Pasqual Gutierrez was a 20-year-old staff sergeant a self-described instant officer or "shake 'n' bake" when he first arrived in Vietnam in the late 1960s. Gutierrez was a member of Troop A, a unit in the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment and among the 150 men bound together by the events that occurred in the thick of the Vietnam jungle on March 26, 1970.
The Los Angeles resident is also among the estimated three million Americans who served in the Vietnam War.
In recognition of a heroic rescue mission that the unit undertook, Gutierrez and the rest of the 11th ACR, an Army unit based at Fort Irwin, will be awarded the Presidential Unit Citation the highest honor that a group of soldiers can be awarded this fall in October or November, according to John Poindexter, who was captain of Troop A during the Vietnam War. Talks are currently underway about honoring the veterans as well as the current Fort Irwin 11th ACR soldiers in a ceremony in the East Room of the White House, Poindexter noted.
While the presidential award honors the 11th ACR, Gutierrez said he hopes the award will highlight the service of an entire generation of Vietnam veterans caught up in an unpopular war, in a politically tumultuous time.
"It's like a stain on America in some respects ... in the minds of some people," Gutierrez said.
"Maybe we need this reminder and setting the records straight that the Vietnam War veteran was a true warrior," he said. "They didn't want to be there. No one wanted to be there. But we were there."
At 26 years old, Poindexter volunteered his unit, a group of about 150 men who had been in Vietnam for several months and under heavy enemy fire, to perform a daring task: to rescue 100 U.S. soldiers who had been captured by the Vietnamese.
The troop had to bust through about two-and-a-half miles of jungle, according to Poindexter.
"Every kilometer, I expected an ambush I expected a minefield," Poindexter said.
As they neared the captured soldiers, the Vietnamese forces rained rifle fire and rocket-propelled grenades on the unit. The soldiers also discovered that the enemy outnumbered them three to one, Poindexter recalled.
Despite the odds stacked against them, Poindexter's unit rescued the captured U.S. soldiers.
At least 66 U.S. soldiers were killed during the mission, Poindexter noted. The official enemy casualty count was 88.
Craig Wright, a retired teacher from Los Angeles who served as a medic in Poindexter's unit, said he hasn't talked much about his battlefield experience until recently when his found out his unit was going to be honored.
"Nobody talked about Vietnam. ... I never talked about it. We just kind of dropped it," Wright said, echoing a common response among Vietnam veterans.
The recognition was a long time in coming, said Wright, noting that it would be exciting to attend a ceremony where President Barack Obama would confer the honor as commander-in-chief.
Gutierrez credited Poindexter with championing the 11th ACR's rescue mission and finally getting the sacrifice of one of the many unnamed battles in Vietnam honored.
"This is just a delay in history," he said.
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