By: RD Foster
Gilbert Garza, McKinney High School Class of 1966

Gilbert Garza, McKinney High School Class of 1966

 

In May of 1969, after serving as a U.S. Marine in Okinawa, the Philippine Islands and Vietnam, I was more than happy to be coming home to McKinney. My parents picked me up at Love Field and brought me back to our house on Erwin Place, where my sister and my Aunt Lilly welcomed me home. In a short while, my old friend Gilbert Garza stopped by. Gilbert and I had been close friends since the sixth grade at East Ward. Back then we had been serious explorers, along with another buddy, Forest Smith, spending many summer and autumn days and nights reconnoitering the woods along East Fork Creek or the railroad track for miles in each direction. All three of us would graduate from McKinney High School in the class of 1966, eventually join the Marine Corps and serve in Vietnam.

Gilbert’s last duty station had been the U.S. Naval Hospital in Corpus Christi, Texas, where he had been treated and was recovering from wounds sustained in battle. Having been a Marine rifleman, Gilbert had been wounded on three separate occasions, earning him three Purple Heart Medals and a Bronze Star for bravery in combat.

Having been in Asia for almost two years I was anxious to see some of my old friends and tell them about all the exciting and unbelievable sights and adventures I had experienced. My favorite books throughout junior high and high school had been books like Guadalcanal Diary, Battle Cry and The Green Berets, and now I had my own stories to tell. However, as we drove around the familiar streets of McKinney in his car, Gilbert shot that notion down in very short order. “Don’t bother to talk about the Nam, nobody wants to hear it,” he told me. And through the coming months and years I found out that he was absolutely correct.

Late that same night as we sat in a corner booth in a bar in Dallas, we were both 21 years old now, he told me a story that he had never shared with anyone. On the night he had suffered his third wound, his unit was dug in on a hill, it was raining hard, and they were under attack by an overwhelming enemy force. In the midst of all that terror, chaos and confusion, he said in the flashes of light from the ongoing battle he caught a glimpse of something that just didn’t seem right. As the battle progressed he saw what it was very clearly. It was the devil, coming up that hill.

One of the bunkers on display at The Vietnam Syndrome exhibit at the Collin County Historical Society & Museum.

One of the bunkers on display at The Vietnam Syndrome exhibit at the Collin County Historical Society & Museum.

 

I did say we were in a bar, and we were drinking beer, shots of tequila, and we were probably slurring our words, but Gilbert was totally serious; one Marine to another. And I could see it in his eyes; he truly believed he had seen the devil that night.

As the years went by, Gilbert and I didn’t see each other very often, both of us having our own families and lives to live. I never repeated that story and I don’t know if he did or not. By then it had sort of faded in my mind, such as a dream that eventually disappears completely. In June of 1987, 18 years after that night, I received a phone call, and it wasn’t good news. After years of being confined to a wheelchair, my friend Gilbert Garza, a great American hero, had taken his own life. In just a matter of minutes that story came back to me. I picked up my guitar and that night, with the companionship of beer and tequila, I wrote that story in a song. In 1997 I included the song on my first CD. It is called “When I Fight the Devil.”

In the early 1960s, the area south and east of Pecan Grove Cemetery in McKinney was covered in thick woods, known by the local kids as Casket Woods. Gilbert and Forest and I used to explore those woods. That’s where Gilbert is buried. I’m glad he’s in a place that I know he loved.

"When I Fight the Devil"

By R.D. Foster (1987)

They came charging up that hill late at night.
They were dying on my left and on my right.
In that living hell I heard my name,
Standing there in the rain,
The devil locked in my sites,
I had the devil locked in my sites.

Gilbert Garza's tombstone at Pecan Grove Cemetery in McKinney.

Gilbert Garza's tombstone at Pecan Grove Cemetery in McKinney.

 

He fired at me with blood from his eyes.
I fired right back I knew he wouldn’t die.
He came for me, I said not yet,
Stood my ground and with a fixed bayonet,
I met the devil in hand-to-hand that night.
I met the devil in hand-to-hand that night.

We battled in the rain.
I hardly felt the pain.
Like mad dogs in the mud.
We tasted blood.
Fight like the devil when I fight the devil at night.

Now sometimes he still comes around at night.
But he knows I won’t go without a fight.
In that living hell he calls my name,
Standing there in the rain,
The devil locked in my sites,
I meet the devil in hand-to-hand at night,
Fight like the devil when I fight the devil at night.
Fight like the devil when I fight the devil at night.