This interview was conducted by Eric Garcia on March 15, 2007 in San Antonio, TX. as part of Palo Alto College’s History 1302 – Spring 2007 class.
On october 29, 1947 Eduardo Cavasos Garcia was born to his parents Leo and Victoria Garza. He lived in Kingsville, Texas till he was about twelve when his family moved to a small farming community called El Indio, which is about twenty miles out side of Eagle Pass. There he would spend his summers working in the cotton fields with his father and older brother Leo. Most of his adolescents were spent in Eagle Pass doing the things teenagers do. After graduating from high school in 1967, Eduardo was a bit confused on the direction his life was headed. During this time America had entered the conflict that was brewing between North and South Vietnam. He told me he had joined the army just so that he would avoid being drafted, “I wanted it to be my decision and I wanted to see the world.” So, at the age of twenty-one Eduardo enlisted in the U.S. army. These are some personal recollections of his experiences during his tour of Southeast Asia.
As a young boy did you feel like you family was experiencing a social injustice? Is so, what kind of discrimination were you and your family confronted with?
Well when I was a kid there where still signs on some of the restaurants and bus stations that would say “no Mexicans, no niggers or dogs.” And then when I got into grade school we would be punished for speaking Spanish. They would take us out into the hall way and make us roll up our pants, and our teacher would get another teacher to hit us on our calves with a yardstick. Then there were the white people who thought that discrimination was wrong, that’s the reason why things aren’t that way anymore, because the majority of the people knew that this was not the right way. But still the damage was done to generations before me, my father’s generation suffered even more abuse, but, here we are now.
Describe you teenaged years, what was America like during this era?
Most of my teenaged years consisted of just trying to get into town! When you started the fifth grade, the students of El Indio would have to take a bus to Eagle Pass every morning; this would happen until you graduated from high school. One summer when I was thirteen my family sent me with the Gracias to the north of Texas to chop cotton and clean out the weeds so that the strong plants would grow and produce more cotton, that was our job. I got paid about 55 cents an hour.
Another reason why I needed to make the trip was because my girlfriend was in town man; all I wanted to do was get to town. I would have to hitchhike to Eagle Pass or make the twenty mile walk to and fro just to go swimming or Little League practice. It was magical time, even thought there was social strife and the build up to the Vietnam War; life was good.
What was your family’s opinion on the war in Vietnam? Did they understand the politics of the situation? Did you?
I did not understand the politics of the situation. I was raised in the World War Two era and then the Korean War; of course I wasn’t aware of the political aspects of those wars either, but the general consensus I picked up from being around adults was that “we had a reason to be there.” I used my father’s experiences of World War Two and in Korea and looked at defending your country as an honorable thing to do; I mean this was ingrained in us. (Singing My Country ’tis of thee) My family was not in favor of the war, and I was too naïve and uneducated about it to really make an opinion. By this time there was a big anti-war movement going on that my sisters were a part of. After I got out of the service, I became a part of that movement to end the war because I learned what war is about. When I got to Vietnam I realized the war we were fighting there was actually a conflict, and we didn’t belong there, it was a conflict was between North and South Vietnam that had really nothing to do with us outside of defending the Americans’ economic interest that were controlling and exploiting the people of Vietnam.
This was the beginning of the media revolution in covering war from the frontline; do you think that that this had an affect on public onion? If so, what was the general assumption from the citizens back home?
Well there were two sides to it, there was the side that said “Yea go get ’em, kill the Vietnamese” and then there was the side that was “Oh my god, look at what they’re doing, look at this, they’re showing dead bodies on TV, and that’s an American that’s dead!” That had an influence in making people change their minds against the war. To be able to see people that looked like their son, brother or dad, made a very big impact on the country.
Was there anything, that you experienced first hand, that seemed to be lacking or overlooked in the media portrayal in the Vietnam War coverage?
Well the actual atrocities, I mean there weren’t just a few incidents of maltreatment of the Vietnamese. We were there to defend and support the South Vietnamese people. The American GI, almost 90 percent I would say, were trying to do that in a good way. Then there was the other percentage of soldiers that just hated all of the Vietnamese; they didn’t care because they had suffered at the hands of the North Vietnamese or theVietcong, so they turned that anger towards all Vietnamese people. The beauty of the people like their way of living, their joys, and the scenery of their land was hardly ever seen. The media showed a lot of the Vietnamese in pain, they enjoyed filming people in distress. I feel like they did the Vietnamese an injustice by not portraying them as humans.
Describe the living conditions and moral of fellow soldiers during your tour of Vietnam?
Well the morale was fluctuant; depending on how many times you had to go out to the field. I was lucky enough to just be in the bush for about four months of my duty time there. But, I was victim to a lot of mortar attacks which were random, and there was nothing you could do about that. I mean, you were subject to that anywhere in the country. We had barracks that were open areas, similar to a house, where you could set up your cot with your mosquito net next to a wall or foot locker. Some even had air conditioning, the PX we called it. There you could drink a 2.3% beer and get a sandwich. And then in the bush, well, you slept outside with the mosquitoes.
What kinds of affects did drugs have on the soldiers serving in this particular war? Did you or anyone you know take drugs to escape the harsh realties of war?
Yes, they were pretty widespread. Each company kind of divided itself into different camps. There were the alcoholics, then there were the potheads who would group, then there were the holy rollers, the religious types that didn’t do anything. There was also the ones that did the strong drugs like opium and heroin. You could also buy homemade wine that the Vietnamese would sell along with the other drugs they harvested. But when you were in the field, most of us didn’t do anything, you wanted to able to be alert and watch your back, and your buddies back.
What can you tell me about “fragging”?
That’s a fragmentation grenade. This was generally used against the enemy, but I thing what your talking about is when some of the soldiers would get tired of their sergeant because they felt like they were getting harassed or mistreated. This would lead them to roll a grenade into the tent or barracks where their sergeant stayed, and that takes care of that problem. This was not only used by the GI, but sometimes the sergeants would get tired of a group of guys, so they would set them up and send them into a bush where he knew there would be contact. It works both ways.
How did the American soldiers treat the people of South Vietnam?
Well it went all the way from, hate all Vietnamese; too, some guys actually married Vietnamese women and took them back with them to the states. So you had everything between those actions. In my unit, there was a guy that I had to fight with because the Vietnamese kids would come up and they would want to play around with us, and this guy would slap them. I would have to say, “hey man don’t do that.” “What, you want some of this” he replied. And we tangled. I was one of the guys that respected them. I felt that we really shouldn’t be there. I was very often in defense of the people of Vietnam.
What happened after the war? What kinds of benefits did you earn from serving in the military?
Well I got to go to college. But directly after the war, I didn’t really want to do anything, I felt like I hade been betrayed by my country. They had sent me over there to do a really ugly job. I had helped Pepsi, Exxon, and Texaco keep their right to humiliate and treat the Vietnamese with inequities. For a while I kind of rebelled against society, couldn’t keep a job and lived on the streets for about a year. Then I found a woman that I really cared about and started a family, which helped me get things together.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
Well even though I was in that situation of extreme stress, I still feel like I did my job honorably. I am glad to say, as far as I know, I did not kill anybody while I was there. I am happy about that. I feel like some of the guys that are really sick with P.T.S.D.
are guys that actually did kill some people. I mean you go to a war, that’s what they expect you to do. I am just glad to be alive, every day is a special a thing. In fact every minute is a special moment, life is going by very quickly, by the millisecond it’s breaking down for us. So we can either try and keep up or just go with the flow and let it happen. Life is good.
There is plenty of interesting information from the interviews conducted by the students; reading through the oral history projects is like skimming through the life times of the interviewees. It’s so easy to Google a topic like the great depression or pick up a book on the Vietnam conflict, but hearing the stories from a person who lived it offers a much more meaningful prospective on the past. Eduardo was a great interviewee because he had done interviews on this topic before. I really enjoyed my interview with him. I felt that he wants the world to know his story; he wants the listener or historian to get a clearer picture of what went on. Maybe we can learn from his experiences and perhaps build a better future for ourselves and others. The way he speaks about his personal anecdote is that of a writer using imagery and emotion to convey the essence of war. One thing that I was surprised to find out, by reading other oral history projects, is how civilians mistreated solders that were coming back home from the war simply because they took part in the war effort. This amazes me because I thought that people would support the man not the mission. There are many similarities between the war in Iraq and the Vietnam conflict, but I hope time has changed this because the men and women of the armed forces deserve better. His recollections of the war thought me that the solders had very different opinions towards the enemies and non-enemies of Southeast Asia. I guess depending on your first encounters with them would determine you’re rational towards the people. Eduardo did not think of them as the enemy, like most of the comrades in his company, he saw them as human beings. This interesting interview gave me great prospective and insight on the infamous Vietnam conflict.
- Vietcong Warfare A written article that explains the warfare tactics of the Viet Cong that which was established by the North Vietnamese to help escalate the war against the South Vietnamese. Environment News Service (ENS) 2001. All Rights Reserved. Our Privacy Vow Terms and Conditions Standard Advertising Terms and Conditions.
This is a web site that has information on fragging and combat refusals during Vietnam. The site interesting facts about the war, but has little information on the individuals or organization who maintains it.
- World War Two
This is the complete history of World War Two including timelines, photographs, and day by day accounts of real soldiers in combat. I would highly recommend this site to anyone researching this particular war. Copyright 2006. Worldwar-2.net. All Rights Reserved.
- P.T.S.D. This is a free on-line encyclopedia this great for research on any topic. It is very easy to navigate it and there are multiple articles for every entree. Copyright 2007. en.wikipedia.org. All Rights Reserved.