We all need stories about heroes fighting through a seemingly hopeless situation, and the grit it takes to get yourself and your friends to safety. Such was the case with Sergeant Candelario Garcia in the jungles of Vietnam in 1968.
A 24-year-old at the time, Garcia led his platoon on a patrol that ended in a dramatic turn of events. Following the signs of a strong enemy force ahead, he pursued them, only to be greeted by a hail of bullets. The attack could have killed the entire platoon, but Sgt. Garcia had other plans.
Running headlong towards multiple machine-gun positions, Garcia saw to it, determined that the enemy would pay a heavy price for engaging them. As a result, Garcia succeeded in evacuating many of his wounded men and, ultimately, began a journey towards the nation’s highest military honor.
Ready for Action
Candelario Garcia was born February 26th, 1944 in Corsicana, TX, located about 50 miles southeast of Dallas. Garcia enlisted in the U.S. Army on May 28th, 1963, just as the call of war was beginning to draw the United States into Southeast Asia.
Just five months earlier, the disastrous Battle of Ap Bac took place in early January, where a relatively small force of Viet Cong soldiers defeated much larger South Vietnamese Army. It was becoming abundantly clear this would be no easy fight and a long conflict awaited those who would enter it. Undaunted by the prospect of war, Garcia stood ready for the call.
However, Garcia’s action for his Medal of Honor would come a good five years later, once America had been in the fight for some time and shortly after the infamous Tet Offensive that swept over South Vietnam. By late 1968, the South was on edge as it became apparent that any time was a good time for the enemy to attack. Concern for the security of Saigon had never been higher.
In December of 1968, the U.S. Army’s 1st Division was stationed at the military base of Lai Khe, a garrison for the South Vietnamese 5th Division. Responsible for the defense of Saigon, the base was located on Highway 13 to the northwest of the city and would serve as the hub for Garcia’s platoon. On this particular day, Garcia headed out with his platoon on patrol in hopes of locating enemy forces operating in the area.
Tracking Down the Fight
Patrolling through the thick vegetation, a sharp eye led to a discovery which indicated a serious fight awaited them. Garcia and his platoon noticed communications wiring running into thick vegetation which was one of the tell-tell signs of an enemy HQ ahead. The platoon began to investigate and as they did it didn’t take long before they found themselves in the open, taking deadly fire and losing men rapidly. With no real cover, Garcia knew immediate action would be needed if any of them were to survive.
Gripping his rifle and drawing upon a deep reserve of courage, Garcia crawled to within thirty feet of the enemy position. It was a fortified bunker and the enemy within was unleashing a storm of machine-gun fire upon his platoon. With just his rifle and a few grenades, he set out to save his men. He scrambled up and charged the enemy position firing as he ran. To many, it must have appeared to be a suicidal mission, but Garcia would have known by this point that if he did not succeed they would all die anyway.
He charged through the vegetation, still firing, and made it to the first bunker. He grabbed his first grenade, pulled the pin and threw it into the gunport. Then he pulled a second and threw it in. And just in case that didn’t clear the enemy he jammed his rifle inside and fired for good measure. All four enemy were dead within seconds, and one bunker was down.
Garcia saw another bunker about 50 feet away continuing to fire on their position. Without hesitation, he leaped into action once again. He ran toward the second bunker through a storm of gunfire, caught in the middle as the two sides exchanged rounds. He took out this position the same way that he dealt with the first – a few grenades and his rifle. When it was over, three Viet Cong soldiers lay dead.
More Men to Save
As the battle continued to rage around him, he took notice of several casualties trapped between the two forces. Garcia ran back into the battle and took two wounded men to safety before rejoining his men continuing the fight. With Garcia’s leadership, the team regrouped and attacked the remaining forces, driving off or destroying the enemy. Sergeant Garcia’s quick thinking and incredible bravery no doubt saved the lives of fellow soldiers and prevented the obliteration of an entire platoon.
Upon returning home, Sergeant Garcia was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his inexplicable gallantry and resolve to save his men. However, during a modern era review of awards for gallantry, it became clear that Garcia’s actions were above and beyond the call of duty and worthy of an upgrade. In 2014, Garcia’s Distinguished Service Cross was rescinded, and he was awarded the Nation’s highest military honor along with other men who had been previously overlooked.
Unfortunately, Garcia passed away in 2013, but rather than let the honor go unnoticed the Command Sergeant Major of Garcia’s unit accepted the award on his behalf. It is a great tragedy that Garcia could not have received the award himself but, to him, the lives of the men he saved that day were of greater value than any award or medal.
As for lovers of history, the Medal of Honor will now serve as a bookmark in time for all to pause and take notice at what occurred on that December day in the jungles of Vietnam.