During Hispanic Heritage Month, today’s #VeteranOfTheDay is Marine Corps Veteran John Reyes, who served in the Vietnam War.
John Reyes was born in November 1944 in Houston, Texas. His father was an Army Veteran and a business owner of JR & Sons Delivery, and his mother was a homemaker.
Although his father wanted him to graduate, Reyes dropped out of Jefferson Davis High School in his senior year in 1964 to enlist in the Marine Corps. While traveling to their destination they took a pit stop in Hawaii, where Reyes learned from the wives of some of the officers that the military would be going to Vietnam. The rest of the men would learn of this news on a ship three days after departing Hawaii.
These were the only beach landings during the war. Reyes hoped he would not be shot as snipers fired on them upon arrival at the South Vietnamese city of Quy Nhon. He befriended a local Vietnamese soldier he nicknamed “Cowboy.” Reyes’ tanned skin caused locals to mistake him as South Vietnamese. Children who put their arms next to his would say “same, same” after the similar comparison. Among his memorabilia from the war are a small marble elephant, dog tags and black and white photographs.
Reyes was a flamethrower operator for the 1st Marine Division, 2nd Battalion, 7th Regiment. According to Reyes, the average lifespan of a flamethrower operator in Vietnam was three seconds. Though this extremely dangerous job made him a prime enemy target, throughout his service he never took a bullet. However, an enemy mortar round hit him during Operation Utah in 1966. The shell ripped his lip, burnt off one of his eyebrows and wounded his calf.
Reyes honorably discharged from the Marines Jan. 28, 1970. He earned a Good Conduct Medal, a National Defense Service Medal, a Vietnam Service Medal and a Vietnam Campaign Medal.
Reyes married his first wife for nine years, and they had two children. He later married Sheryl Smith in 1976, and they also had two children. Reyes earned his general education degree and became the business owner of a jewelry store. He also professionally drove semi-tractor trailers. After 15 years of driving, he suffered a stroke and recovered in a VA hospital. Unable to renew his commercial driver’s license due to the stroke, he retired from driving 18-wheelers in 2008.
After being diagnosed with PTSD, he read books and stayed connected with his children to overcome it. In an interview with the University of Texas at Austin, Reyes expressed he does not regret joining the Marines.
“I’ve said this many, many times—that you could not draw four years out of my life and [have] those four replace the years in the Marines Corps. That’s a fact.”
Thank you for your service!
Do you want to light up the face of a special Veteran? Have you been wondering how to tell your Veteran they are special to you? VA’s #VeteranOfTheDay social media feature is an opportunity to highlight your Veteran and his/her service.
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Writer: Hannah Nelson
Editor: Katherine Adams and Elissa Tatum
Fact checker: Kinsley Ballas
Graphic artist: Katie Rahill