Veterans Day is dedicated to American veterans of all wars. Cities and communities will vocalize their support through patriotic speeches and lustrous parades. Somber and sincere, for retired Naval Petty Officer Second Class Sergio Flores, 69, the day is about quiet reflection, heartrending gratitude, and bittersweet honor.
Twenty-seven years ago, his answers about being a Vietnam and Gulf War veteran would have been given more angrily and defensive. Flores has only recently found some peace, which he credits his loving wife for guidance.
More than 50 Landing Ship Tanks served in Vietnam, with a good percentage of them in direct support of Mobile Riverine Force TF-117. Flores’ team earned four Battle Stars. He credits Vietnam in preparing him for combat, and survival, in the Gulf War.
“I have six rows of ribbons from my career in the Navy. Including the Silver Star,” Flores said from his modest trailer home in central California. Over the years, Flores would not talk about his time serving in war because it would anger him. He recalls returning from Vietnam and being in shock at the hatred he endured from the public and businesses. It was that hatred that pushed him to return to serve two additional combat tours in the war-torn country. “At least there, I knew who my enemy was,” he said.
War life was all about survival. “It was dangerous,” Flores said about the working conditions on ships and fighting an opium-fueled enemy on land. All crews were taught safety first for any condition or situation in the military, however, when in war, sometimes safety of others is more important than yourself. In military, he said, brothers took care of each other and safety procedures were followed as ordered.
He enjoyed traveling and experiencing life in foreign countries. It was seeing the poor and helpless and how those people were treated in their own country that humbled Flores. ”Comparing the living standards of other countries to our USA, we have nothing to complain about,” he said.
After having served for 22 years, Flores recalls feeling a great sense of sadness on his last day. He was no longer going to be doing what he was trained to do, and he would miss his shipmates with whom he was close. “I was 19 when I joined and had to adapt to a completely different way of living, it's called Military Life, and if it wasn't in the blue jacket manual, it doesn't exist. I never had to say "yes sir or no sir" until I joined the Navy,” he said.
According to Flores, though he is no longer officially in the military, he will always feel that camaraderie and sense of duty. “I will be on duty until I die or I am released from my oath,” he said.
In honor of Veterans Day, Graphic Products shares Sergio Flores’ story in appreciation of his service as well as that of all veterans of our United States military.
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