Joe Anzaldua joined the military right out of high school in Texas because he believed it was the best avenue to provide for his future. He joined the U.S. Marines because he wanted a challenge and he believed the Marines would develop him on an individual basis.
The first day he arrived in Vietnam, the base was bombarded by 105 rockets. It was a memorable start.
Major Anzaldua earned four Bronze Stars with Valor and four Purple Hearts during his tour in Vietnam.
“For me, most of my time in Vietnam was watching my friends be killed,” he said. “At one time I was the only scout left.”
He was supposed to be sent out of the war zone after his second Purple Heart and to be sent stateside after the third but was told he was needed in Vietnam because of his language skills. He could speak Vietnamese. He was so proficient that he was inducted into the Department of Defense Language Institute Hall of Fame.
Anzaldua had only 11 days left in Vietnam when was captured while providing radio artillery and mortar support for South Vietnamese troops. He was marched three months to a jungle compound near Laos where he survived on a half of a can of milk and a handful of rice per day. Fourteen of the 26 prisoners perished in the jungle camp.
The dozen survivors were transferred to another prison in an old warehouse where he was beaten and tortured. He spent more than five months in solitary confinement. Eventually, he went to what was known the Hanoi Hilton.
When he was released after 3 ½ years of incarceration, he was hospitalized for four months.
Following the war, Anzaldua reenlisted and eventually served 25 years in the U.S. Marine Corps. He now lives in Coats.