American Veteran: The Story of Joseph Garcia

By Spencer Kellogg | USA

Joseph Garcia is standing outside the Albertson’s Grocery Store in downtown Santa Fe and he’s shivering. It’s early and the tips of his mustache wear the ice of the night before. He asks me if I have any work. His stance and voice are proud but worn. He’s wearing a military jacket with faded blue jeans and he holds a cane at his side. I ask him if he served. “Yeah in the Gulf War” Then he shows me all the places where he was shot and stabbed. His knee is buckled and bulging through his jeans and two of his fingers are bent in as if eternally grasping at something. There are ulcers running all down the side of his leg from where bullets pierced his flesh and inflamed his blood vessels. Still to this day, 20 years on from the war, he is fighting the government in court for his disability money.


He told me he wanted his story told. This is the story of Joseph Garcia:

I got a great story. It’s true.

7 years old, my mother died. Right there on San Francisco Street. I think she took some sleeping pills. My dad was about to get out of prison and she was with somebody else. That left us with nobody. My Aunt and Uncle were only 18 and I remember them saying ‘we can’t take care of you, we’re going to have to put you into foster homes.’ I was getting molested in there. It was bad. I went into the army when I was 33 and I’m 54 now. I didn’t care about dying, I was already fed up with my life. I had my own family and it fell apart.

I was working at Keiser hospital in Los Angelos. I was going to an Associate Technical College at night. It was in the early 80s, the future was going to be computers. My wife was the manager at Smith’s Food King on Hollywood Boulevard. These guys came in one night, they robbed her and killed her. We were about to put a downpayment on a house. I had my life together… It was like my mom dying all over again. They had a camera but they didn’t get the faces clear enough. It was a couple of black guys. They never caught them.

I started drinking real bad. I was 27 at the time. I was there for five years and it was a good job. After she got killed I just started drinking and not showing up to work. I’d go to bars and start fights, I turned into a bitter person. Finally, I snapped out of it, I thought ‘I’m going to die out here on the streets worthless and not be somebody’… I had a couple Christian buddies and they were the ones who turned me around. They said ‘we can find peace in your life.’ I thought ‘God’s been making me suffer all my life.’ I go to Angelus Temple in Echo Park. It was all gang infested back then. It was in the 80’s so it was bad. I didn’t have a prayer in my heart and I was still in disbelief. I walked in and I look up and there is a dome inside where you see God and a bunch of white angels coming down and it shows the land with the Devil and a bunch of dark angels all in black and they’re going to battle! I knew there was evil but I didn’t believe in good because everything bad was happening in my life.

Every time I tried to do good, something was taken away. So I had that in mind and I go sit down. This is what made me believe, brother. I sat down and I put my arms on the armrest and all of a sudden my spirit was lifted out of my body. I’m not high or drunk or nothing. My spirit is looking at my flesh and I can see all the bad things that I’ve done or fought or that has happened to me. I was looking at myself and how bitter and miserable I was. God was showing me that. So my spirit was put back into my body and all of a sudden I feel this peace, all this waste lifts off my chest and my shoulders. I believe! It’s real! He showed me! It took me to my bitter end for me to understand that.

So I decided to join the army and that’s when I went to war. I was there for 2 1/2 years. I don’t know if it was any better because I’m all jacked up now. Look at my hands. We went into this one place and there were guys around the corner and they rushed us and started stabbing us. We were fighting hand to hand because there wasn’t room to lift the guns up. I was scared. I got shot three times in my legs. When I first went into the army, they gave me a physical. They looked at my legs and said I had bad circulation but that I was ready to fight. When I got wounded, I started to get ulcers from the bullets because of my bad circulation and they blamed it on me! Now I’m fighting them to get paid. To get my VA so I got a lawyer. I’m going to apply for disability and I’ve been fighting for five years for that. I went to my court date the other day and my lawyer said he thinks I got it. I cried, I broke down, I told him everything. I was nervous. I have to wait for a month and then I’ll get a backpay and get my little truck together.

That’s why I’m out here struggling. Trying to get some food in my stomach. I get a general assistance check that’s about $250 a month. That doesn’t even pay half of my rent. So I have to struggle out here for the rest. I’m all messed up, I can’t feel any of these fingers because I got cut in the war. I went for his knife but he came across and slit my wrist up and cut a bunch of nerves and tendons. I don’t have no feelings in any of these fingers. They’re all broken. They’re all busted. I supported the war because of the country and my pride. And I thought, when I get out I’m going to be set but it was the opposite.

I used to have nightmares until I was 27 years old. There used to be a 7 11 around here. You know where that Lotaburger is? Behind that, there’s a mail place and that used to be the 7 11. I would have this dream. I’m in 7 11 and I’m playing Pacman. All of a sudden, I look outside and it starts to get all dark in the sky, all thunder and lighting. Then a hearse would come right up to the 7 11 and this big guy would get out of the car and open up this hearse and my mother would sit up with her eyes wide open looking at me. I developed a lot of insomnia. I only sleep 2-3 hours a night.

I think Trump is truthful but I haven’t seen nothing. I’ve heard from other veterans that he hasn’t done shit. Probably because he doesn’t have time right now but he talks about it and it sounds good… I keep in touch with my lawyer. He says I’m going to win. I’m going to get a good chunk of money and that’ll help out in my life. I’ll go with the disability now to keep me comfortable and then once I win this case I’ll be all right. Sometimes I feel like giving up, I get all sad and depressed and stressed out. I just want to give up.

If you would like to help support our soldiers you can ask to hear their story, give them some pocket change, call a congressman or visit The Wounded Warrior Project for more information: The Wounded Warrior Project


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