Their senior year at Edgewood High was significant to both because Carlos remembers the exact number of days they spent in school, which was 75 days, before visiting the Armed Forces recruiting Offices in downtown San Antonio on Broadway and Houston streets. The two young men walked into the U.S. Army recruiting office to begin the enlistment process. However, Carlos was too young and needed additional papers signed by his mother to allow his enlistment in the Army. Joe on the other hand was 18 years of age and immediately qualified to enlist. Once Carlos obtained the necessary signatures, the two were sworn in, underwent medical physicals,and left the following day to Fort Polk, Louisiana for basic training. Once there, they each were assigned to the same training unit and platoon. Upon completion of basic, the young men from Edgewood were assigned to additional infantry and paratrooper training. Due to no cell phones at the time, Carlos and Joe lost track of each other.
Back in San Antonio (1968) on home leave before departing for Vietnam, the former civilians now Army soldiers met and talked about the war. According to Carlos, nothing had changed in the neighborhood except that friends continued to serve and die in Vietnam. But in looking back, Carlos reconstructs his thinking to say they had changed in the way they now looked at the neighborhood and life. Carlos credits their training was especially educational because it made them think and realized there was more meaning and purpose to life, He recalls Joe telling him, “to live for today because we don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow.” Carlos states he thought about Joe’s comment and responded by telling Joe, “you start at one end of Vietnam and I’ll start at the other,” with an air of confidence and determination that no one could challenge. Carlos recalls Joe was working the Central Highlands while he was working North of Saigon and the Mekong Delta.
The next episode in their lives occurred in the jungles and highlands of Vietnam where they both faced life and death on a daily basis. With their orders in hand, Specialist 4 Joe G. Longoria arrived in Vietnam on June 22, 1968, and assigned to the 4th Battalion, 503rd Infantry, 173rd Airborne Brigade in the An Lao Valley, Binh Dinh Province. Carlos was ordered to report three days earlier on June 19, 1968 to the 90th Replacement Company in Long Binh and assigned to the 1st/508th/82nd Airborne, later transferred to Dong Tam, with the 3rd/60th Infantry where he encountered a number of Chicano veterans from San Antonio in the Mekong Delta. However, they were now separated by over 400 miles. Carlos remembers they visited a day before he left to report to Oakland, California. At that point, the two friends lost track of one another.
Ten months later on April 19,1969, while pursuing the enemy as part of “Operation Washington Green” in the Binh Dinh, Province, Specialist 4 Joe G. Longoria was killed by an explosive device.He served 10 months of the tour and one can only say Joe died valiantly in battle carrying out his assignment (promoted to Sergeant posthumously). The irony of Joe’s death was his concern for his neighborhood friends dying in Vietnam; that prompted him to join the U.S. Army to fight in the war to save lives.
I asked Carlos how he learned of his best friend’s death, he paused awhile and said, “I found out through word of mouth when I was back in San Antonio in late June of 1969. In fact, I was expecting to see him while on leave only to learn he was killed in April. This prompted me to go to St. Augusta Church to light a candle in his name.” Like his Edgewood neighborhood friends who answered the call to duty, Joe G. Longoria served faithfully and gave his all for his country. He died a soldier, a hero, and a great friend to many people.
I then asked Carlos what he would ask Joe today if he were alive. Again, Carlos took a little time before he responded and said, “I would ask Joe if it was all worth it? And knowing him like I did, he would say, ‘I don’t know because nowadays some say Vietnam was not a war but a conflict.’” In another heartfelt remembrance, Carlos revisits their time in school and the problems they had. He said, “We hated school, but we loved education. The Vietnam War taught us many things and the letters that both Joe and I sent home included pictures and an inscribed message that read “mi raza no se raja,” which translates to “we, as a people, do not run from a fight” as a matter of pride and commitment. In another emotion, Carlos shared with me a personal tribute to his friend, “I told my wife if I ever went back to Vietnam (Being a minister for over forty years) I would not return because I would go to the An Lao Valley where Joe was killed to teach and educate as away to honor his memory.” For now, Carlos emotionally recalls his best friend “riding around in his light brown Ford Fairlane with a quart of his favorite beverage between his legs, to remind him those were the times that we as “raza” like to remember.”
Sgt. Joe Gilbert Longoria died a hero in Vietnam and is greatly missed, mourned, and respected.
In closing, I wish to gratefully acknowledge Carlos DeLuna for his recollections of a dear friend and to personally thank him for his service, courage, and dedication.