Corsicana Daily Sun, Corsicana, Texas

February 28, 2014

Amazing story

By Deanna Kirk
Corsicana Daily Sun

— Often, you start off your Monday with some semblance of an idea what the day and week will hold. Although working in a newsroom will teach you one thing: you don’t have control over anything.

I knew I had one week to crank out another magazine, and had not started.

On Monday, when I first got in, I found a couple of emails about a medal of honor story. “Oh boy,” I thought to myself. “Just what I need, one more story.”

But I must say, that once I cleared my mind and let go of all that other stuff I had to do, and allowed myself to become immersed in the medal of honor story, it became a huge blessing. A story I was grateful to be allowed to tell.

My husband had mentioned on Saturday how tickled he was that Pres. Obama was going to recognize some “overlooked” heroes, men who had exhibited heroism in battle. But also men who were passed by for medals of honor perhaps because they were Jewish, Hispanic, or African-American.

I had no clue that one of those men was a native of Corsicana.

Candelario Garcia Jr. (who was mainly known as Junior by his family, and Spider by his friends) was a young man whose father was killed in battle in World War II in France. He and his sister and brother were without a father figure, until their mother remarried. Junior was a well-liked, popular, fun-loving guy. He was small in stature (according to classmate Ed Erwin, one of the shortest in their class), but always a snappy dresser. His sister Mary said he always preferred slacks and a starched white shirt to jeans and a T-shirt.

This young man went off to serve his country in the Vietnam war. He did three tours in the United States Army.

That war was not popular, and many who served came back to no gratitude, acclaim, and apparently, understanding of what these young men saw over there.

Junior’s family and friends, those I was privileged to visit with that Monday, all said the same thing: Junior never, ever talked about his experiences in Vietnam. In fact, none of them knew what acts of bravery and heroism young Garcia did in battle.

Until the story came out about his Medal of Honor.

Basically, when young Junior’s unit was under heavy fire, several men were wounded and trapped in the open. Despite the rain of hostile bullets, Garcia crawled to within 10 meters of a machine-gun bunker, jumped to his feet and ran right toward the fortification, constantly firing his rifle. He jammed two hand grenades into the gun port and then put the muzzle of his weapon inside, killing all four occupants. Still being fired upon wildly, he ran 15 more meters to another bunker and killed the three men there with grenades and rifle fire. He rescued the two casualties, then joined his company in an assault, taking over the remaining enemy positions.

Garcia returned home to Corsicana, but was never quite the same after his time in Vietnam. At that time, our understanding of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder was probably limited to none. Counseling or therapy was all but unheard of except for Hollywood actors.

The Medal of Honor awarded to Candelario Garcia Jr. (posthumously, since Garcia passed away Jan. 10, 2013) on March 18, 2014 will replace his Distinguished Service Cross, and will join his Silver Star, Bronze Star Medal, Purple Heart, Air Medal, Army Commendation Medal with “V” Device and one Bronze Oak Leaf Cluster, Army Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Vietnam Service Medal with two Silver Service Stars and one Bronze Service Star, Meritorious Unit Commendation, Combat Infantryman Badge, Expert Marksmanship Badge with Rifle, Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross with Silver Star, Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal with “60” Device, Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross Unit Citations with Palm Device and Republic of Vietnam Civil Actions Honor Medal Unit Citation, First Class.

One has to wonder if Garcia had been able to go down to Navarro Mall and walk into the Lakes Regional Community Center and receive free counseling for PTSD (as any veteran may do now), if his life might have gone differently.

We will never know.

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Deanna Kirk is a Daily Sun staff writer and editor of Explore Magazine. Her column appears on Saturdays. She may be reached by email at dkirk@corsicanadailysun.com.