Miguel Ramirez saw joining the Marines as his only way out of poverty, but the lessons he learned and the camaraderie he felt continue to impact his life today.
Ramirez was born in Mexico and moved to the United States with his parents when he was 2 years old. They came here legally and his parents worked as migrant workers at whatever farm would hire them in California.
“I went through the whole school system and back in those days they just kind of pushed us through,” he said. “I didn’t speak English. English is my second language. Until I got to high school, that’s when I really started learning how to speak English.”
His home life sometimes didn’t include home. He remembers sleeping under a bridge and being actively recruited by gangs starting as early as elementary school.
Then, one day in high school, his mom asked what he was going to do with the rest of his life. He knew that moving from crop to crop and farm to farm wasn’t the life he wanted for himself.
He remembers thinking that college was his only way out, but for that, he needed to speak English and he needed money.
After talking to recruiters, he realized he could get money to go to college if he joined the military.
“I used to watch Gomer Pyle, and that’s one of the reasons that I said ‘Let’s join the Marines,’” Ramirez said, referring to the 1960s sitcom. “I thought, ‘Well I can kill two birds with one stone: I can go to college afterwards and I can go see the world and serve my country’ and that’s what I decided to do.”
Ramirez was a Marine for four years and he got to travel the world.
“You know, that’s the whole thing about the rest of the world. Once you start traveling and you start meeting people you start realizing that the people are not their government,” he said. “I really enjoyed meeting the different people and they were all extremely nice to me, regardless of where we were.”
Ramirez said he got to see nearly every continent and would volunteer to go on floats.
“What it really did for me, is it made me grow up, and then take more of appreciation of what I had gone through,” Ramirez said. “It made me grow up, knowing that a lot of people go through hardships, just like I did. And it made me realize that you can accomplish really anything you want in this world, regardless of your economic status.”
Seeing other people with hardships and the “no-man-left-behind” mentality of the Marines, also meant that he knew that people would be there to help him and similarly he wanted to be there to help others.
Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2468 Commander Mike Eakin said Ramirez is his IT guy, one who never hesitates to help out when needed.
Ramirez owns his own IT company, Ram Technologies, in Roseburg. He holds a degree in physics, but after spending several years working in the field decided he wanted to start his own businesses. He’d already been doing a lot of work with computers to that point and saw it as a natural progression.
“Whenever I have a problem, he comes over to the post when he’s got time and he dedicates his time to helping us make sure that everything is running smoothly and correctly, and a lot of times he just donates his time and that’s pretty valuable for his expertise,” Eakin said.
Ramirez was inducted in the American Legion’s Chapel of Four Chaplains Legion of Honor in February, following a nomination by Eakin.
“I got him to go down there with kind of a little bit of a ... it wasn’t really a lie, but I said ‘Listen, we need you to photograph this event. You know, do a video of this event.’ And he said, ‘Sure, I’ll do that’ and then his name was called to go up front and he got his award,” Eakin said. “He’ll probably never forgive me for that.”
Ramirez would rather have stayed hidden and had his work speak for itself.
“That’s the kind of guy he is; very humble, very nice person,” Eakin said.
Jim Little, who is one of the organizers of the annual Four Chaplain’s ceremony, said he remembered Ramirez being very surprised at the ceremony.
“Since that time, he’s helped even more veterans,” Little said.
He also helps at Sutherlin School District, where his wife, Ana Ramirez, is an English Language Learner coordinator, to provide migrant families that have few resources with technology.
Ramirez moved to Roseburg in 2002 to get away from the stresses he and his wife were experiencing in the Bay Area. Those stresses were interfering with the couple’s desire to have children, according to his doctors.
“We came up for a little vacation and basically decided, ‘Well, you can’t get less stressful than Roseburg. There’s nothing here,’” he said. “The whole plan was to come up here and after a few years, move back to California. But then we decided to stay because the people here are really nice.”
The couple had two daughters, Natalie and Kristen, who are now teenagers. Kristen is in high school and Natalie in middle school.
“I know that if I would have gone back to California, my daughters would have been actively sought after by the gangs, starting about fifth grade or so, because that’s what I went through,” Ramirez said. “I didn’t want that to be part of their life. I want them to understand that there are gangs and stuff like that, but I don’t want them to be part of it. So we decided to stay here.”
And while Ramirez said he misses his family in California, he enjoys life here in the Umpqua Valley.
“A lot of people think that the American Dream is dead, but really, I’ll be blunt here, I think it’s a lot of the lazy people that are saying that,” he said. “Life’s hard. And if it was easy people would be going from nothing to riches, left and right. But it’s hard. It’s a hard life, and you just have to either deal with it, enjoy what’s there, or dwell on the bad aspect of it. I always tried to look at the positive sides.”