DescriptionRaul Herrera (71) speaks to his son Anthony Herrera (40) about his decision to enlist in the Navy, his upbringing, his experience in Vietnam, and his family.
Subject Log / Time Code
- Raul Herrera
- Anthony Herrera
Recording LocationsSan Antonio Central Library
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00:04 My name is Raul Herrera. I'm 71 years old. Today's date is February 15th 2018. Where in San Antonio Texas Anthony is my son.
00:18 My name is Anthony Herrera. My age is 40 today's date is February 15th, 2018. We're here in San Antonio, Texas and relationship partner is my father.
00:36 So Dad, let's get started here.
00:39 When were you when were you born and where?
00:44 I was born on November 11th 1946 in San Antonio, Texas.
00:50 Who your parents my parents were Frank and Sarah Herrera?
00:56 Or they both born in, Texas.
00:59 No, my father he was born in Leon Guanajuato Mexico. As a matter fact, you may know that I recall that his birthday is the same as yours September 20th, but he was born in 1913. You don't want to watch this approximately 200 miles Northwest of Mexico City mom. She was born on November 7th 1914 in berclair Texas. That's approximately about 40 miles Southwest of Victoria, Texas.
01:33 Can you tell me a little bit about them?
01:36 He is well Dad. He was a painter by by trade that he worked in the painting and Industry did houses did the school houses as well for contractors. He loved fishing. I guess that's what I picked it up from love to go to the coast and he loves soccer. He always on Sunday afternoons will take off and be with his friends at soccer fields and enjoy those matches and he also loved mariachi music every Sunday morning. I remember he'd wake us up to his mariachi music while he was outside washing the car. So he was very much loved her that the type of music his father.
02:19 Took it the family from you don't want to want to I don't know the exact date, but after 1917 the family fled you don't want to fight them and they came across the border and into San Antonio and they fled with my grandfather. He was a policeman and at that time there was a new president of victoriano Huerta and doing that. They changed the constitution in Mexico.
02:52 And they started persecution of Catholics under that regime. And even though my my grandfather was a policeman. My father told me that he was scared for his life. So the whole family fled from there and into San Antonio mom. She was very religious. Excellent cook as you may remember grandma likes to cook Fine Food. She excelled in flour tortillas. I remember being in the kitchen and her flour tortillas. They were just so perfect. You can see any any grease or as we say Manteca and in the recipe and her tortillas with just puff up like a little Ball filled with air and they were just so soft and dinner delicious.
03:37 And she was the family matriarch to her six siblings and everyone respected her and she was very strict. And so no one smokes in front of her and no one Drank in front of her except for my father I suppose but everybody else they just told the line whenever Mamacita is they called her would be around.
04:03 And what about siblings? Did you kind of the ants?
04:08 And Marty and budgie. Well guess I had to have sisters. I didn't realize they were half-sisters until way later. I always knew them as my sisters and their mother died when my second oldest sister was born Martha was the oldest and she was 5 years 5 years older than me and Regina was born a year later and she was four years older than I was but my sister Martha I used to call her aunt Marty. I used to call her my little Mama because she always hover around me and taking care of me wherever I want.
04:54 And so growing up as a kid that you are. You're a good kid back head. So you mischievous get into trouble.
05:03 Okay here goes The True Confessions. I was a good a good kid by and large but I was mischievous i e I did a number of things that I can recall and I never like to go shopping with my mother downtown because her and my aunt would always get in the bus and go to socialserve which was a material store in the ladies would go and rummage through all sorts of piles of material for their sewing and things and it would bore me. So I always wanted to go to Coney Island. That's what I want. I want to buy hot dogs at Coney Island inside picture my mother too and you know, just finish your shopping so we can go we can go and so I remember one day I was getting so tired and bored and hungry for a hot dog van.
05:51 I snuck away and hid behind some clothes racks. They were nearby. I just kind of snuck inside. It was a circular coat rack a little love and clothes rack for ladies dresses were hanging and so before long mom started missing me and she still looking around cuz I could I was peeking through the clothes, right? And so she started calling for me and me homey Sun. Where are you? Where are you and I were just quiet as could be in and pretty soon my and start looking for me and call them pretty so she started yelling. You know, my name Roy Roy, where are you? And the so when in due time I thought I better go ahead and show up at the weather going to be in really big trouble. And so when she wasn't looking I snuck out of that little clothes bin and stood right next to import her skirts as I'm here now, or you want to avoid she just got well a little upset but slanted I wasn't lost and so immediately. We went to Coney Island. I got my hot dog
06:51 On another occasion though. I remember I was a little older guess maybe 10 or 11 and I happen to see the out the kitchen window. There's a screen window on the screen and the moon was shining very brightly. And when you looked at the Moon through a screen if it shows a shadow of a cross and so I told Mommy was a miracle took Mama Miracle a miracle, but I just do a little little things like that one and you don't mom she did her best it and making sure that we were all good children, but for me, perhaps she thought that I'd better get more of a education into Towing the straight line.
07:40 One day this little man
07:44 Would come down and we lived in an alley and we lived in an alley that led into it was a dead in that me and it was Downstream from two Creeks the Amazon Creek and the Martinez Creek and this little man every afternoon as the sun was setting Heat come shuffling down the gravel driveway the alleyway and front of our house and Mom call me or come here come here. That's what what am I look look out the window seat of your heat though. You see the heat OC. Yes, ma'am and the keto kind of scared me cuz he was all graffiti and he had a beard and just long hair and he didn't look too clean. And he had this the sack in the on his back here like Santa Claus and so Mom would say that if you don't behave that your heat was going to take you cuz inside that sack he's at nothing like but bad little boys and girls and they're going to take him down to the
08:44 Try and throw me in Sobo after that. I just made sure every afternoon. I just watch where he was and make sure I stayed and stayed. Okay, but those are just some of the things that I remember growing up in the body of the neighborhood. What was it like as a kid playing games things like that at different times during that that year we did a lot of fun things back. Then we can have computer games or anything of the kids have in today's world. We play games like the whip which is basically on one guy would would get ahold of it won't get in the line and hold on to hold on hands and and Taurus around for Less around until you know, we go very fast and the one of the very end would eventually just fly out that they're open and Tumble into the grass or we play tag and play hide and go seek and we also
09:41 In the boys in the neighborhood, we love the doing stuff down the creek and we often find old tires that the flood waters would bring down and we would clean them up and we just roll tires along the street. That was that's what we did for fun. And another thing we do with those tires cuz I said we were close to the creek and the edge of the creek the height was up above close to the house. And so we had Trails all over the place. So and we get inside the tires and somebody was roses down into the creek bottom. So it would be bouncing along inside the tires. And those are the fun things we used to do we play baseball in the alley on though we had another older man that lived across the street from us in the alley and he's always yelling screaming is cuz there's sometimes a softball with bounce off his side of the house and we never broken glass for window, but we were lucky I guess.
10:39 Do you have any special memories growing up maybe with Mom and Dad?
10:44 Well, my mom and dad then in particular. I remember we used to love New Year's Eve because he would gather some tires for the creek and pieces of wood and what not and the friends of mine in my neighborhood that went particular. It was Johnny and and Junior doing my best buddies. We get the Black Cat Fireworks firecrackers and we take them all apart and we fill up a 5 gallon bucket full of those firecrackers and then my father-in-law maybe 10:00 at night before midnight. He start Gathering these tires together and and the heat of course being a painter. He had a nap then turpentine and all that and then he saw those tires in paper and wood with all this is the chemical in and close to midnight. He start the fire that we have a huge bonfire on the side of the house and all the neighborhood.
11:44 Would come around and so we can weed be firing rockets and right at midnight. My father would grab the five gallon bucket filled with fireworks and he tossed it into the into the fire and boy was it was it was great. It was a lot of fun mom when I remember Mom was
12:04 She's very special. She would elementary school that I attended was about five blocks six blocks from the house and every single day. She would prepare a hot lunch for me mostly tortillas and my favorite lunch was a tortillas with scrambled egg refried beans and two slices of spam and boy from the other boys would come around and want to offer me their bologna sandwiches for my tacos and I wouldn't share with him at all. So another thing she would do for me was I remember she choose a good seamstress and sheets, so
12:45 The costumes that we used for the Christmas pageants, so so a couple of things I remember about them.
12:53 So kind of going right into that after I asked we mentioned school is he know what was school like elementary through High School in a fond memories of that growing up. I went to Sacred Heart Elementary School. Like I says about six blocks from the house and high school. I went to Holy Cross High School Manga Online deep westside of San Antonio. I had to ride the bus city bus to get there.
13:23 My father wanted to one for me to go to Fox Tech High School cuz it was a technical school. He wanted me to learn drafting. He wanted me to draw I used to like to draw cartoons and whatnot. So he figured that would be best for me to learn a trade and I suspect he figured I was going to be able to go to college and wouldn't be able to afford to send me to college Enzo name and my mother. I remember off the often not argue, but disgust heavily about the where I should go to school and either Catholic school or public school. Well Mom one, I went to Holy Cross High School.
14:05 Come back. Then was it does that something that parents had a save up money for to pay that wasn't free education. It was one of the Holy Cross Holy Cross High School in actually I work my way through High School mom and dad did help but I had to continue I'd work in the after school after school hours and clean the chalkboards mop the floor sweep them up into the in the trash cans and on Saturdays at go as well to that time in our field wasn't built yet. And so I thought I'd go out there and pull weeds and whatever it took I earn my way through through school and other kids in their neighborhood where he grew up where they do. They go to the Holy Cross you or you were the only one I was the only one I was the only one that went to Holy Cross for my neighborhood and the other kids that they went to public school high school.
15:02 Did you play any sports or any organizations in school?
15:08 In Sacred Heart, I played what they called. It was flag football in elementary school play little bit of basketball, but I was too short to do anything but still getting In Those Years everybody played but on my my favorite was playing what was playing football news quarterback and we want the city championship. In fact when I was in eighth grade there and see what year that was 61 6061 during that season at Holy Cross. I also play in the football matter fact. I was the first official freshman quarterback for Holy Cross and I think I must have weighed at the most 99 pounds when I was playing football as a quarterback.
15:56 Excel outside of school. Did you have any jobs besides helping out of the school to help with the tuition? Did you do anything else?
16:11 Will my first job my first job actually?
16:18 Aside from working at Holy Cross
16:21 I remember I must have been maybe 9 10 years old still in elementary school and there was a a Mexican bakery in our neighborhood Garcia's Bakery and I love their there fun to do so and I just loved it. They had when she doesn't cuernitos and I also put some good things and I wanted to work there and so I went and I asked the lady if if if I could do something there so I could be right next to all the food is being made. I live on the losing any only weighed 99 lb. Listen that cuz it wasn't even in high school. So of course, I think they just figured well, let's just keep him here. He'll be here for a few days. And then that's it, you know, but they had me scraping when they call them all house, which is translated leaves and they were just basically pieces of sheet metal that they used.
17:21 Are baking sheets for The Little Oven and I remember having to stand on a milk crate to be able to reach the top of the counter to be able to scrape those. They had a flat spatula that I used to scrape on the scraping scraper. And so, of course they just let me do that for a little while and before long they take me in the back kitchen and fix me up some you know, eggs and beans and tortillas and back then like we know today we have that Big Red soda. Well back in my time. It was call hippo hippo was Ren hippo size and that was my favorite the red hippotizing. So I really in a bunny ate more than they actually but they have to give me you know, some money to give me a dollar to every once in awhile.
18:08 And didn't you work like at a shoe store or something like that? That was that was in high school the coach, of course knowing that my parents didn't have those resources necessary to continue my education. They did everything they could to help students that I need continuent. No, one of the coaches basketball coach. He worked at Birth shoe store downtown on Houston Street. And when I was I guess I must have been when I was a junior junior probably I work there some shoes but my father
18:47 I'm not sure what Summers but I know for sure at least doing two or three Summers between my years in high school and he took me into his the work and the help. I became a painter's Helper and I did he take the Hardware off of the windows the scrape and sand and do all sorts of things like this. But the the worst part of the whole ordeal there was having to clean all the painters brushes after work. I didn't care for that. And so after that first summer, I didn't want to go back but the next year he said that's go back to work and said no. No. No, I don't want to go back to us to Hardee's and I know you haven't learned. I don't want you to be a painter when you grow up. You need to get yourself educated and get an inside job. We don't have to worry about the climate or how hot it is or how cold it is. So I had to go through three Summers of that. I learned my lesson.
19:46 So shortly after high school, I guess most likely your senior year you parts are thinking what's the next step and he had mentioned drafting but then I know that you went into the Navy had that become when did you decide that? It was summer of 65? Remember clearly? I worked part-time at the San Antonio Neighborhood use organization. I was Center coordinator. It was a program that offered summer employment two teenagers families in need and I was just Center coordinator.
20:25 And as Summer Wind along I realize well next type is college or is it and I knew that my parents couldn't afford to send me to college. So I started shopping around to see which branch of service provided the best education and I found the Navy they offered drafting a school. And so I signed up for 4 years. I volunteered for 4 years after I sign on the dotted line. I went home and told my parents I've been listed in the service.
20:58 So what are you sent to a ship after the Navy's drafting school or no? No. No, it's a matter of fact that it's funny how things turn out I left for the for boot camp on September 16th 1965 and it was a special day because it's what in the Mexican-American Community we know is and is he says the September Independence Day for the Mexican community and I was off to to boot camp. And so what happened?
21:35 Was that the one you're in boot camp that you you go to classification and classification. They tell you whether you can go to the school to that cool school and they told me that the drafting school is no longer available and I just got to it so upset and I raise my hand and I told him man up there on the stage. I said listen, you know, I joined the Navy the Navy promise me drafting school and everybody started laughing because they know that once you sign on the dotted line, they'll send you wherever they want to go. So that turned out okay though because I was able to get permission.
22:12 To receive my when I was in high school in the drafting class my rendering of an architectural a Lakeside Resort won first place and so my father and mother sent me that drawing plus letters of recommendation from the teacher an architect adjudged it and the principal and with that I was able to all of a sudden the drafting School became open, but they also offered me two years on the job training in San Diego what you had basic training in San Diego. It was a drought thing which is included and it will it was just because as it turns out I
22:54 I shouldn't have passed up on the schooling. I should have taken to school and I take him to school things might have turned a little bit different but I just jumped into years in sunny, California in California for those two years. It was fun to see my cousin in Los Angeles. My uncle is well who knows Angeles. So it was it was okay went bowling and did a lot of fun things. But my vacation ended I didn't wind up with two years in California after one year. I received unexpected orders to PCF crew training in Coronado, which is right across the bay from San Diego.
23:41 So that was a big shock for a big surprise.
23:44 And so
23:46 Kind of reading into that. How did you feel when he learned that you were headed to Vietnam? When did you find that out? And I don't feel it's interesting because when I got those orders to PCF crew training knowing you would the PCF crew training was and even the older enlisted men there took a while to find out that PCF stood for patrol craft fast and the chief. I remember clearly that the chief the oldest man in in the division came up to me and says son you're going to Vietnam. That's a combat Patrol boat. And at this point how many years were we involved in Vietnam Vietnam had already been going on for some time in the early sixties are involved begin with the support of the French first and eventually pump we when the French left and we took over and so it is already been on for a while.
24:46 Build up it wasn't build up. And so I'm guessing while you're there in California. Are you did you have like a constant communication with your parents back in San Antonio or was male has a phone call every once in awhile phone calls or mail, but in terms of my parents finding out about Vietnam, I didn't I I promised myself. I didn't want to break their hearts and let them know that I was going to war. That's the worst I could do for them and break their hearts and they would be able to take it. So I promised myself never to tell him so bad. I think you were in California the whole time. I still was I came home and then I told him basically I was I had orders to go to DCF training.
25:40 To go to PCF crane, which was Harbor Patrol boats. That's that's all I told him in the end. Isn't that I guess they they they bought it but I wasn't about to tell them what happened though is that I told him Harbor Patrol boats, but I didn't tell a Vietnam. I was at home for Christmas one day after training and grandma and grandpa had the nativity scene de nacimiento with a baby Jesus at Christmas time and we always knelt before then. I see meant to say prayers.
26:15 And it was during that time that my sisters with her and my parents were there and we were all meeting down in front of the nacimiento and all of a sudden. I just I was overwhelmed with with seen them and I was wondering I question myself. Will this be the last time I'll be able to do this with him. What if I died in Vietnam? And so I got like Mount Vesuvius. I just exploded emotionally mom and dad didn't know and my sister didn't know my father-in-law just went for a shot of tequila and my mother she went and grabbed some alcohol to rub on my neck and calm me down. And so it's it was pretty traumatic God. Do you remember the day you left for Vietnam?
27:05 Did they was?
27:35 Okay, the day I left for Vietnam was on Wednesday April 5th 1967. Remember clearly, my mother had purchased a dashboard size plastic Saint Anthony statue and she had father Matula is Sacred Heart Church blessed and she gave it to me is just as I was getting ready to turn around and go towards to board the plane and as matter fact, I still have that little plastic seen a thermostat on while it's travel far. Then it's probably far is going to affect it was an interesting gift and I believe firmly believe that they think he took care of me and I also
28:27 I'm so let's see. How long were you over there in Vietnam when you I was there for one year from April of 67 to May of 68 and why you scared and there would it look like I was more apprehensive when we landed. I looked out the window to see if I can see any bullets flying or see anybody else but no it was was a huge base. We landed in cam ranh Bay. I did get scared as we were heading towards a swift Boat bass. We left the base complex the the huge Basehor and cam ranh Bay and I was and we're going to the woods and we didn't see any more than three people and we thought we were in the jungle already and we were still in the base. It was a huge face, but I got scared there. What were the first days like there was the first few days. It was just like being on vacation.
29:20 We spent about 2 or 3 days on the beach cuz we were waiting for order to see what others football base. We're going to be sent to so we spent time on the beach or having playing volleyball and just doing all sorts of good things that Eddie I couldn't believe we were at we were at War I didn't even evoms. I didn't hear any machine guns. Nothing. I just saw the Swift boats come into port and go back out but that was said war was being fought somewhere else.
29:49 So what were the Swift boats and what were they assigned to do in Vietnam were 50 foot boats. They were combat boats. We had 20 50 caliber machine guns on the gun tub of the Potter House.
30:02 And then in the back, we had a mortar with a single 50 caliber machine gun, and so our duty as part of the operation Market time was to patrol the 1200 mile Coastline of Vietnam and to prevent enemy infiltration. What it happened was that it was believed that
30:34 All the supplies to the enemy Viet Cong and North Vietnam and South Vietnam War were being supplied by Roots Inland Inland roots and not from the ocean until a chance discovery of a electronic that was
31:04 Until the van rogh incident that was when a trawler the first trawler was spotted by a Medevac helicopter flying over this place called one role and that was happening for May 16th 1965 by late.
31:25 65 we had the first foot boats in Vietnam DCF 3 and PC at 4 and unfortunately pca4 on Fairview 14th 1966 wound up getting blown up by hidden mine in the shallow bay. The Vietcong were in hiding behind rocks and they had and they stuck a Viet Cong flag on a bamboo pole and when the boat came alongside to cut the flag like for a souvenir the Vietcong that needed to mine and for sweet potatoes were killed and the other two were seriously injured. So that was a traumatic time for operation Market time in our Swift boats. And this happened before I went to Vietnam. So all the stories we were told you in training and so that really just brought reality. I wasn't going to Vietnam wasn't going to be easy.
32:24 So once your patrols began, did you see Combat Action right away? No, it was very boring because what we do with your stop fishing Johnson and check them for that Jennifer keishin no action whatsoever. The only action that we finally came across was in July on July 15th 1967. We captured 120 foot steel hull trawler. I was attempting to bring in 90 tons of ammunition and supplies for the enemy fighting in Vietnam. And so that was a huge success for the Navy and for our particular Swift boat. We were part of the big operation, but we were the last ones with the last line of defense on the coast and we were fortunate enough to know that Coastline well enough that that we could find out what the trouble was and we went after it as a result. We were decorated by Premier key and vice president to they had brand a server.
33:24 Tony in Danang on the 19th of May and July 1967 and I was personally decorated with a Vietnamese Cross of gallantry by the premiere of Vietnam and the vice president also came along and congratulated all of us that were involved in the capture. So and that was a great victory for us.
33:48 When I know a year goes by so fast when you're specially in war of Vietnam, and I know for sure sometime you've you've been saying you've been writing the book which little by little we're seeing more details about
34:06 Now is this about your tour of Duty in Vietnam? Right when the book is called skunk Alpha and it was it's a code name of that trawler. That was a code name and that's what my book title is. Of course. The publisher has the final say as to what's the book title is when it's published and it's it's it's a memoir the book of skunk out. There will be a memoir. However, it also has a slant towards fiction because I use what is known as creative nonfiction instead of just having stories told over and over again and give him the details of the action is the one I use dialogue. I make the characters come alive and and use that to try to get the book a little bit more strength. And so that's basically what it is.
35:02 Hey any more details, you can give about the book. I may be something. I highlight of the book or I would have been the definitely the the trawler. That was one of the highlights as matter fact that what happened at my Gunner are are going to run top of the gun to the 2050s. He silenced all the weapons that were being used to attack Us in the process and the boatswain mate. That's a lead petty officer. That was his title and boats made for a first-class up Bobby Dunn Carver. And he in the engineman Ronald Reinhart were in the fan tail on the motor in a machine gun and Carver. We call them boats. That was his he went by boats. I went by being this particular man here. You was a road cross man from Louisiana. He was an old salt tattoo tattoos all over the birds on his chest and what not and he fired a white phosphorus.
36:02 Into the tallest Pilot House and forced it to run aground and so as a result of the trial was captured unfortunately on December 6th 1967. He was killed around the bend from who recaptured this crawler. And so I in a trip to Greece your mother's grandmother took us on a trip to Greece to her Island. I wish you lived at lemnos lemnos Greece and it was during that time were you and I were on the beach. I took you in his umbrella. You must have been profiting maybe 3-4 years old passive and we sat on the beach and you were playing with those sand crab.
36:50 Can I saw a fishing boat coming by and it looked very much like the fishing boats of Vietnam and the thought occurred to me that maybe Bolton made Carver. I've been having trouble taking showers and I couldn't close my eyes cuz I feel his presence all around me and that that I never shared that with anyone ever told one anyone anything about that. But all these haunting episodes with him in the shower. Just I was just so exhausted with that. And so I started thinking about Vietnam and what took place and I thought well maybe Carver's reaching out to me. Maybe he wants me to write the story about what we did The Saga of PCF 79 and through his effort how many lives were saved how many American and Free World Forest lives were saved by keeping 90 tons of ammunition supplies away from the enemy. And so that's what led me to write the book to you the other publisher yet.
37:47 I've got an agent and editor who is doing the cutting up of the book The at reducing at the to adequate words account. And I also have a renowned Vietnam War correspondent Joseph Galloway. He offered accepted my request for him to write the book forward. So as soon as it gets published, hopefully I can go and do book signings around Texas for sure San Antonio. Hopefully, I'm hopeful I'm hopeful that I can do a book launch in San Antonio when the book is Penny published.
38:28 That sounds good. Any other things you want it you want to do after the books over a fishing or something? I've got a kayak that's been sitting in my garage for too long of a time in the end. I hope to be doing some traveling after the book signings, and then you and I need to go fishing this well, and I'm looking forward to that that I just want to thank you for having this interview with me. I've always been intrigued by all your War Stories and thank you for your service to our country, and I am thankful that you can very able to share this interview with me today. I'm Braunfels heard and thank you for inviting me. That's another Sun. Thank you. Thank you.