Comrade gives tribute to Garcia´s faith Submitted by Cindi Taylor of The TEXAS SPUR, Thursday, May 25, 2000For 33 years Memorial Day has been a day of remembrance for the family of Andres Garcia who died while serving his country during the Vietnam War. But this year, after a chance internet search and a subsequent encounter with someone who was with Andy in those final moments of his life, Garcia´s family now has even more reason to be proud of the brother who not only died in service to his country, but also affected the individual lives he touched.
Garcia, a member of the Spur High School Class of 1962, attended South Plains College for two years before he was drafted by the Army where he eventually served in the 3rd Platoon, 1st Military Police Company, 1st Infantry Division.
Last year´s Memorial Day found Douglas Musselwhite, a Vietnam War veteran, browsing the Vietnam Memorial Wall website where he posted the story of his "unsung hero", SP4 Andres Garcia. Musselwhite, who was working traffic control with Andy Garcia the day Andy died believes that Andy saved his life.
Musselwhite wrote in "My Unsung Hero" that the morning of January 14, 1966, he and Garcia were sent to search local Vietnamese traffic in cooperation with the local South Viet Nam Police. They were to search civilian vehicles and civilians for unlawful weapons and other contraband. The two left their jeep to walk out to their traffic control point where a bus was parked and several people were walking or standing outside the vehicle. As they approached the bus, Garcia checking the road to the left and Musselwhite checking the right, there was an explosion. Both men hit the ground, and Musselwhite said he knew immediately that Andy was dead. Though he was also wounded in the blast, it was apparent to Musselwhite that Andy´s body had shielded him from even more damage, a fact that inspired him to write the story on the Wall´s web page.
It was Musselwhite´s story that caught the attention of Andy´s nephew, Capt. Anthony Puente, United States Air Force, this past January. Puente contacted Musselwhite, now a pastor in Turkey, North Carolina, via e-mail on January 26, 2000. Puente, who was three years old when Garcia died, told Musselwhite that he had always wondered what happened to his Uncle Andy. His e-mail message and a request for more stories from Musselwhite about Andy led to further internet correspondence and additional insight into Garcia´s example as a big brother, an uncle, and his Christian witness.
"I felt guilty for several years that he was dead while I was alive," Musselwhite told Puente. "But there was a purpose." Musselwhite, a pastor for the past 21 years, said Garcia´s faith is what inspired him to his own deep walk with God and his ultimate entry into the ministry. He described Andy as "a very faithful Catholic" and knew someone in Garcia´s family who had great faith in God had instilled that faith in Andy."No matter what we had done on Saturday night, Andres was there for Sunday Mass," said Musselwhite.
Musselwhite described one occasion where Garcia kept him out of trouble."One Saturday night I had too much to drink, shot my mouth off, and was about to be beaten to death by a big infantryman," Musselwhite said. "Andy stepped between us and talked the guy out of the fight.
"The next morning, with my bad hangover, Andy drug me to 8:00 a.m. Mass. He said I should be very thankful to God that the guy at the bar did not kill me."
Musselwhite said Andy volunteered to go with him on many missions from the village of Lai Khe to Ben Cat, a round trip of 20 miles. Andy would often man the M-60 machine gun on the tripod as Musselwhite drove and the lieutenant rode shotgun.
"He (Andy) was the kind of man you could trust to cover your back," said Musselwhite.
Musselwhite and Garcia were two of about 30 guys who were brought together at Fort Riley, Kansas to form the new 3rd Platoon for the 1st Military Police Company of the 1st Infantry Division. Both fresh out of military police school at Fort Gordon, Georgia, Musselwhite said he formed an instant bond with Andy. The two worked together, played together, and eventually travelled to Vietnam together.
"He was so likeable because he genuinely cared for you," said Musselwhite. "We became fast friends and remained friends throughout our military history."
It was only after he found the Vietnam Memorial Wall Page on the internet that Musselwhite learned that Andy was from Spur. Not knowing how to get in touch with Andy´s family until last January, Musselwhite set out to write a letter to Andy´s mother, Loretta Garcia. Ironically Mrs. Garcia died the day before the letter was written, so she would never read it. Musselwhite learned of her death the same day he wrote the letter.
He still mailed the letter, though, which was sent in care of Puente´s mother and Andy´s sister, Julie Puente of Lubbock. In that letter, which the family shared with the Texas Spur, Musselwhite told Mrs. Garcia of the morning Andy died:
"That morning at breakfast in the Army Dining tent, Andy warned me to be extra careful because he felt ´something bad was going to happen.´ I attempted to laugh it off, but the warning stuck in my mind. As we arrived at our place of duty, Andy suggested we dismount our vehicle and walk out to the waiting civilian bus to begin our duties. He also suggested we check the road side for possible land mines or other weapons of war. As we proceeded to walk, a horrible explosion occurred knocking me face down on the pavement. As I looked around for Andy, I found him a few feet ahead of me, also face down on pavement...I knew the major force of the explosion had hit him but what was amazing to me was that his body had shielded me from more serious injury...Andy had saved my life at the expense of his own life."
Based on the letter received from the Army informing them of Andy´s death, the Garcia siblings, consisting of six brothers and three sisters, had always believed that Andy had been killed while driving a jeep which hit a land mine. It wasn´t until Puente came across Musselwhite´s account that they found out what really happened the day Andy died. Knowing Andy was not alone when he died and knowing what an impact he had made on a comrade´s life has brought the Garcia family a renewed pride for the brother they had always admired.
"It really made me feel good to know he touched someone´s life," said Andy´s brother, Joe Garcia of Spur. "I feel like he died for a cause now."
Joe says that knowing about Andy´s relationship with Musselwhite and the effect it had on Musselwhite´s life is a "bright star" in Andy´s death.
Musselwhite credits the Garcia family for the legacy they inspired in Andy: "One of the main reasons I am where God wants me to be today is because of the Garcia legacy maintained in your household. I do not know where you found your faith but I know in Whom you have placed your faith...Your Godly example is now reaching far corners of the earth through so many people...He (Andy) did not die in vain. While so many of the Vietnam vets could not handle coming back to the real world, Andy continues to help me know the joy of being alive in the love of God. His influence continues to touch my children and my grandchildren...You paid the ultimate price, the fit of a beloved son. But remember, God paid the ultimate price of His beloved Son, Jesus Christ. For both gifts, this old friend of Andres Garcia is so very grateful..."
Douglas Mussewhite wrote the following about Andres Garcia on the Vietnam Memorial Wall web page on Memorial Day in 1999I was with Andres Garcia on the morning he died. I served with Andres Garcia both at Fort Riley, Kansas (Home of the Big Red One), and arrived in Sout Viet Nam with him by troop transport ship on 5 October 1965. We were assigned to the 3rd Platoon, 1st Military Police Company, 1st Infantry Division. Andres Garcia was brave, loyal, and true to his country, his family, and his friends. He told me on the morning of 14 January 1966 over breakfast that he felt "something terrible is going to happen today." He was correct. Our assignment that morning was to search local Vietnamese traffic. As we approached out traffic control point to search civilian vehicles and civilians themselves, in cooperation with the Sout Viet Nam Police, Garcia still felt uneasy and suggested that we dismount our jeep and walk out to the traffic control point. A local bus was waiting. Several people were milling around outside of the bus. Approximately half the distance to the bus, Garcia was checking the road on the left and I to the right, when suddenly thee was an explosion. He hit the ground. I hit the ground. He was dead. I knew it at once. I did not know that I was wounded in the right knee until I attempted to get up. But, thank God, I was still alive. He took the brunt of the blast and I am satisfied that his body shielded my body from more damage from the flying fragments. He is my hero then and he is my hero now. I clearly remember taking hostile fire from an automatic weapon. But Garcia was dead before the first sniper round. Our guys called in artillery fire. The Medics arrived to transport my hero and me back to the field hospital. I felt guilt for a long time for being alive while Garcia was dead. But that is the price you pay when your hero fails to survive. Thank God the guilt is gone and only gratitude remains to my unsung hero. Andres Garcia did not storm a machine gun bunker. He did not single-handedly destroy a squad of Victor Charlies. He was not a War Hero, perhaps to anyone but his family and his friend. For his friendship, his love, and his duty to God and Country; I honor and cherish him! Salute! Thank You, Andres! I love you always, brother. Monday, May 31, 1999