Reminders of son's death always near
Wednesday, January 3,2001 Elaine D. Briseño / El Defensor Chieftain, Socorra NM
In their yard, on blocks, sits a white Chevy Corvair that has not had a driver since 1967 — the year Josie and Bennie Baca's son, Isidro, went off to defend his country in Vietnam.
The car belonged to Isidro. Over 30 years after Isidro died in the Vietnam War, Bennie said he still cannot stand the thought of seeing someone drive his son's car.
"I don't want to see someone driving that thing around town," he said.
Isidro died when his convoy was attacked as he was returning from R and R, a time of rest and relaxation away from the war, in China. He had served almost a full year of a 13 month tour of duty when machine gun fire killed him in August of 1967. He was 19 years old.
Isidro was the first Vietnam casualty in Socorro County. As a result, local leaders came together and created a memorial. That structure stands in what has now become Isidro Baca Memorial Park, located between the Plaza and the courthouse. The memorial became not only a dedication to Isidro, but to all the men in Socorro County who died in the Vietnam War.
When the park was dedicated, it had little grass and no trees. The original monument was a square brick structure. It was replaced with the prism on a rectangular structure in the 1980s according to Bennie.
The government did not draft their son, he went willingly as a Marine, his father said. Isidro came from a line of military men. His grandfather served in World War I and his father, Bennie, in World War II.
"We have been military all our lives," Bennie said. "I followed my dad and my son followed me."
However, Josie was not so accepting of the idea that her son wanted to join the military during war time.
"The recruiter would call and say 'May I speak to Isidro,'" she said. "I would say 'He's not here!' and hang up the phone."
Eventually, he was home and the 1964 graduate of Socorro High School did sign up.
The Bacas said the day they were notified of their son's death seems like yesterday.
A few weeks before his death, Josie said they did not hear from Isidro for a month. They feared the worst had happened. When they finally heard from him, they received three letters. Shortly after that, the letters stopped coming.
"When they notified us, Josie was home alone," he said.
Josie said a Marine and a priest came to her house and she knew then.
"When I answered the door I said 'Is my boy dead?'" she said. "You can lose your mom or your dad, but oh, not a son."
Bennie agreed that the pain from the death of a child stays with people.
"You never get over a thing like that," Bennie said. "When he was killed, our world collapsed."
And his world was still collapsing even years later. He said his anger was so great that he could not stand the sight of a Vietnamese person.
"We were invited to the dedication of the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington DC," he said. "We went down for breakfast and we had a Vietnamese waiter. I started yelling at him about how his people killed my boy. A few years later I realized I was wrong, but for a while I could not stand the Vietnamese."
He said every day gets better. In the end, reluctantly Baca gave into his wife's wishes and agreed to sell the car. But not to anyone in Socorro. However, another day sets and no one turns the key and revs the engine. The car serves as its own memorial to a life cut short.
As for dealing with it now, Josie has her own way of coping.
"In a way I don't feel that bad," she said. "He was an altar boy and I know his soul is OK."
[ PFC Isidro Baca served with Mike Company 3/3 and was KIA 21 August/1967 in a Rte 9 ambush. ]