The Arizona Republic
Veteran gets surprise Purple Heart ceremony over 50 years later
After more than 50 years, 72-yearold Phoenix native Joseph Robert “Joe Bob” Garcia, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran, received a Purple Heart decoration ceremony on Saturday in honor of his time served in Vietnam.
“We’re very proud to be here for Joe Bob to give him his long due Purple Heart,” David Yrigoyen, a Marine Corps League member, said. “This is closure.”
Garcia’s friends, family, and the Military Order of the Purple Heart gathered Saturday afternoon at the American Legion Post 41 in Phoenix to surprise the veteran with the ceremony.
On his 18th birthday, Garcia joined the Marine Corps and trained with the Arizona state platoon. He was trained on the 81 mm mortar and was sent to fight in the Vietnam War in 1968 in the Third Marine Division.
“April 13, 1969, is when I got wounded. I was shooting mortar rounds to the other side of the hill that we were taking, trying to catch the Viet Cong as they tried to escape,” Garcia said. “I guess I was doing a good job because they sent a sniper to shoot me.”
Garcia was wounded but remained in Vietnam until his division was sent to Okinawa. While there, he was promoted to corporal and received the paperwork for the Purple Heart, yet never received the official medal until it was sent to him in the mail 40 years later.
“He was awarded the Purple Heart, but it was never presented or pinned on him,” his longtime friend Edward Sauceda said. “He has been feeling the void of the Purple Heart.”
Sauceda led the effort behind organizing the surprise ceremony and got in contact with the Military Order of the Purple Heart to make it happen on Saturday, a day before Garcia’s 73rd birthday.
Surrounded by friends and family, Garcia was awarded and pinned the Purple Heart by active-duty Marine Gunnery Sgt. Alfredo Estrella following speeches reflecting on his time in war and honorable contributions.
“It’s a relief that he did get his Purple Heart because he was very hurt about the whole situation,” said his wife, Erlinda Garcia. “He was one of the ones that gave us freedom and that’s why I’m so proud of him.”