San Antonio (U.S. Army) — A veteran of World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam, received a standing ovation from troops of another generation here, May 17, at Fort Sam Houston Theatre, San Antonio, Texas.
Retired Army Sgt. Tomas Fajardo was an honorary guest at the awards ceremony for the 2013 Joint Base San Antonio "Best Warrior Competition."
"When they introduced me and I turned around and saluted them, I was choked up," Fajardo said, with a boisterous laugh. "It made me feel good inside."
Fajardo, 84, has lived in San Antonio for all but the 20 years he served in the military.
"I always told the guys when they asked me, 'where you from?' I said 'I'm from Maine,'" he said. "The 'main' part of Texas, San Antonio."
Although injured in combat, Fajardo thought he retired from the Army virtually unscathed after 20 years of service.
"I had a mortar shell burst about as close as that little tree is right there," he said, while pointing at a tree not more than 20 yards away. "I know it was a heavy mortar because it knocked me on my butt. My right ear was bleeding and my right eye was bleeding, and we didn't have no medics or nothing because we were one of the first troops that were there. I couldn't hear anything for about two months and finally my hearing started coming back and my eyesight started coming back. That was about the only injury I got."
Fajardo initially retired with some hearing loss, but he later experienced dizzy spells and eventually was diagnosed as having been exposed to Agent Orange, which later led to diabetes. He quit smoking, though, and now boasts solid health; he moves swiftly for an 84-year-old who walks with a cane.
Fajardo says he keeps in touch with four battle buddies from Vietnam and two others from Korea.
"The other ones, I lost track of them," he said.
Today, he said, he continue to help fellow Soldiers from his era even if he does not know them.
"I'm still helping the veterans," he said. "I belong to the Disabled American Veterans and we go feed them at the VA hospital about once a month. I gather up all kinds of magazines and take them to them. I take socks, shorts, underwear and stuff like that because there are guys who go in there and their people forget about them. It's sad, but it's true."
Fajardo said he recalls serving in Vietnam, back in 1965, as though it were yesterday.
"I remember playing with the kids all the time," he said. "I used to give them my ration candy. And there were some lovely looking girls, and I was single then, see. I had a few dates with them, but I didn't get serious about marriage or anything like that. I went through that marriage and that turned me off."
Fajardo, now married for the second time, said he lost his first wife in a divorce because of long separations.
"When I went to Germany the last time, which was in 1956, she refused to go over there with me. I called her and told her, 'Well if you're not coming over here, you can start acting like a young, single lady because I'm not coming home.' And I didn't, I stayed in Germany five years."
Wherever he served overseas, Fajardo said he always tried to help the hungry.
"After they took us off combat duty in Vietnam and my company got to Suwon, we used to give rice rations to the laborers who helped us dig ditches," he said. "And sometimes a can of sardines, and I love sardines, and tuna fish. We would give it to the people in the village."
And when he served in Korea, 1950-1951, he did the same there as he had done for the Vietnamese.
"I remember mostly the people. The people were poor and they were hungry," he said.
To remedy that, Fajardo said, he'd give the Koreans his C-rations.