South Texas Heroes: Valentin Moreno

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LAREDO, TEXAS (KGNS) - This week, one Laredo veteran will receive an honor decades in the making. After 45 years he's finally getting a Purple Heart for injuries he sustained serving in Vietnam. Some people in Laredo may know Valentin Moreno as the man who put together documentaries in the past few years telling the stories of Laredo veterans. But he has his own experiences to share and he did that with us.

For Valentin Moreno military service was in the blood. "I had already been traveling all over the world because my dad was in the military and I was an Army brat," he said.

So at the age of 18, in 1966, he signed up for the U.S. Army himself. "I liked the idea of soldiers marching. I liked the idea of serving the government. I liked the idea of serving in an honorable position," Moreno told us.

Moreno ended up training for the infantry and became a paratrooper. He was first sent for a mission in the Dominican Republic, but soon he got a call to return home for new orders from his supervisor. "He said we were coming back to Fort Campbell, Kentucky because we had gotten our orders to go to Vietnam," he said.

He was young man and the violence he encountered when he first arrived was shocking. "We did encounter small arms fire and I was very nervous, very scared, because I did not know what was going on," he said, "that's when I realized it was Vietnam. I was either going to get killed, or I'm going to make it."

He ended up doing 3 tours in Vietnam. While he trained as a paratrooper he just did one jump. The rest of the time they were taken in by helicopter and if they were the first to arrive in an area controlled by the Viet Cong, they could count on a heavy attack. Moreno said, "normally they call it the suicide lift because if there's enemy on the ground, that first landing is going to be hot."

Whether they were getting bombed from the air or fired upon from the ground danger was all around them. "Every day there was something. We'd see a skirmish. There was a firefight skirmish, or somebody got hit with a booby trap, or snipers would hit us or mortar rounds would hit us," he said.

Moreno was injured twice. "One of my comrades stepped on booby trap and it was a mine and I got shrapnel on my leg," he said.

And the second time he was shot in the ear and neck during his last firefight before coming home. "That round was the shot that wanted to kill me but it didn't kill me. And I didn't know I was wounded until I was picked up by a helicopter and one guy said you're bleeding," he said.

Moreno says despite all the violence, none of the soldiers he served with ever showed signs of cowardice. He remembers a 12 day battle in which a whole battalion of men was lost. "There was that sadness of seeing all the troops. And I never heard of in that battle or any battle in Vietnam of any American troop retreating or running away or deserting from any battle."

Moreno turned the military into a career even becoming an Army Ranger. He served in missions in Eastern Europe and South America before becoming an instructor and retiring. Moreno says he loves his country. "I answered the call I was given. I served very honorably just like many other soldiers did," he told us.

And he embraced the opportunity to serve. Moreno's Purple Heart ceremony is happening Friday at 10 a.m. at the city council chambers. He said while the injuries happened decades ago, he just applied to receive it recently and received word relatively quickly. If you'd like to nominate someone as a South Texas Hero, send a message to justin.earley@kgns.tv.