Coffee talk with a Vietnam veteran: A complicated homecoming


There are a large number of veterans living among us in Pecos County,

and they each have an abundance of untold stories just waiting to be

heard. After participating in the ground breaking of the upcoming VA

Clinic, veteran Pete Fierro felt compelled to share the many

challenges he faced while returning home from Vietnam.

“I'm from Marathon, but I live here in Fort Stockton. It was hard for

me to get back to west Texas after my one-year tour in Vietnam. It was

like someone put a jinx on me,” began Fierro shaking his head.

“Me and my friend Don Fuentes, who is also from Marathon, were on a

early flight from L.A. to El Paso. The stewardess came out and told us

that the plane was having a minor problem. We were only in the air for

maybe 30 minutes when they turned the plane back around,” remembered


Adjusting his Air Force hat, he continued, “It was the week before

Christmas, so the plane was packed to the max. Getting off the plane

there were people carrying gifts, holding onto their kids – there was

a lot going on. But finally, we got to board a second plane about an

hour later... The stewardess came out again, and informed us that a

smoke alarm had gone off in the cockpit. We were already in the air

for about an hour, so we could smell the smoke in the cabin,” said

Fierro widening his eyes.

Reliving the story, Fierro quieted his voice and he said, “When a

situation makes you question whether you will live to see tomorrow,

unity kicks in.”

He went on to describe how scared passengers held hands from across

the aisles of the airplane. He said that couples held onto each other

tightly and parents consoled their children.

“We all kept saying, 'it's going to be okay', and they then turned the

plane around a second time. ... We had to board a third plane, but my

friend Don was bumped off the flight. He told me, 'Pete you go ahead,

I'll board another plane', which he did. Don got bumped off again

after that, but in Phoenix. I was able to make it to El Paso – thank

God. When Don got there, it was already late at night. We had been

trying to get to El Paso since about 10:30 in the morning,” said

Fierro leaning back in his seat.

The two veterans stayed at a YMCA facility overnight, then headed to

board a bus from El Paso to Marathon in the morning. Before boarding

the bus and final leg of transportation, Fierro said the bad luck

continued to chase them.

“When we got to the bus station, we saw people holding signs. We

didn't know what was going on. I asked someone, 'Hey, que paso?' and

they told us that the Greyhound drivers were on strike,” said Fierro

chuckling at the unfortunate occurrence.

“It was all sorts of chaos. The protesting drivers were trying to

convince the substitute drivers not to drive us to Marathon. Finally

the bus got a driver, and me and Don talked about our tour in Vietnam

the whole trip... When we got to the little Exxon in Marathon, I could

hear music. I didn't know where it was coming from. Turns out my

brother Rocky arranged a band to play when we got back home. Half of

there town was there waiting for us,” he said with a smile.

Fierro says he was so caught up in the excitement that he forgot his

military records and documents on the bus. The records and paper work

were eventually found and mailed back by to him, but Fierro remained

with an unsettled feeling.

“I was 19 years old. I made it back home alive, but I felt something

heavy in my chest. Like something wasn't right. Two weeks after I made

it home, I got the news that my brother Rocky had died in a car

accident between Pecos and Fort Davis. At that instant, that uneasy

feeling turned into sorrow and emptiness. I was proud to serve our

country in the Air Force, but the end of my service left me with some

bad memories,” said Fierro finishing his story.

Today, Fierro's luck has changed. He resides in Fort Stockton with his

wife Clara of over 19 years and enjoys being an active participant in

all Fort Stockton veteran events. He has two children, Javier and

Jennifer, from his first marriage, and two dogs, Pepito and Lolita,

who he considers his furry children. In his spare time, he enjoys

watching Cowboys and Longhorn football games.

“Looking back on that trip home, I can't complain these days. The VA

and Fort Stockton have been very good to me,” said Fierro.