The following is the third in a series of weekly feature stories on West Side residents who served in the armed forces. Crows Landing resident John Machado, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran, is featured. The series will continue through Veterans Day.
CROWS LANDING - Military memories forged decades ago in the jungles of Vietnam, and the traits instilled as a member of the United States Marine Corps, remain strong decades later for rural Crows Landing resident John Machado.
So, too, do the emotional scars of not only war but coming home to a nation which all too often met its military personnel returning from Vietnam with scorn rather than appreciation.
Machado is a native West Sider, born at the West Side Community Hospital and advancing through local schools before graduating Orestimba High in 1961.
Machado enlisted in the Marines in 1964, embarking on a chapter in his life which left him forever changed yet deeply proud of his service and with a more profound sense of patriotism.
After completing basic training in San Diego, Machado shipped out in 1965 with orders to go to Okinawa.
Once there, however, members of his unit were ordered to take everything out of their packs other than specified items.....and told that they were going on to Vietnam.
Their unit, which was comprised of amphibious armored vehicles, had landed in Chu Lai and was en route to camp when they first drew fire.
“That was where I first experienced being shot at,” Machado related. “It was dusk, and all at once we started to get fire. We didn’t have our rifles, just our sea bags.”
After three months in Chu Lai, Machado said, the unit was moved to Danang. There, they were assigned to a similar vehicle - but one armed with a 105-millimeter howitzer.
Machado, who became crew chief for the vehicle, took care of the howitzer.
“I loaded it, I cleaned it,” he explained. The process included placing delicate fuses in the 80-pound shells, setting them to detonate either in mid-air or when they hit the ground.
The vehicles were well-suited for Vietnam because of their amphibious capability.
Machado recalled transporting personnel across or down rivers, and using the howitzer to provide them support. The unit also went to the aid of personnel in distress, and provided support with fire missions.
The howitzer, Machado noted, could be used at distances ranging from 50 yards to five miles.
In Vietnam, Machado reflected, he witnessed both the horrors of war and a lifestyle totally foreign to that of his homeland.
“It was interesting and terrible to see how they lived and what they had to do,” he explained. “I don’t know how they lived.”
He thought often of home, Machado shared, but without knowing if he would ever see it again.
“I was one of those guys who got a ‘Dear John’ letter. That didn’t seem to affect me much....I had it in my mind that I might not make it home, so why get attached to someone who might have to go through mourning,” Machado explained.
Machado did come home, after serving 15 months in Vietnam, and left the Marines in 1968.
He eventually married a high school sweetheart, Georgette Carvalho, and they raised a family as Machado worked in various fields.
The memory of his treatment upon returning home, however, remains deeply etched in his mind.
“The looks you got going down the street in town, you just felt that people hated you,” Machado said. “People called it a conflict, to me it was a war. There were bullets flying.
“I didn’t do anything wrong,” said Machado, who advanced to the rank of sergeant while in Vietnam. “I did what I had to do. To me, this was my job. You had your commands, and if you wanted to keep your stripes you obeyed your orders.”
The apologies of later years were of little solace.
“The hurt is still there,” he told Mattos Newspapers recently.
He also wonders why he came home and others did not.
A visit to the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C., was particularly powerful.
“I broke down,” Machado reflected. “I don’t remember names, but I know that I have seen some of these guys (whose names are on the memorial). We hauled them. We talked.”
Machado finds some comfort in wearing his dog tags, and in being part of the Marine Corps family.
He is a member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars and part of the local honor guard which provides military honors at the funerals of veterans.
Machado, however, no longer marches in parades with his fellow veterans.
“I don’t like people who don’t respect the flag,” he explained. “People will not stand up (for the flag). I get so mad and irritated that I just quit marching.”
Serving, he said, only further ingrained his patriotism and respect for the flag.
“It is drilled into you as a Marine....you are proud of what you are doing, and you respect that flag,” Machado concluded.