Standing in his Chino home, 70-year-old Pete Garcia reflected on the military medals, including the Purple Heart, he earned while serving as a U.S. Army platoon sergeant in the Vietnam War.
The medals are arranged on a black velvet board with the uniform patches he wore during his service from 1969 to 1971.
He earned two Bronze Star Medals for heroism, two Army Commendation Medals, the same number of Air Medals for meritorious service, a combat badge and a Purple Heart for an injury he received during combat.
Until recently all the pieces had been stored away, unseen for the last 40 years.
Mr. Garcia, a lifelong Chino resident whose family roots go back to pre-incorporation in 1910, said he never thought of himself as a war hero.
Vietnam veterans were often not welcomed when they returned home from service because of the unpopularity of the war among many Americans.
He said he was afraid that if he talked about his experiences he would “go down deep,” as a good friend from Chino who he had fought alongside had done after he came home from Vietnam.
After surviving a stroke three years ago, Mr. Garcia was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and ordered by his doctor to receive therapy.
He said he wished he had gotten help sooner because his hostility and excessive drinking cost him his first marriage.
He was with his current wife Claudia Gomez Garcia when he had the stroke and said her support, love and good cooking helped restore his health.
A local hero
Two years after he graduated in 1967 from Chino High, Mr. Garcia was drafted to serve in Vietnam where he was trained for "demolition and booby traps."
Mr. Garcia remembers having to dig a hole to sleep in for protection from ambush bombings, which occurred every night.
“It was all around us, we didn’t know where it was coming from,” he said.
One attack left shrapnel in his back, which was removed before he was sewn up and sent back to fight.
During his one-year tour in Vietnam, he counted every day, he said.
As a “point man” he led troops through the jungle and cleared the ground area so helicopters could land.
He was part of the May 1, 1970 invasion campaign of Cambodia and another battle on May 14, earning two Bronze Stars.
The government order for the award of May 14 states: “When his unit became engaged with a determined enemy force, with complete disregard for his own safety, he exposed himself to the intense hostile fire as he moved forward to the point of heaviest contact and began placing a heavy volume of suppressive fire upon the insurgent forces.”
“His actions were an inspiration to the other members of his unit and were instrumental in the successful completion of the mission.”
Using the machine gun caused irreparable damage to his right ear, he said.
Mr. Garcia is regularly tested for problems associated with exposure to Agent Orange, an herbicide spray used by U.S. military forces during the Vietnam War to eliminate forest cover and crops so enemy troops could be better seen.
So far, Mr. Garcia appears to be free from problems related to Agent Orange.
He credits his survival in Vietnam to prayers of his grandmother, Ruth Garcia, who was a parishioner of Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church in Chino and lived to the age of 103.
She recited the Rosary every day for him while he was overseas, he said.
Family history in Chino
Mr. Garcia’s grandfather, Alejandro Garcia, came to Chino from Mexico in 1908 to work as a tomato farmer producing for Libby’s Cannery in the city.
He purchased his home on 12th Street for $1,100 in 1920 and the house is still standing.
Alejandro Garcia made enough money from his tomatoes to relocate his family from Mexico to Chino.
In 1910, he purchased a new Model T Ford, recalls his grandson.
Alejandro's son, Peter Garcia Sr., was born in Chino.
He farmed corn and alfalfa to supply the dairies with cattle feed and grew sweet corn that he sold in 1959 for 25 cents for a dozen at a stand located at Central and Francis avenues.
Peter Garcia Sr. was a Chino planning commissioner and served one term in 1975 as a city councilman.
“He bled Chino,” said his son, adding that his father was very patriotic.
Pete Garcia was a teenager when his father built the house in Chino that he inherited.
He lives there with his wife and her daughter, a sophomore at Chino High School.
He talked about waking up at 4 a.m. to work with his father.
He joked that he drank coffee brewed in the same area of the kitchen where his own coffee pot sits today.
“I had a good childhood, came from a good functional family and learned a work ethic,” he said.
The Vietnam veteran said he loves his city.
After his military service, Mr. Garcia completed his education through the Army’s academic benefits program, earning an associate degree in engineering from Mt. San Antonio College and a bachelor’s degree in agriculture business management from Cal Poly Pomona.
Mr. Garcia followed in his father’s footsteps, becoming a farmer in Chino.
He currently sharecrops on 50 acres located at Chino Corona Road and Pine Avenue, behind the California Institution for Women.
Workers recently finished planting 40,000 strawberry plants there by hand, he said.
Mr. Garcia said since his stroke, his role is limited to supervising, although his recovery is going well, and he is able to drive a tractor again.
The land he farms was formerly owned by Barthelemy Dairy and now belongs to a developer.
Mr. Garcia said he is having an issue with the city over widening the road where his wells are located.
He expects that he has two more years to farm the land before houses are built.
Although the couple loves Chino, they said they might consider retiring elsewhere, when the time comes.