PETTY OFFICER THIRD CLASS JOSE ARMANDO GODINEZ
Jose Armando Godinez is an American vet who served in the Vietnam War between 1967-1970. Sitting in his hometown of Phoenix Arizona at the American Legion, he has proven that he’s come a long way from a kid with few choices in his youth, to a man with a wonderful life story to tell.
He grew up in a city where Hispanics didn’t have many options after high school. “There really was no future here after high school, we were told to choose labor type of work because most white kids went to college so the military was a great escape for us,” said Godinez. And at the tender age of 17, he made a decision that impacted the rest of his life. “I joined when I was 17 years old and my dad had to co-sign for me because I was not 18 years old yet.”
Godinez was born into a large family in Phoenix, Arizona. His father came here from Michoacan, Mexico when he was just a year old and subsequently raised his family here. Many of Godinez’s siblings shared his same experiences. “(My father) had eight kids; three girls and five boys and all the boys served in the service except for the oldest.” Godinez also added, “My brother wanted to be a pilot and wanted to join the Air Force and I beat him to the punch and joined the US Navy first, sometime later he did join the US Army.”
Godinez explains that his initial intentions were never to go to Vietnam. Being stuck doing a job he disliked and then being reassured by a friend that Vietnam was “not that bad” led him to sign up for volunteer work there. “After boot-camp I was sent on a destroyer and I believed I was going to do administrative work and soon I was mopping the ship and chipping paint and did that for two years and I wanted to get out of there. The way out was Vietnam, an idea I was not too excited about.”
He explains how Vietnam changed him. He says what happened to him there, will forever stay with him. “I was a happy go lucky guy before I went over there,” adds Godinez.
Without going into very much description, his few words express a lot from his experience. “I just don’t go into detail about those moments on the battlefield very often. To this day when I hear the music of Credence Clearwater Revival, Led Zeppelin, Santana or Motown songs, it puts me right back in the jungle. It identifies me and keeps me sane; I don’t want to ever forget what they did to me.”
“On my first week out on patrol in the rivers, my buddy got hit with a rocket in the head and killed him. Things just got worse from there on,” says Godinez. He lets us in on just a few of his experiences; just enough to barely understand the surface of what he’s been through.
“This one guy was swimming away so I went after him, when I finally caught up with him on shore he was kind of laying on his back behind a small palm tree and he was badly wounded.” As Godinez tells the harrowing story of his “first confirmed kill,” he describes the emotional guilt that went with it. “To this day every December, I remember this guy because I had opened his wallet and saw the picture of his wife and kid. He was just a human being doing his job. It was unfortunate that day, but it still bothers me.”
“It is a weird feeling when you see the enemy coming down the river and you have that moment, you don’t say anything out loud but you hope the person surrenders so you won’t have to take their life and most of the time that is not the outcome,” says Godinez as he breaks down crying.
Aside from his feelings toward ‘the enemy,’ Godinez says it was rare to find Hispanics in his particular field. “In the US Navy there were not too many Chicanos; I noticed them more in the Army and Marines.”
Still this didn’t change his pride in being Mexican and his hope for future generations. “My culture is also very important to me, I am also very proud to be Mexican, our values are critical and we must teach our kids Spanish.”
He recalls often yearning for a home-cooked meal. “I remember when my Aunt asked me what I wanted her to send me from back home and I thought, pan de huevo. But it would probably be hard by the time it reached me so I asked her to send me some Kool-Aid packages so I can have something to drink.”
THIS IS WHAT A JUNGLE LOOKS LIKE AFTER BEING SPRAYED WITH AGENT ORANGE AND OUR BROTHERS SERVING IN COMBAT WALKED THROUGH THIS WHILE BREATHING THE POISION IN THE AIR
Godinez recalls the Vietnamese people having mixed feelings towards their stay, which particularly affected the Vietnamese veterans. But still, coming home for him was an especially happy time. “I feel that a lot of people wanted us there and a lot of people didn’t want us over there so there was this mixed feeling about the protests going on that affected the Vietnam veterans. We were looking at the San Francisco Bay and he (the pilot) told us, “welcome home guys,” there was not one dry eye on that plane.”
Godinez’s return was also a special one for his family. At the time of his arrival, Godinez still had two brothers in Vietnam and the other in Germany, so his father expressed how happy he was to see him home again. “We started looking at all the pictures; he had like a shrine for all his kids. He really missed us and prayed a lot for us, this was his way to be connected to us.”
But his homecoming wasn’t always picture-perfect. He explains how his attitude changed to be less than desirable. “When I returned from Vietnam is when I began encountering even more problems. I have a very short temper now; I lost my mind over there! When I got back I would get into so many fights, from a happy go lucky guy to this angry guy."
However, things haven’t stayed negative for Godinez. Once returning from Vietnam, he continued his schooling through his G.I. Bill, settled down, got married and had a family, something he’s very proud of.
“I wanted to be a teacher, but I was convinced to get into Construction Engineering because of the poor salary of being a teacher. I was raising a family already and I was doing some brick work and I decided I would do the best I could in that field. I had my own construction company and I was able to teach math in the evenings to a group of mostly Hispanic kids.”
“I have three kids; all boys and my oldest joined the military and was Army Airborne luckily he never saw combat, he calls me when there is a special military program on TV, we all bond differently. My second to the oldest, we hunt and fish and my other one is into classic cars and stuff like that,” adds Godinez.
These days, Godinez spends his days doing fun activities like becoming part of the American Legion in his hometown of Phoenix, Arizona and frequently helping the less fortunate. “I belong to the motorcycle group and they are a great group of guys, it is the best thing I have done in my life, we ride together and we wear our patches from the Squadrons that we served under in Vietnam.”
“Sometimes we wear our medals at special occasions, I received two medals for valor and I am very proud of them. We love to help minorities many with mental problems, that’s what my life is all about now, it’s all about helping others,” says Godinez.
It’s like a story from a movie. Jose Godinez grew up as an underprivileged youth and joined the U.S. Navy; survived the Vietnam War that easily engulfed 58,000 U.S. soldiers; returned only to encounter problems at home; but later realized his opportunities and has since created a wonderful, loving life for himself and his family.
He can give back to his community through his changed ways and can rest knowing his life has been a very fulfilling one. “Now I can sleep pretty sound with age and new friends here at the Legion. Things are OK right now.”
— Story by: Jessica De La Cruz - Interview by: Alfredo Perez
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