mayor Harold Washington and the City of Chicago's Human Rights Commission.

Barry was also dedicated to speaking at local high schools and universities about his military service and activism. He frequently spoke at Chicagoland Public Schools at the invitation of local teachers, including his friends Joan Davis, Kurt Hilgendorf, and Jackson Potter.

Following his retirement from the Post Office in 2009, Barry spent his time volunteering. This work included playing a critical role in supporting Iraq Veterans Against the War, founded in 2006 (now called About Face: Veterans Against The War). After 2006, he spent much time mentoring and supporting returning Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. Barry also supported the Keep Chicago Renting Campaign, drawing connections between housing instability and veterans’ homelessness. He supported Chuy Garcia's campaign for mayor in 2015 and was actively involved in campaigns supporting a higher minimum wage in Chicago. As a patient of the Jesse Brown VA Hospital, Barry supported the labor rights and organizing of the National Nurses United (NNU), the American Federation of Governmental Employees (AFGE), and the Services Employee International Union (SEIU). Barry frequently spoke out about the connections between patient care and labor rights and befriended many of the staff who cared for him at his local VA hospital.

Barry also volunteered to provide security at anti-war and activist events, including Winter Soldier: Iraq & Afghanistan (2008), the Brew Not Bombs fundraising events (2009-2011), and the 2012 NATO Medal Return Ceremony in Chicago. For 25 years, Barry could be found washing pots at the twice yearly Homeless Veterans Standdown. Along with his volunteer work, he spent his retirement years taking long walks in Chicago, spending time with friends, and going to music venues such as Rosa's Lounge, The Hideout, and Quenchers Lounge. He would also frequently have breakfast at Taqueria Moran in Logan Square with friends, many of whom were younger veterans and organizers.

Barry's life was greatly impacted and shaped by his time in Vietnam. He dedicated his life to ending that war and fighting for social justice and the rights of the oppressed. He wanted to be remembered for the people he helped and the lives he saved, not those he took in Vietnam.

Barry was passionate about social justice and would vigorously defend his positions. He also knew that the seriousness of the causes required laughter and partying as a release. He touched hundreds–if not thousands–of lives and left a lasting imprint on those he encountered. He often said it was in the movement, not the military, where he formed lifelong friendships in the struggle.

Barry had hundreds of books. He had an encyclopedic knowledge of pretty much every global situation and movement for change. He read scores and scores of books about Vietnam.

Barry enthusiastically supported VVAW's recent efforts to build libraries in Vietnam. He felt we owed the Vietnamese people for the devastation our country wreaked upon theirs.

Barry is preceded in death by countless VVAW and IVAW/About Face members, many of whom became victims of war after they came home. Barry is survived by his two children, Kyle Copeland and Jessi O'Reilly-Jones, his niece Beverly Mendoza and the entire Mendoza family, and his ex-wife Alynne Romo. He is also survived by his friends Nicole Baltrushes and Aaron Hughes, Daniel Corral, Jeff Machota, Bill Branson, and Joe Miller, who remained close to Romo in his final years, along with all those he stayed in contact with over the years.

Barry spent much of the last months of his life with his beloved son Kyle Copeland, who began traveling monthly from San Francisco to Chicago to see his father. Copeland was grateful to be with Romo as he passed, and he loved his father very much.

VVAW has created a guestbook for Romo, and a memorial for him is planned for Memorial Day at 11:00 AM in Chicago at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

Barry would want his family, friends, comrades, and all who read this to continue the struggle–though they know it won't be the same without Barry Romo at their side.

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