Walking slowly through his well-kept Lodi home on Friday afternoon, 74-year-old Benjamin Galindo Sr. sat down at a dining room table covered with newspaper clippings, citations for medals and other mementos from his time in the United States Marine Corps.
“It was an experience I’ll never forget,” Galindo said of his service during the Vietnam War.
Born in Big Springs, Texas, on Feb. 1, 1944, Galindo and his family moved to Lodi in 1948, where he spent most of his childhood before joining the Marines at the age of 17 on Jan. 18, 1963.
“I always wanted to join the Marine Corps. I played war a lot as a kid,” Galindo said. “That’s what I wanted to do, so that’s what I went and did.”
After he was honorably discharged, Galindo had children with his wife Sofia, who he married in 1972, and held numerous jobs including collecting garbage for the Lodi Sanitary Company and working for Lodi Unified School District as an attendance counselor.
“That’s short for ‘truant officer,’” Galindo said. “I chased a lot of children back to school.”
Galindo also received his bachelor’s degree in Christian education from Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas in 1978, he said, and from 1981 to 1987 he and his wife moved to Alaska where they served as missionaries.
Galindo now owns J&J Bookkeeping in Stockton, where he provides income tax services, and for the past 10 years he and his wife have traveled to Central America to help build churches.
He’s led a good and productive life by all accounts, but the people who encounter Galindo on a daily basis likely have no idea the hero that is among them.
During his time as an infantryman in the Marines, Galindo served two tours of duty in Vietnam between 1965 and 1972, he said, eventually reaching the rank of sergeant. During his service, Galindo received two Purple Hearts, one Silver Star and the Navy Commendation Medal, among others.
Galindo’s first tour began April 12, 1965, when he and his fellow Marines landed on Red Beach in Da Nang, Vietnam.
“(The boats) came up to the beach and dropped the gates and they said ‘you gotta go,’” Galindo said. “We had all our sea bags and everything with us.”
Before his first tour ended in November 1965, Galindo saw combat in the Shaw Valley outside of Da Nang, he said, where his actions saved the lives of his fellow Marines. Leading a counterattack against overwhelming enemy forces earned Galindo his Silver Star and first Purple Heart.
“They attacked us early in the morning, it was the 30th of October. It had been raining that night,” Galindo said. “They snuck up on us and tried to overrun us. But they didn’t.”
Galindo was on the front lines when the North Vietnamese Army attacked in “human waves,” he said, which he and his comrades tried to repel before running out of ammunition, forcing them to fall back to their secondary position.
“That’s when the rockets came,” Galindo said.
Although he was struck in his left hand and his head with shrapnel, Galindo said he was able to pull some of his fellow Marines to the safety of awaiting helicopters before borrowing a rifle to replace the one he had dropped.
Instead of evacuating with the other wounded Marines, Galindo rallied his comrades for a counterattack against overwhelming enemy forces — between 300 and 400, according to his Silver Star citation.
“There were maybe four or five of us,” Galindo said. “We ran, shouted and did our job. We were successful.”
Galindo’s second tour lasted from 1970 to 1971, he said, during which time his actions earned him the Navy Commendation Medal.
According to his Navy Commendation citation, Galindo participated in over 1,000 combat patrols and ambushes and helped build homes, a school and a hospital known as a dispensary.
“It was a different kind of tour, but I was glad to help,” Galindo said. “It was a good experience, very little hostility on that tour.”
Although he received numerous medals in recognition of his service, Galindo said he and his fellow Vietnam veterans often do not receive the same recognition as veterans of other wars due to how unpopular the Vietnam War was with American civilians.
“There were a lot of protests about it. It’s pretty sad, but we were there,” Galindo said with tears in his eyes. “I think the sad part about that is we came back, but people didn’t accept us.”
Although he has led a long fulfilling life since his time in the Marines — with his 75th birthday fast approaching — Galindo still remembers the men he fought alongside and does what he can to support his fellow veterans.
“I’m very fortunate not to have the problems other veterans have, so I support the veterans. All the veterans,” Galindo said. “I’m very proud to be a Marine.”