Richard Gonzales and Agapito "Pete" Martinez

Agapito Martinez and Richard Gonzales    

Agapito "Pete" Martinez never considered military service. To save him from the draft, his older brother Raul Hernandez joined the Army. Part of the 9th Infantry Division, Hernandez was sent to Vietnam. When a sniper shot him in the elbow, he was sent back to the states to recover before being medically discharged. The Draft Board again came looking for Martinez. Fortunately, he was allowed enough time to visit his older brother in the hospital before leaving Brownsville to El Paso for boot camp in Ft. Bliss.

Martinez was a man of faith. While in bootcamp in Ft. Bliss, he participated in his First Communion. The First Communion is considered one of the holiest and most important occasions in a Roman Catholic person's life. It is the first time that a person receives the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, which is the eating of consecrated bread and drinking of wine. This had a deep meaning for Martinez. After arriving at Ft. Ord in California for more training, he volunteered to assist the Priest, Father Peters, with officiating Mass every Sunday. One Sunday, Father Peters told him, "I won't see you next week." "Why?" asked Martinez. The Priest replied, "Because I'm going to Vietnam."

Martinez's military occupation (MOS) was artillery and his unit was to be sent to Germany so he thought he'd never see Father Peters again. Fate had other plans. Out of his whole class, he was the only one whose MOS (and orders) changed, which meant that as an Infantryman he would be going to Vietnam instead of Germany. Due to the sudden change, he had very limited "jungle" training but had faith that God would bring him home safely to his family.

Martinez arrived in Vietnam on December 2, 1968. On his second day in Cu Chi, Vietnam, he went to the Chapel, where he saw Father Peters. It was a holy encounter in the middle of a very hostile environment. Father Peters gave him a rosary and said, "Here, this will save your life." Martinez kept the small crucifix (two-inches long), fastened in his helmet. Little did he know that those words would come to reality five months later.

Richard Gonzales was born and raised in the Bryan College Station area of Texas. He remembers playing "soldiers" with his brother and any other kids they could round up. His favorite television show was Combat!, the one-hour WWII drama series staring Vie Morrow. When he got drafted into the Army, he remembers thinking it wasn't like what he saw on TV. He was sent to Ft. Polk for bootcamp, which meant he was going to serve in combat in Vietnam. Sure enough, four months later he landed in Cu Chi on Feb 2, 1969.

Martinez and Gonzales were part of the 27th. Infantry Regiment, nicknamed the "Wolfhounds". This Army unit was originally established in 1901, to serve in the Philippine-American War. After WWI they served in the Siberian Intervention, and as part of the 25th Infantry Division ("Tropic Lightning") during World War II, the Korean War, and later the Vietnam War. More recently, the regiment has deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, twice each. The men did not know each other prior to Vietnam. Both were in Alpha Company, but Gonzales was in the 1st Platoon and Martinez was part of the 3rd Platoon. They became friends when they saw each other during the 2-3 day stand downs, where they would rest after 30-40 days of being in the combat field.

The Wolfhounds became part of a covert operation, ending up in Cambodia. The whole company was "eagle-flighted" for an early morning sweep when they came under attack. Gonzales remembers bullets flying everywhere. He said, "It felt like an eternity but, in reality, it probably only lasted a few minutes." "We moved about 150 yards when we made contact" said Martinez. "When our platoon sergeant was hit, the platoon leader sent word for someone to go get him. As soon as our 60s opened up, I ran to the wounded man," he continues. Just before Martinez got to the wounded man, an AK-47 bullet was aiming for his head. The round hit the crucifix he kept in his helmet, ricocheted off the cross, penetrated the outer steel portion of his helmet and exited two inches from its entrance point. The helmet went flying. It took him a few minutes to find it. Although damaged, Martinez put it back on his head because he was involved in several more firefights that same day. Gonzales's boot was hit as well but the bullet didn't penetrate it. The men didn't see each other again after that firefight.

The bullet-damaged helmet became government property when Martinez left Vietnam but the life-saving crucifix and his incredible story were his to share with family and friends. Back home, on August 17, 1970, a day before his 23rd birthday, his smile was captured by The Brownsville Times, as he was named the "Luckiest Man in Brownsville."

Martinez eventually moved to Houston, where he has lived and worked laying tile for over 30 years. Gonzales lived in the Waller area but commuted to Houston for his job as a Superintendent on construction sites. In 2006, Martinez was laying tile for a new school being built in La Porte. His van had a 25th Infantry bumper sticker. It caught Gonzales's attention so he asked the foreman, "Whose van is that?" The foreman replied, "The tile guy." Gonzales would get distracted and called on other things to take care of and never got around to meeting "the tile guy." One momentous day, Gonzales was waiting to sign for a delivery when the foreman approached him and said, "The guy in the restroom is the guy who owns the van you asked about." So Gonzales walks into the restroom:

Gonzales: "You own that van out there?"
Martinez: "Yeah"
Gonzales: "I was in the 25th Infantry too!"
Martinez: "Who were you with?"
Gonzales: "The Wolfhounds!"
Martinez: "Me too!"
Gonzales: "When?"
Martinez: "68-70"
Gonzales: "Me too!"
Martinez: "What's your name?"
Gonzales: "Richard Gonzales, who are you?"
Martinez: "Pete Martinez"
Gonzales: "Pete Martinez? I remember a Pete Martinez from Brownsville but he got hit in the head."
Martinez: "That's me!"

They hadn't seen or heard from each other in thirty-seven years, since they left the jungles of Vietnam. Gonzales thought Martinez had been badly injured, or worse.

In the bathroom of a newly built school were two Vietnam veterans, hugging each other and crying. They had been to hell and back together and unbeknownst to them, fate had them building a middle school together, thirty-seven years later. Having worked in the same industry, they may have run into each other before but it was the bumper sticker that aroused interest.

Since then, Gonzales has placed a 27th Infantry Division sticker on his truck as well. He says, "It's not for glory or to show people what I've done. It's to see if I can find another brother." Martinez says he's been stopped several times by people who have also served in the same unit but during different times.

This is the kind of reunion that movies and novels are made of. They've since found two more "Wolfhounds" from Vietnam. 

Welcome home, brothers!

Gonzales (far right) needs help identifying these men    


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