News Column

Saving Private First-Class Garcia

Nov. 2, 2012

Allen Essex

Veterans of War

Friends of a Harlingen man with multiple health problems hope to arrange for a long-overdue Purple Heart medal, possibly on Veterans Day at the dedication of the city's new veterans memorial at Pendleton Park.

Private First Class Estaban Garcia was born in Santa Maria, grew up in Harlingen and volunteered for the Army in 1967, he said.

He went through basic training at Fort Polk, La., and was shipped straight to Vietnam, he said.

Garcia received two medals for his Vietnam service, the Army Commendation Medal and the Bronze Star, which were awarded in 2001.

He was wounded in the right shoulder by a grenade during the 10-day Battle of Hamburger Hill, fought in the A Shau Valley from May 10 to May 20, 1969, Garcia said.

His wounds were treated at an Army field hospital then, but he did not receive anymore treatment afterward, Garcia said.

Now, Army Col. Kirk Pinkerton says he is trying to arrange for Garcia to receive the Purple Heart. But there is no guarantee that a Defense Department committee that reviews Purple Heart applications will approve it in time for the Nov. 11 program.

"I'll make every effort," Pinkerton said. "(The committee is) usually looking for medical records. I'll talk to them."

Garcia is now suffering from numerous medical problems and recently had a leg amputated.

Cecilia Garcia said her brother first had trouble with that leg after being pushed from a helicopter in Vietnam. But he recently re-injured the leg during a fall at home, and doctors amputated it.

If he is not successful in getting Garcia's Purple Heart approved before the Veterans Day program at Pendleton Park, he will continue working to get it for Garcia, Pinkerton said.

Fred Rendon, a Marine Corps Vietnam veteran who started a local non-profit group called Special Assistance for Veterans Endeavours, or SAVE, said Garcia has not received the assistance he deserves from the Department of Veterans Affairs.

After Garcia's recent surgery, he had no means of getting around his home, Rendon said. The VA did give Garcia a lightweight, folding, non-power wheelchair/walker, but he can't use it, Rendon said.

SAVE, which is funded from donations from local supporters, was able to obtain a motorized wheelchair that another veteran had received earlier from the Social Security Administration.

Cecilia Garcia tearfully said the VA wanted to amputate both her brother's legs but he wouldn't allow it.

"He said, 'You might as well take me out and shoot me,'" she said. She now cares for her brother in his home, Rendon said.

Rendon also said the VA so far has failed to send a home health provider for Garcia.

"We are trying to get him on 100 percent disability," Rendon said of Garcia's status for VA benefits. "They should have given him that a long time ago."

Froy Garza, spokesman for the VA Texas Valley Coastal Bend Health Care System, said he is fully aware of Garcia's situation, and the agency is "doing what we can."

Rendon has contacted him numerous times about Garcia's case, Garza said, and those of other veterans he is assisting, but privacy laws restrict the information that can be released.

Pinkerton, who is now stationed at Fort Irwin, Calif., was the commanding officer of Army Spc. Darrell Shipp of Harlingen when Shipp, the city's first Iraq War casualty, was killed in 2007.

Pinkerton will speak at the Nov. 11 dedication of the Pendleton Park Veterans Memorial and hopes to award Garcia the Purple Heart then.

Distributed by MCT Information Services

Source: (c) 2012 Valley Morning Star (Harlingen, Texas)

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