Tribute To A Great American Hero – A Common Man

On Thursday August 10, 2023, I lost my hero, my Dad, Julio Nogueira.  Dad was 93 1/2.  He was less than four months from his 94th birthday.  It has seemed like all he’s talked about for the last six years is my Mom, Lilia, and now God has called him home to be reunited with her.  There are so many things I could say about Dad.  He was the hardest working, quietest, kindest, gentlest, happiest jokester of a man I’ve ever known, yet I know that he was also the toughest man I’ll ever meet.


He had to be tough to survive his childhood.  Being born at the start of the Great Depression in 1929 into a poor family in Robstown, Texas, wasn’t easy so he had to grow up quickly. Dad lost his own father when Dad was just 3 years old.  He literally had to feed chickens and milk the family cow before going to school, most days without eating breakfast.


Then his new stepfather came into his life, and he was no help.  He would frequently administer beatings.  Dad quit high school to make money for the family.  He would give his paychecks to his mom.  When he joined the Army, he would send half his paycheck to his mom, until my Mom put a stop to that.  As a teenager, Dad worked as a lifeguard, and he actually saved a young girl from drowning.  A sign of things to come as he continued to save lives later in life.  His rough early life caused him to run away from home several times, taking him hitchhiking from Texas to California to try to join the Army in early 1945 at age 15.  He wanted to fight in WWII.


However, he was too young, and they sent him home.  He couldn’t fool them.  Dad was never a good liar.  He attempted several more times after that until finally in 1947 the Army accepted him when his mother signed off on his enlistment at age 17.


Dad joined the airborne infantry and fought in the Korean War with the 187th Airborne Regimental Combat Team (“Rakkasans,” which loosely translates from Japanese to “falling umbrella.”).  The 187th conducted the army’s first combat jumps in the Korean War in 1950 and my Dad was right there.  After fighting there for nearly three years, he came home and joined a fledgling new unit called the Special Forces, better known as the Green Berets.  Back then you had to have combat experience to join, and Dad had plenty of that in Korea.  Dad sure was lucky.  Being one of the first Green Berets, he loved it and the Army, and he loved the Special Forces.  He also loved my Mom.  They met and he was stricken by Cupid.  They married almost immediately thereafter.  Their marriage lasted nearly 64 years.  Who said there’s no such thing as love at first sight?  Through many ups and downs, they made it work.


Dad fought in combat tours in Korea, Laos, Vietnam, and the Dominican Republic, where he was captured and almost mistakenly shot as a communist spy.  He ended up with over 500 airborne jumps in his 21-year career, several of them being combat jumps, including HALO (high altitude low opening) and SCUBA jumps into water.  He was a master parachutist, glider qualified, SCUBA qualified and qualified in underwater demolition.  He also certified at the Army’s Jungle Warfare Survival School in Panama.  He even traveled around the country conducting parachute jump demonstrations before the Army formally created the Golden Knights Parachute Team.  He was very lucky never to have been injured.  In fact, I remember him telling me that he never got sick the whole time he was in the Army.  He never missed a day.  He was never on sick call and he never even took an aspirin for a headache because he said he never had a headache until after he left the Army.  He was lucky and he was tough.


I just recently found out that Dad was awarded the Army Commendation Medal with V device for valor in Vietnam in a friendly fire nighttime ambush incident.  During my time in the Army, they awarded Army Commendation Medals like they were giving away candy, but not back then.  The citation read that Dad ran up and down the lines to halt a mistaken ambush between two American units.  After saving numerous lives by exposing himself to friendly fire, he then continued to expose himself to Viet Cong fire in his compromised position by waving in a chopper, using a flashlight, to evacuate the wounded.  My Dad was brave and oh so lucky.  He never mentioned this incident or award to us.  We discovered it last week going through his military papers.


Dad never talked much about his military service, but he loved the Army and fighting for his country, so much so that he volunteered for a second tour of duty in Vietnam after he returned from his 1966 tour, that’s when my Mom put her foot down.  I remember when Dad came home from his tour in Vietnam.  We were in what we called the Pink House, a house here in San Antonio Dad bought for my Mom and us, in case he didn’t make it back from Vietnam.  It was in the middle of the night and my brothers and me were sound asleep in our bunk bed.  The light came on waking us up and I was so happy to have him kiss me with that scruffy five-o’clock-shadowed face.  He was lucky to be home and we were lucky to have him home.


Anyway, with six kids to raise, Mom had said it was either Vietnam or the family.  Dad had to make a decision.  She said she wouldn’t be there when he got back, if he got back.  Since Dad couldn’t fight any more, he couldn’t do want he was trained to do, what he loved doing, he decided to retire and hang up his beloved Green Beret.  His Army luck had finally run out.  Better for it to run out in San Antonio than in some forgotten and unknown rice patty in Vietnam.


Dad was always a loving husband and father.  He had movie star good looks, but he was humble.  In fact, my sisters tell me they had girlfriends who used to come over to the house just to ogle my Dad.  Yes, they came over pretending to do homework just to check out my Dad.  I’m really not sure how he managed to do it, but he was genuinely always in a good mood and always smiling and joking nonstop.  Even after all the combat he experienced, he was at heart a peaceful, joyful man.  My wife Joan has known him since we first started dating back in 1990 and she honestly can’t remember ever seeing him angry about anything, ever (and with his rough and tumble life, he had plenty to be angry about).  They don’t call his “The Greatest Generation” for nothing.  He was such a good man.  A man of courage and integrity.  I strive to be just half the man he was.  If I could be a quarter of him, I’d be very happy.


I tried to follow in his footsteps by joining the Army at 17, but I didn’t have to run away from my loving home to do it.  Growing up, I got a few spankings along the way, but not beatings and I didn’t have to feed chickens and a cow before school.  And I never went to school without a good breakfast, although Mom did like to mix the cereal boxes together.  At one point, there were eight of us, my parents and six kids, living in a two bedroom trailer in Fayetteville, North Carolina, but we never went hungry.  My Dad provided.


However, I do remember days when I heard those dreaded words that would strike fear in my heart, when my Mom would say, “You just wait until your father gets home!”  That would ruin my day.  Dad didn’t spank me very often.  (Well, being a near perfect child, he really didn’t have much reason to).  I can still remember the last time Dad spanked me.  I must have been about ten years old, give or take.  I always cried when he did, but this last time I didn’t.  Afterwards, we just looked at each other and he walked away kind of frustrated and surprised that I didn’t cry, but I could tell he was also relieved knowing he wouldn’t have to do that again.  He just didn’t like doing that.


Dad was a quiet man, like many from his generation.  He wasn’t one to say, “I love you”.  Instead, he showed that he loved you.  I remember when I accepted Christ at age 13 and then got baptized.  Afterward, Dad hugged me and told me he was proud of me.  I knew what he really meant was that he loved me.  I’m proud of You, Dad.


With all the wars my Dad fought in, his biggest battle was being without my Mom for six years.  He lost that battle Thursday the 10th, but lucked out and won the war to see her again.  I’m truly so proud of him.  I’m honored that God allowed me to be his son for the last 64 years.  I didn’t deserve that, but God is generous and loving.


I love you, Dad.  I miss you more than I can say.  But I’m content, and even overjoyed to know that I’ll see you and Mom again someday.


I want to thank two West Point classmate friends of mine, Lee Kolbo and Bill Merrill, for showing up unexpectedly all the way from Nebraska and Georgia to honor Dad, who they never met.  They are both Army retirees with distinguished careers of their own.  It is during tough times like this that you find out who your friends are.  Thanks, guys.


I also want to publicly thank my brothers and sisters for their past few years of love and dedication to caring for my Dad.


Thanks to my big sister Jeanette, for being so motherly in visiting and caring about Dad’s wellbeing.


Thanks to my big, yet little sister Cindi for your frequent visits to Dad from South Carolina.  Dad so loved and looked forward to your weekly Sunday night phone calls.


Thanks to my big brother, Daniel, for assisting with getting Dad to and from his many appointments the last couple of years, many of them doctor appointments.  The only one I have a question about is taking him to his DMV appointment last year to renew his driver’s license.  I don’t understand that one.


Thanks to my little brother Oscar, who sometimes goes by the alias Carlos, for your loving concern for Dad and frequent trips from Fort Worth to visit him.


And I want to thank my lovely wife, Joan, for standing by me these last few days when I was sad, when I was angry, when I was unreasonable, when I needed her support the most.  I love you.


I guess GEN George S. Patton said it best when talking about the many good men lost in battle in WWII, when he said “It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died. Rather we should thank God such men lived.”


Dad, I thank God that you lived.



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