Aloha veteran proud to share Vietnam experience at traveling memorial exhibit

by: JAIME VALDEZ - Vietnam veteran Al Herrera will speak at closing ceremonies of the traveling Vietnam Memorial Wall on Monday at Skyline cemetery.It was Aug. 12, 1969, on a hillside near the Cambodian border in Loc Nanh, Vietnam, when U.S. Army 1st Sgt. Al Herrera found himself under intense enemy fire.

Hit by shrapnel under his right arm, chest, abdomen and legs, the veteran recalls being too concerned about the welfare of his fellow Charlie Company soldiers to be properly frightened.

“I got behind a tree with bullets flying by my head. It was the most scared I’ve ever been,” he admits. “But I was on my own. I knew no one was going to help me. I wasn’t going to stay there no matter what. I was ducking when I could. Other than that, I wasn’t scared because there was so much to do.”

Eventually leading his troops to an evacuation zone, Herrera finally succumbed to blood loss and shock and was flown by helicopter to a military hospital.

Post-Veterans Day event

What: Closing ceremonies for final Oregon visit of the Dignity Memorial Vietnam Wall

Where: Skyline Memorial Gardens, 4101 S.W. Skyline Blvd., Portland

When: Monday, Nov. 12, 2 p.m.

More information: Visit, or call Kimberly Morley at 503-292-6611

The Washington County resident received a Purple Heart at the time for his heroism under fire. Just a year ago, he was invited to Gov. John Kitzhaber’s office to receive a belated Silver Star award. And his honors continue as Herrera was invited to speak on Monday, Nov. 12, at 2 p.m. at closing ceremonies for the traveling Dignity Memorial Vietnam Wall at Skyline Memorial Gardens, 4101 S.W. Skyline Blvd., Portland.

A three-quarter-scale replica of the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C, the traveling wall will be in the Portland area for several Veterans Day events today (Thursday) through Monday. Inscribed on the wall are the names of more than 58,000 soldiers who died or remain missing in the Vietnam War, a conflict that spans the 1950s to the ’70s.

Honoring service

Herrera, 79, who moved to the Beaverton-Aloha area from San Francisco in 1995, says he likes the idea of participating in any event connected to the memorial wall. The memorial contains the names of several fallen soldiers from Herrera’s Bandido Charlie Company of the U.S. Army 16th Infantry Regiment.

“I feel honored to speak at the ceremony,” he says. “I’m a Vietnam veteran, so that wall means as much to me as anyone. I have about 25 men on that wall. It’s for those men I’m going to be there.”

Drafted in June 1955 in the aftermath of the Korean War, Herrera learned to like aspects of military life. He was sent to language school in Turkey and got involved with intelligence operations. In 1966, as the Vietnam conflict was rapidly escalating, Herrera left his base at Fort Gordon, Ga., for language training at San Francisco’s Presidio Army base before heading to Southeast Asia.

Aware of the growing controversies back home surrounding Vietnam and the draft, Herrera didn’t much question his mission.

“They say you go, and you go,” he said. “I was there to do a job and left.”

Although Herrera remains pragmatic about his role in Vietnam, he is calmly philosophical on the topic of politically based warfare.

“War in general is not a good thing,” he says. “Nobody likes it. Only certain people suffer — the ones that fight and their families. Politicians and corporate chiefs, they don’t suffer. It has no effect on them whatsoever. They use it as a tool to advance their careers. That’s my feelings.”

Staying in touch

When bullets stopped flying, however, Herrera continued to find fulfillment in military life. He retired from the U.S. Army in October 1976 while stationed at the Presidio. Herrera went on to work for the U.S. Postal Service and finally in the private sector with Consolidated Freightways.

Now happily retired and living with Betty, his third wife, in their home west of Aloha, Herrera stays involved with veterans’ organizations and attends regular reunions with the survivors of the Bandido Charlie Company.

“We’ve all become family,” he says of his fellow vets. “We all relate the same way, to the war and our families and everything. Some who went over there and had not had a shot fired at them can’t go through the same emotional feelings we do.”

Betty Herrera, Al’s wife of 16 years, says she’s thrilled her husband is involved with the traveling memorial wall.

“I think it’s been very helpful for many soldiers, Marines, all of them, especially those not able to go to the one in (Washington) D.C.,” she says. “When we were there, when people go to the wall, it’s like going to church.”

Aware of growing numbers of Baby Boomers who falsely, but proudly, claim to have fought in Vietnam, Herrera believes the perception of the devastating conflict continues to evolve.

“Everyone wants to be a Vietnam veteran,” he says. “I don’t know why. The Vietnam War isn’t such an enigma anymore.”

Not that he’ll ever forget how close it came to costing him his life.

“I left a little bit of blood back there,” he says.

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