The experiences shared by the courageous men and women in our military often lead to lifelong bonds.
Although close in age and both Atascosa County natives, veterans Joe Rodriguez and Joe Garcia didn’t know each other until meeting in Vietnam.
The two served in the United States Air Force- Rodriguez for 26 years and Garcia for 11. Rodriguez was in Aircraft Maintenance and Mechanics, while Garcia was in Fuel Systems Mechanics.
Garcia also retired with the Post Office, for a combined total of 37 years in government service.
Rodriguez, soon to be 72 and Garcia, 69, shared their memories of an American flag flown in honor of their childhood friend, Sergeant Moises Herrera Jr. Herrera received the Purple Heart with cluster and was also presented with the Bronze Star medal for meritorious service in Vietnam.
Garcia was a Pleasanton High School Class of 1967 graduate, which Herrera was as well.
Rodriguez used to work for Dudley Royal at Royal’s Grocery Store in Pleasanton. It was Royal, a pilot in the Air Force, who encouraged Rodriguez to join the Air Force. Rodriguez had married the summer after his sophomore year and joined the military when he was 17. Garcia was 19 when he joined.
The two men knew Moises well and Rodriguez worked with Moises at Royal’s. It was a small, wedge shaped store, located in what is now a car lot across from Plestex Theatre.
While in Vietnam, the two found out that Moises Herrera had been wounded. Herrera ended up at Ft. Sam Houston and was there for a year.
Herrera was critically hurt on Nov. 28, 1968. He was hit four times in the stomach by bullets as he was serving as platoon leader for a unit of the 25th Infantry Division.
“We decided to ask Dudley (Fire Chief at the time) to send us a flag and we would get it flown on a combat mission, which we did,” said Rodriguez. “So Colonel Lacey flew it for us on a combat mission and then we sent it back. The idea was that they were going to present this flag to the fire department in honor of Moises. Then Dudley decided to dedicate the new fire house for Moises. So they dedicated the fire house for Moises and the day of the dedication, they called Moises Sr. to Ft. Sam. So my wife ended up presenting the flag and he died that same day,” explained Rodriguez.
That day in 1969 was proclaimed by Pleasanton Mayor Richard Wehman as “Sgt. Moises Herrera Jr. and Pleasanton Firemen Day.”
Moises Herrera Jr. and Sr. are buried in San Ysidro Cemetery. Herrera Sr. was also a Purple Heart recipient.
Garcia and Rodriguez do not know what has happened to the flag since. It was on display at one time.
The two veterans sat down, looking through old photographs together. They recalled some of the friendships they formed at Pleasanton ISD and in the military.
“I’m looking for all of these guys, I have found 3 out of 25 left,” said Garcia. “I have come across some that have already passed. In fact, I don’t know of any Vietnam veteran that is passed 74, do you?” he asked Rodriguez.
“Well, I’m coming up, Joe,” Rodriguez responded.
He also talked about agent orange, the chemical used in Vietnam.
“One thing they did in Vietnam… They used to spray defoliation. We didn’t know what it was,” Rodriguez said. “They would spray it all over the perimeter, so it would kill the vegetation so their guys couldn’t sneak in and hit us with rockets, but they did anyway. So they sprayed us with that stuff. The C123 outfit was right next to us. Every morning they would spray- you could feel it. It was like a mist falling on you. So I ended up with diabetes and they attributed it to that. Of course, I got disability. But I am one of the lucky ones. A lot of people don’t last that long. I have had diabetes for over 25 years.”
Rodriguez still resides in Pleasanton. He and wife Luisa have six children, one of whom passed away.
Garcia, a native of the Verdi community, has four children and resides in San Antonio with wife Patty.