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Veterans honor a brother in arms

By Sonny Long
Aug. 1, 2012 at 3:01 a.m.

Eighty-year-old Frank Flores says he had never had a birthday party until the Korean War veteran was honored with a cake, meal and gifts Wednesday at the Victoria VFW hall.

DEADLY CONFLICTS

More than 58,000 U.S. service members died in the Vietnam War (1964-73) with another 300,000-plus were wounded. During the Korean War (1950-53) 36,574 died and 103,284 were wounded.

Source: Congressional Research Service, American War and Military Operations Casualties: Lists and Statistics

Eighty-year-old Frank Flores had his first birthday party Wednesday.

Flores, a Korean War veteran and Purple Heart recipient, was honored by a group of fellow veterans from the Vietnam War who threw the party at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4146.

"We wanted to do something for him - for him to be recognized," said Noe Torres of the Vietnam veterans group that meets weekly at Taqueria Vallarta on North Laurent Street in Victoria. "He told me that he had never had a birthday party. All the vets chipped in on the get-together. He's enjoying it."

Flores, all smiles as the two dozen or so guests poured into the VFW Post 4146, was pleased with the gathering.

"I never expected this from anybody," he said.

When Torres presented him with the gift of a cap denoting "Korean War Veteran," Flores fought back tears.

"I like it," he said, momentarily turning away from Torres. "It brings too much memories, guys."

Torres, too, had trouble controlling his emotions when talking about Flores.

"It's people like him," Torres began, then paused, removing his glasses and wiping the moisture from his eyes. "It's people like this man that people have no idea about. This guy is a Purple Heart recipient. He should be dead. Until you've been there and done that..."

Torres' voice trailed off again.

"We're very proud to know him and have him as a friend."

That friendship began at the restaurant when Flores finally approached the group of Vietnam vets who had been meeting there for about a year.

"For so long, nobody ever talked about anything related to the Vietnam War. We meet every Thursday for kind of therapy session among ourselves. We share information and talk about whatever anyone feels like talking about," Torres explained.

"There was this old man who always sat a couple of tables away and was always quiet. He never said anything.

"Then one day, he got up and came over and asked if we were all veterans. We told him yes, Vietnam veterans," continued Torres.

"He said he was a veteran, too, and we invited him to join the group and he's been with us since that day. I don't know if he adopted us or we adopted him."

Members of the group assisted Flores in obtaining some benefits that had been discontinued.

"We help each other," Torres said. "That's why we meet to share information. We were glad to help him."

Flores received his Purple Heart after being wounded by a land mine in Korea.

Torres related the story Flores told him about the incident.

"He and his partner were on patrol. The last thing he remembers is the click of a land mine being stepped on," Torres said. "He's alive because his partner pushed him out of the way."

Flores suffered foot and abdominal wounds. His partner died.

"He pushed me and I lost half my foot and all my guts here," Flores said, touching his right side. "They patched me."

Torres said he admires Flores' humility.

"He didn't come over to us and say, 'Hey, I'm a Purple Heart recipient.' He saw an emblem on one of the guys caps one day and said, 'I've got one of those.' He doesn't go around tooting his own horn," Torres said.

So for his 80th birthday, Flores' friends made sure his horn - even a "first" birthday one - was finally heard.

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