By Richard Howe
White Pine County Commissioner
I came across the story of a local soldier and the sacrifice he made to save his platoon in Vietnam in 1968.
That soldier’s name is Joseph Andrew Garcia. The actions taken that day by Joe are the events you only see in movies or read about in books. The only difference is these events are real and true.
Joe Garcia was born on Feb. 4, 1948, to Anselmo and Viola Garcia in Las Vegas, New Mexico, he was the fourth of six children. Shortly after he was born the family moved to White Pine County, Nevada where his father was employed as a sheepherder on the Robison Ranches in Spring Valley. Joe and his two older brothers were enchanted by the miners at the Grand Posse Mine that was operated at the time. The mine let the boys work odd jobs even though they were all young. This experience led the Garcia boys to a lifelong of work in the mining industry. That wasn’t the only job. Life on the ranch was hard work and they all pitched in to help their father.
According to his brother Benny, Joe loved to read comic books and read every chance he got.
From an early age Joe showed a “no fear” attitude, he would tackle any challenge without a second thought, including catching snakes with his bare hands. Joe was afraid of nothing.
In the early years his family attended a one room school house in Spring Valley. Around 1962 when older brother Benny started high school his family moved to Ely. Joe was in the seventh grade, adjusting to life in a new town was often hard on Joe, he found himself getting into fights and other mischief. When Joe turned 17 with permission from his parents, Joe joined the Army on Dec. 19, 1966. He took his basic training in Ft. Lewis, Washington.
Here is where Joe began his military career. He would never return to White Pine County again.
Joe was sent to Vietnam, early in the country he was assigned as a gunner on a helicopter, it was while on his assignment Joe received his first Purple Heart. The machine gun misfired and blew up in his face. After a short hospital stay he was assigned to an infantry unit. It was here where the story of Joe Garcia begins.
While on patrol on Jan. 31, 1968. Joe’s unit was ambushed by enemy fire, heavy casualties wee being inflicted on his comrades. Serving as the “point man” Joe became exposed to ravaging enemy fire, while being attacked Joe was wounded, although he was exposed to heavy enemy fire. Joe remained at his “point man” post providing cover for his comrades, allowing the remainder of his squad to take other defensive positions. At this time Joe located the enemy machine gun employment that was inflecting several casualties on his platoon. Although wounded and with complete disregard for his own personal safety, Joe picked up a small “anti tank” weapon and crawled across an open field toward the hostile machine gun nest, he was again wounded by a burst of enemy automatic weapon fire, Joe fearlessly rose to one knee and at “point blank” range destroyed the enemy, at that instant Joe Garcia was fatally wounded by an enemy sniper.
These actions prompted his commanding officer to put Joe in for the “Distinguished Service Cross”. Only May 21, 1968 the President of the United States by act of the U.S. Congress awarded this medal to Joseph A. Garcia, other medals awarded to Joe are the Purple Heart, Bronze Star with oak leaf cluster, Bronze Star with the ‘V’ for valor.
Knowing the story of Joe Garcia, I can only try and imagine what the last thought he had, “you got me but I’m taking some of you with me.”
Because of Joe Garcia’s actions, young men survived and were able to raise families of their own.
Joe is one of the “White Pine 15,” a group of heroes young men that made the ultimate sacrifice for their country.
Joe died four days short of his 20th birthday.