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Interview with Ralph Garcia [12/17/2002]

Philip Shaull:

Today is December 17th, 2002. My name is Phil Shaull, a staff member of the United States Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana. And I'm interviewing, for the Veterans History Project today, Mr. Ralph Garcia of Bluffton, Indiana, and a veteran of the Vietnam war. And Mr. Garcia, thank you very much for participating in the program. Let's start by asking you, how you entered the United States Marine Corps. How did you enter it? Were you drafted or did you enlist?

Ralph Garcia:

No. In those days, in 1959, there was no draft for the Marine Corps at the time. The draft did exist; but Marines were all volunteer service at the time. So consequently, I enlisted voluntarily. During that time there was an extensive strike, a work strike in the steel mill area of Lake County, Indiana, so there was consequently no work. And that was an avenue where I could get educated and get work at the same time. And it was sort of like a way to guide me through life. So that's where I started.

Philip Shaull:

Was right out of high school?

Ralph Garcia:

Yes.

Philip Shaull:

Why did you choose the United States Marine Corps over say the army or the air force?

Ralph Garcia:

I think probably because the most thing I think was the public relations actions of the Marine Corps at the time. Being the best and the toughest; and it was sort of like an ego trip or macho sort of reason to go. And certainly the uniforms were sharper than all the rest. And I had a cousin who was a decorated hero from the Korean War who one day, I remember, I used to live in a second story of an apartment house. And I was a kid. I was probably about seven years old at the time. No, actually I was older; I was probably about 12. And I saw this Marine marching up the street. And he was in full dress blues with his white cover and his metals hanging; and it turned out to be my cousin, and he was coming back from Korea. And at that time I was very impressed by what I saw. That was probably the start.

Philip Shaull:

You ended up working in intelligence areas. How did you get -- did you request to get into that? What did it require to do that?

Ralph Garcia:

When I first got into the Marine Corps, I had a technical ability and rather high aptitude. And they started me off in communication school. So I wound up being an operator. I had gotten the technical aspects of communications. Setting up equipment, antenna installations, propagation, all that sort of technical requirements to do the communications job. Which led me to a technical expertise in communications overall. Later on, I took another test after I had re-enlisted. I re-enlisted shortly after the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. And during my specialized training in intelligence collection, I took another test, and it was determined that I had an aptitude for foreign languages. So I was sent then, after my completion of the technical school in communications to University of Monterey in California, where I studied Farsi, the language spoken in Iran. After that -- oh, that was a year-long training course and it was expensive, and very comprehensive training to read, write, speak, and understand Farsi or Persian. After that, I was assigned to an intelligence collection outfit. From that moment on, from the time I went to probably language school, it was determined in intelligence type, and from then on I was in an operational type of mode. Which is to say that our units are small units -- we had marine units that were like 50 personnel strong. A company of Marines. And we were operational 24/7. So we worked shiftwork, we worked all the time. My first intel assignment was in Karamursel, Turkey where we monitored the Soviet activity in the Black Sea. And in that general area. I subsequently was transferred to Bremerhaven, Germany, where we again monitored the Russians in the North Sea. We went to check out the North Sea activity. Because of my intelligence background, my clearance, my security clearances, and my expertise with the foreign language of Farsi, I was requested with one of our allies of Great Britain, to go on assignment, on a temporary assignment to help them out. So I was dispatched from Germany to England, worked with 5 or 6 whichever outfits it was, but it was the foreign office of British intelligence. And there was a rather interesting happening there, because again, I was one of the 50 people assigned to Germany. And because I had the language, the technical background, and the security clearances, I was requested to go to Great Britain. A strange thing happened, because that was my first undercover work, too. Because I was told not to take any of my uniforms. I was given an allowance, a clothing allowance to go and purchase civilian clothing so I could look the part of a civilian. But at the expense of the Marine Corps. And I went to work for Great Britain. And that was a really quite an experience for me as the person who is basically military through and through up to that time. And then dealing with the civilians over in Great Britain. It was a prelude to what was going to happen to me later on, because as you know, I continued a career in intelligence.

Philip Shaull:

Why did they ask -- why did they request help in the first place? The British.

Ralph Garcia:

Because they had a garth of Middle East linguists there, and I was a Farsi linguist, so I went to help them with their cryptography and their monitoring of the Middle East situation. You may recall in 1967, when I was there in May or June of '67, there was a six-day war going on between Israel and the Middle East; and the United States was very keen on being abreast of all that was happening there in these strategically very important countries. And Iran being one of them, that was where my portion of the -- my piece or contribution laid in the ability to do that.

Philip Shaull:

What -- I'm just curious, you talk about Turkey and Iranian intelligence and so forth. What kind of situations did you find yourself in? Did you ever feel in danger of those kind of things?

Ralph Garcia:

You're talking about when I was in the Marine Corps?

Philip Shaull:

Sure.

Ralph Garcia:

No, I think -- I didn't feel that way. We felt restricted more than endangered. For example, in our line of work, we were not permitted to go anywhere near the iron curtain during that time. We could not, for example, travel to Berlin, to West Berlin on a vacation or for official business at all. And I guess that was because of the level of intelligence that we were dealing with, and that we had taken part in the collection of it. So there was that restriction. So we were more than in danger, we were restricted.

Philip Shaull:

So a lot of it was behind the scenes, intercepting communications and--

Ralph Garcia:

Well, people didn't know what we were doing. We were essentially referred to as the "Spooks." But the -- and the extent of the work was not actually known. Communications intercept and stuff like that, you sort of take that for granted when you turn on your C.B. for example. Sometimes you can hear cordless telephones and things like that. That wasn't the real secret. The real secret was the success or non-success of your efforts. So that was the real secret.

Philip Shaull:

How difficult was it_____ +

Ralph Garcia:

Well, it took extensive training, for example. The Marines, and personnel in that particular field, I'm told, were Marines that were the most time and training, other than pilot training in the Marine Corps. So we were number two in the training area of the duties that we had to perform. I had a year in language training. I had another year in communication technician training, a half a year in communications training. And that, in conjunction with all the other training that Marine personnel have to undergo; because everybody is a basic infantryman as well.

Philip Shaull:

Did you have -- I imagine you had to go through training and learning all kinds of things even as you performed your work?

Ralph Garcia:

Yeah. That's right. Most of it was operational security. Learning that. How to guard secrets; how to guard yourself. I later, because of my subsequent career, redetermined, we call it a trade craft. You learn a trade craft. You learn about safes. You learn about taking care of classified documents, how to do it. You learn counterintelligence efforts and techniques. The training is ongoing. It's never ending. So yes, it's a lot of diverse training things that one has to learn.

Philip Shaull:

Can you talk about some of the things that you, I guess, uncovered in your intelligence work that maybe assisted the troops deployed in Vietnam or wherever it may be?

Ralph Garcia:

Well, we know, for example, that -- I had friends who were on the Liberty, on the U.S.S. Liberty, which was a real shame and a black eye on the United States because of what the United States Government did regarding that vessel and the personnel aboard her. And of course, I also had acquaintances on the Pueblo which was captured by the Koreans. By the North Koreans. Now, the Liberty incident was something -- an incident that occurred when one of our allies, Israel, which is really, really something that's really distasteful. The next one, of course, was the North Koreans who, you know, we had a treaty with, an existing treaty. But we knew about those. We knew those were happening. As far as successes and things, we knew about some of the failures of the Russian space program, for example. We knew, we were apprised and up to date on many Soviet capabilities. I won't get too specific with that. But we were apprised of their -- we were able to ascertain the degree of their capabilities. That is something very useful. In Vietnam, when we used to help support some of the covert operations that were going on in the north. Covert operations that were taking place by the U.S. And so our role in that way was one that was very important. Also, some of the operations, not all of them, but some of the operations that took place in Vietnam, some of them, I know that were as a result of the intelligence collection that our units carried out. The A Shau Valley is a very big example of that. The fight at A Shau Valley and the discovery of the underground hospitals and weapons caches, storage facilities. That was the largest underground -- I guess it was almost like a city, was discovered as a result of some of the intelligence that guys in my unit. Now, the location of enemy units was also an effort, an electronic effort by our guys who were down in the bush doing different things. I mean, we did our part. We didn't have it as bad as some, but we didn't have it as good as others. We just did our job.

Philip Shaull:

What's better or worse than how you had it? When you say it's better--

Ralph Garcia:

I was an inside guy. For example, I wasn't able to roll out and go downtown. I never never wore a Class A uniform while I was in Vietnam. Ever. We worked seven days a week. We were, as I said, we were always operational. Even in Vietnam we worked 24/7. We worked 12 on/12 off usually. And then the guys would just go to work just because they felt they were so dedicated to their job. That was the other thing about our field was, all the personnel that were in this field, this field that I was in, the intelligence field: One, their I.

Philip Shaull:

levels were over 120; so everybody was bright. Everybody was well trained. Everybody was dedicated. Not necessarily career Marines, but they were dedicated in the mission and they were also capable of carrying out their duties. So they were highly motivated and skilled Marines.

Philip Shaull:

Did you -- you mentioned some of the intelligence that you and your fellow Marines came up with. Were you able to learn fairly quickly the results of that, the intelligence that you supplied? When you cited some incidence, how quickly did you hear back?

Ralph Garcia:

Well, in the A Shau Valley, for example, that was a plain, when the operation took place and the discovery of all the arsenals and the equipment that was there. So you could tell right away. I mean it was in the papers or a movie on it or things like that. So it was a cat-and-mouse game. We could tell some things right away.

Philip Shaull:

Instantaneously.

Ralph Garcia:

When we had backed up, some of the covert operations, for example in the north, we knew that right away, too. We knew if our covert operators had been spotted or something and we would alert them. They were coming for you and things like that. So we coordinated all this to make sure that they were not in harm's way. So if you could find out right away the success or failure of your efforts, yes, we could.

Philip Shaull:

What did you know about opposition intelligence? Were you able to find out a lot about them as well?

Ralph Garcia:

We had ordinary battle information. We knew enemy strengths and things like that. What we didn't have, of course, is the motivation. The psychological profile of our enemy. We didn't have that. We didn't -- we weren't in an analytical business anyway; we were in the collection business, so, I don't know that we would -- had we had that information, if it would have been -- well, it would have been of value to us, but I doubt that we would have taken advantage of it, because it just wasn't something that we were focused on. We were focused more on the--

Philip Shaull:

Nuts and bolts.

Ralph Garcia:

--the collection of the intelligence, and then getting it out to the people that were requesting it. Which is back in Washington. And then it would disseminate. The Pentagon and our headquarters, Marine Corps, and on down back to the units.

Philip Shaull:

So walk me through maybe a scenario in where you -- I mean, if you can -- I don't know how much you can say -- but where you would uncover some intelligence information. First of all, how did you usually receive it? Was it mostly electronic interception or--

Ralph Garcia:

Most of it was electronic.

Philip Shaull:

Okay.

Ralph Garcia:

You could -- we were -- let's take an example, a scenario that we were going to watch some covert operations. The covert operators are going to make an insurge into Vietnam. Maybe they were going to grab somebody, or wipe somebody out, or make a recognizance of some area, and they were going to go in, and we knew beforehand, we were aware of what their roots were, and where they were going. We had advanced information that was determined by us, of what units were in the general area of the activity, the covert activity that was about to take place. We would cover those areas, as well as miscellaneous serendipitous sort of searching efforts, and then we would watch for the activity and see what was going on during the activity of the covert operators. Once activity started -- and very often what would happen is they, starting in codes or whatever, so we would then have to have been able to understand their codes or whatever alerts they had, and then we said okay there's activity going. There was activity from this one to this one is the most likely one to spot it; and here's what they're saying, and we think that it's time for you to move out. Or you have five more minutes; or they're five minutes away from you so you still have some time. So it was a very close operation. By that, I mean it was very meticulous in planning, very coordinated, and very cut and dry. I mean, you did this, this happened; and the lives of the covert operator were the high priority there.

Philip Shaull:

You mentioned earlier -- I don't remember if we had started the tape yet or not -- but you reported directly to the Pentagon, but no one--

Ralph Garcia:

Not the Pentagon. The headquarters of the Marine Corps.

Philip Shaull:

Back here in the States.

Ralph Garcia:

In the United States; that's right. I was not a part of the hierarchy of the Marine ground units, nor the ground -- nor the Marine air units in Vietnam. My company, Company L, was subordinate only to the headquarters of the Marine Corps. That meant my little 50-man company that was led by -- we had a major that was in charge of our units, did not take orders nor direction from the commanding general of the 3rd Marine Division that was there at the time. Nor the 1st Marine Airwing that was there at the time. Because we were not in their direct line of order, of battle order. We took orders directly and only from headquarters Marine Corps. And that was because our mission was more strategic in nature than technical.

Philip Shaull:

Okay. So from the headquarters, they would determine who needed to know what out in the field, and disseminate your information?

Ralph Garcia:

That's right. If a commanding general -- let's say you have one resource, a 50-man unit of Marines that had specialized training to go and do job

Ralph Garcia:

You have the commanding general of the Air Force, the Marine air wants this piece of equipment or information, the commanding general of the Marine ground unit wants this one. Headquarters Marine Corps is the one that is going to decide which one to say no to. And then they would direct us, can we carry out this mission. We would carry out that mission, report back to Washington. Washington will report back to the commanding general. It wouldn't be through us. We wouldn't have direct communication to them either. To maintain that integrity of the chain of command. And it worked that way, too. It was a lot more fluid. We weren't directed willy-nilly by the whims of that -- either of those generals, nor either of their staffs. That's where most of the problem comes from is down the hierarchy, down the line. Who might be senior to our major who was there. And you get a colonel. How is a major going to say no to a colonel. So instead they just direct everything to headquarters of the Marine Corps and headquarters of the Marine Corps would sort it out. And then we would come down and do -- headquarters of the Marine Corps is an evaluation were the more important items to cover.

Philip Shaull:

Because of that, were you even anonymous to a lot of the troops and so forth stationed over there?

Ralph Garcia:

Yes. We were -- as I mentioned before, too, in reporting in, for example, a typical report day when a marine gets into Vietnam, they would report to Da Nang Air Base and they would try and get a lift out to their unit; and my unit was simply Marine Company L, marine support; and they'd say, well are you ground troops, or air, and we'd say neither; we're out of the headquarters of the Marine Corps. And they would say oh, you're one of those "Spooks", and they would find us some transportation and get us to our unit, which was up in the northern part of -- north of Da Nang, but near the town in a place called Phu Bai. But that is true, we were not known to a lot of major Marine units.

Philip Shaull:

Okay. What is -- if you had to say, and I made this difficult, but what is one of the more exciting or scary moments maybe, that you experienced in that work? Something you maybe uncovered or--

Ralph Garcia:

One of the things that we had, it was a scary time, it was 1968, and the president had just recently lifted the bombing north of the DMZ, and I think it was like October or November of '68; and we were sitting in watch there -- I told you every marine is a basic infantryman. Well, I had the command of watch that night and we were on the defensive on bunkers and things on night watch, basically. And I was near some army -- U.S. Army units too. And a scary thing happened was that in those days, a lot of the people in the rear were keen on having hand grenade pins in their bush caps. You know, you'd throw a hand grenade, get the pin, you put it in there, you were a combat veteran or something. So a lot of guys wanted these stinkin pins. But not everybody was out fighting face to face with the enemy. Well, I was inspecting the claymore mines, the hand grenades, the ammunition supplies, et cetera, and came around this hand grenades box. What it was, it was hand grenades. And I noticed one of the hand grenades didn't have a pin in it. The hand grenades came in a cylinder; and somebody had taken the pin out and put it back in the cylinder so that the cylinder would hold the spoon down to keep the trigger from going off. That was a scary moment when we discovered this thing; that somebody had done that. Because if you pull it out and the spoon flies out, you've got to get rid of the thing. And you don't know where you're going to be at the time. Well, in this particular instance we were on the line so something could be done; but what we did is we had a pin put back in it. But that was scary. That there would be some GIs that would do something like that. Then there was two more experiences that I'd like to tell you about. One was my first day in the country; because it gave me a lesson that carried me through the whole time I was there. We did not get any combat equipment when we first came into Okinawa. We didn't have flak jackets, we didn't have rifles, we didn't have helmets, we didn't have anything like that. And we were at receiving barracks in Da Nang, that night we got hit. I was sleeping in my tent, and all the lights went out because the mortars had hit the generators and stuff so there was no light out. I couldn't see anything. I ran out. I knew where the bunkers were because I had seen that before. And because I couldn't find my boots, I was running just in my stocking feet. And I was running to the bunkers, and I stepped on a stone and bruised the bottom of my foot very bad. Well, then, that was when I determined that I would never be without my boots and helmet, and always know where they were; and two, that I wasn't going to go anywhere without my weapon. Because I didn't have one anyway, but I would know where one was. Well, that was lesson one. Then my final experience was the day I was leaving Vietnam. Because the same thing happened, basically again. I had turned in all my equipment. We were sleeping. Because I had a five o'clock helicopter to catch out of there. I was in Phu Bai and I was going down to Da Nang to catch my ride on out. And we got hit at 3:00 in the morning. And I was thinking, because I grabbed -- somebody was on R and R or leave or something. I grabbed the helmet that was up on -- someone's area that wasn't there. And the flak jacket and their weapon. And I got into my old bunker, which I had been a bunker commander. There was a new guy there, which I was their extra, sort of. And I was thinking, because we were starting to get attached from Vietcong; and I kept on thinking, I said, wouldn't it be something, this really ticks me off, because I could get killed right out now and I've only got like two hours left in the country. Because I was trying to catch my plane out of this place. Well, obviously, I didn't get killed. I missed my flight, my five o'clock flight out because I got caught, and I think I caught one at seven or nine o'clock in the morning and got out of there. And I spent the next night in Da Nang, and then I took the flight out the following date to Okinawa. But that was my last day -- well sort of one of my final hours in Vietnam.

Philip Shaull:

So at the beginning and at the end you kind of--

Ralph Garcia:

Yep.

Philip Shaull:

--caught at the end. Wow. What percentage of time did you spend in, you know, in an actual military role -- not military role, but as an infantryman or whatever?

Ralph Garcia:

Not that much. Not really, no. No. We were an intelligence group. The time that we caught the infantry role is when we took our turn to guard the perimeter. And see, that was another thing I told you about, the hand grenade incident. This same equipment was handled by army people, see. And that's who I really blame was the army people. Whether it was theirs to really have or not. That's who I did blame. And so the equipment was shared. It was shared equipment in the area. You know, maybe once a month.

Philip Shaull:

Okay.

Ralph Garcia:

Something like that. Once a month, I would say, something like that.

Philip Shaull:

When you left Vietnam, was that the end of your military service?

Ralph Garcia:

Yes. By that time, I determined I was getting out. Actually, I determined I was going to get out, or that I would seriously consider getting out, after my temporary stint with British intelligence in '67. I started going to college, I started taking University of Maryland management courses. And then I would say I just had a super, super bad day in Vietnam. I remember sitting in one of these foxholes, and a rat was bothering the heck out of us. I threw something at the rat, hit it, and the rat brushed off it was like a can or something --the rat brushed it off, shook its head, and just looked at us some more like, I dare you to do this again. You know, I just -- it was crazy; because I hate rats anyway.

Philip Shaull:

There's a potential danger in a rat--

Ralph Garcia:

You get bit, you could get rabies or something. And you know--

Philip Shaull:

That's right.

Ralph Garcia:

And the rats were just tremendous, they were really big. Anyway, the next day I wrote a letter, and I wrote it to Central Intelligence Agency, Washington D.C. I didn't have zip codes or anything like that. And I told them, my name is such and such, you know, I do such and such for a living, I speak these foreign languages, I do this, I've got this kind of security clearance. They call it special compartment in intelligence information clearance, and so on and so forth. Anyway, I would really be interested in coming to work for you folks. If you're interested, please reply. Well, a funny thing happened, because when I retired in October or the end of 1992. I actually retired in January '93, I had the opportunity to look at my 201 file over in CIA, and there was that letter. It was "free" across the envelope because we didn't have to use stamps when we were in Vietnam. And that letter was there in my jacket. They kept everything. Flashbacks.

Philip Shaull:

Did you -- we may be getting a little more sensitive here with the CIA I don't know, but did you do some of the same sort of stuff at the CIA?

Ralph Garcia:

Well, obviously, it was a little more involved. Well, much more involved in the CIA. But it was based on the past experience, based on those tests that I told you I had taken, based on the language qualifications that I had, based on my area and knowledge -- geographical area knowledge of foreign countries. That, and I guess my training ability. They were able to train me some more. That's why I got picked up by the CIA. I wound up multi-lingual. I speak several languages. I traveled all over the world. Just my last assignment was, I represented the Central Intelligence Agency on one of the intelligence meetings staff. And I was one of the committee members, and that was a big shot job for me. I rose to the highest levels in the agency probably ever; ten percent. And certainly one of the senior Hispanics in the industry. I was the first elected president of the Hispanic Advisory Council to the Central Intelligence Agency, which is kind of neat for me. I think it's kind of a trailblazer for some of the things that happened there, especially in the efforts to try to bring on more minorities to the agency. Because in those days, in the '60s and '70s, it was more Ivy league type. You know, people that were there, and there was a move afoot to bring in minorities. And we finally understood that minorities were going to be required if they were going to go and integrate into the societies overseas and try and collect information. It was a wise move on the agency's part. And I think it's certainly affected the men.

Philip Shaull:

Did the fact that you are Hispanic give you the lead to any specific silence?

Ralph Garcia:

Oh, yeah. That enabled me to go undercover in many different areas, you know. Just, it facilitated a heck of a lot. I mean, you know, it's the culture and the custom, you know, I just was able to slip right into those new roles. Undercover is not an easy thing to live. And it's certainly something that could -- it's not for everybody. I was able to get into it because I had one less thing to worry about. I didn't have to worry about that culture, because that culture was my culture. And I knew it. And I could move around and do things and understand nuances of little things that might get someone else in trouble and might cause them some real harm. And additionally, working in countries other than Latin America, to portray myself as a Latin American was easy, too. So it was really no problem for me. I enjoyed it.

Philip Shaull:

So there's a certain advantage to your background--

Ralph Garcia:

Yeah. Yeah.

Philip Shaull:

--and those rules.

Ralph Garcia:

Exactly.

Philip Shaull:

Can you talk about any dangerous situations you might have encountered there?

Ralph Garcia:

Well, I can't tell you specifically, or I shouldn't tell you specifically. I've been in several revolutions. I was directly responsible, in a supportive way, gathering up some of the world leaders who were doing some bad things to the United States. When we have Communist regimes enter different countries that were our allies or our neighbors or our friends, we helped them. I was there. I was the deputy chief of Latin American operations for a while. I was officer in charge of many different officers throughout the world. And I was even in some places where you wouldn't quite expect a guy like me to be, in Africa. But when you consider the human's role there, that's something that you don't ordinarily think about. And then you say oh, well, sure, it makes perfect sense.

Philip Shaull:

Sure.

Ralph Garcia:

But that also facilitated some of my cover. So I was able to get in there and on behalf of the United States. See, that was another thing, too, because being in service to the country was always a high priority for me. You know, I -- patriotism is a big deal for me. Duty to your country. That kind of stuff.

Philip Shaull:

Obviously, it was hard work, I don't doubt that at all. Did you like it better than the military intelligence that you did?

Ralph Garcia:

Oh, yes. It was a whole -- I didn't like it any better or worse, but it was a whole different set of circumstances. Because I have never been sorry for a day of my Marine Corps life, with the exception of probably the first day where that occurred to me when I got in trouble over in boot camp in San Diego, California. And I found out what in the world had I volunteered for. But since that time, and even then, that sort of was a motivator to tell me, you know, you need to keep going; you can do this. This is good for you. Well, the same -- or a different set of circumstances happened in the CIA. Let me tell you my first day in work. Not the processing part, but when I actually went to an operations office. I went into the office, and I met the operations officer. The officer, head guy who made all the assignments and stuff. And he came up to me, and he says, well, welcome aboard, Ralph. How would you like to go down south with Tricky Dick. And of course he was talking about President Nixon at the time. He was gonna let the safety of the world leader in my hands. I says, I'm not ready for this. And I told the operations guy, I said, I don't think I'm ready for this. I don't know your equipment, I don't even know where the men's room is over here at CIA at Langley. But that in fact was actually a good thing, because that was the first experience in that organization that gave me sort of focus. Because what it did is, because I felt so inadequate at the time, was it gave me a mission, it gave me a goal. And that was to be as versatile a collection officer as possible, and be able to go anywhere, any time, and fulfill the mission. And I think that by the end of my career, maybe by mid-career, I was able to do that.

Philip Shaull:

What did you do on that trip with the president? What was your--

Ralph Garcia:

I didn't go.

Philip Shaull:

Oh, you didn't go.

Ralph Garcia:

I refused to go. I felt inadequate. I said, You just shook me down to my feet. I wasn't prepared to, you know, to -- I didn't know how much responsibility I was going to have. I didn't know if I was going to be by myself or what. But I know that I was afraid down to my feet that I would fail. And I didn't want to do that. I wasn't prepared. And I knew I wasn't prepared. Maybe that was the best thing I could have said. Because as I said, too, it gave me a focus. It gave me a goal. And I started training. I did correspondence, of course, whenever training came up, I signed up for it. I went to this and that. And they finally sent me to postgraduate training. I did fine. Because I continued to show an interest in elevating my skill level. So I did fine. And now, or then anyway, I was able to do a lot of dog gone things. No problem.

Philip Shaull:

Did you ever travel with any presidents after that?

Ralph Garcia:

Oh, yeah.

Philip Shaull:

Did you?

Ralph Garcia:

Oh, yeah. I had my time. I traveled with Kissinger, Carter, Bush. I had my time.

Philip Shaull:

This wasn't Secret Service stuff, though?

Ralph Garcia:

With the Secret Service.

Philip Shaull:

With the Secret Service. Kind of support for them?

Ralph Garcia:

We worked support for them, and with them, but we also had to provide the security for them.

Philip Shaull:

I guess the Secret Service is a branch of CIA, isn't it?

Ralph Garcia:

No.

Philip Shaull:

It's not?

Ralph Garcia:

But they're V.I.P. They're presidential detail. That's specific. But when they go overseas -- see, the Secret Service is in charge of the presidential security, but they have liaisons, close liaisons with CIA stations overseas. The CIA stations are the ones that provide them with that.

Philip Shaull:

Yeah.

Ralph Garcia:

So that's where I did a lot of that.

Philip Shaull:

That is some big responsibility.

Ralph Garcia:

When I worked with Kissinger, I was by myself. And that was complete installation of everything that was required, operation of it, reports communications back in Washington, liaison with the Secret Service, with the state department security staff. But I was ready, and I was confident then. And that was a neat thing later on. I was able to do all that stuff.

Philip Shaull:

Yeah.

Ralph Garcia:

And in fact, later on I was even in charge of the whole thing. I felt that I was very, very pleased with my career. And it all started from the Marine Corps. The Marine Corps straightened me out. I was a new guy, a kid from Lake County, Indiana. I didn't have an education, per se. I didn't have a good education anyway. I did correspondence courses and university courses in the Marine Corps. Because it wasn't until after the Marine Corps -- it was the Marine Corps that really gave me the feeling that you need to be educated in order to get in. It gave me the discipline required to get in. And then the CIA gave me the opportunity.

Philip Shaull:

So you retired from the CIA, then, and you landed in Bluffton, after that?

Ralph Garcia:

I married a girl from Bluffton, Sandy Vohler. Her dad was a guy who worked for a very long time and retired in Franklin Electric. I'm from Indiana, too. We met in Washington, D.C. We married in 1975, and we, you know, traveled around here and there. But when we retired -- she was a teacher. She always taught wherever we were. Her final job in D.C. was she was a director of the day care centers services in the metropolitan YMC

Ralph Garcia:

So she was a wheel up there in the whole thick of things up there. And when I retired, she said, well, let's go back. And I offered to -- I said, didn't you want to go to Florida? She said, no, I want to go visit, but I don't want to go to Florida. And I said, that's fine, we'll go to Indiana. And that's what brought us to Bluffton. I didn't want to go to Lake County, because you couldn't breath up there. But Bluffton seemed the very, perfect spot for us. It was a safe community, plenty of doctors and medical facilities. We bought a nice house where we're involved in the community. We don't have too many relatives in the area now. We have Sandy's stepmom and her stepaunt, but that's about it. We have a niece up in Fort Wayne. All my relatives are still in Lake County, those that are still alive, anyway. And that's about it. So we're on our own. But we're active in the community, and as you know, we're active in politics and active in boys and girls clubs, and we do things for the community. We volunteer. I think it's good. One of the things that former President Bush said to -- when he was director of CIA, and during the 50-year anniversary of the CIA at Langley -- this was in 1997; I was there for that. He suggested that CIA retirees become community ambassadors. And I remember that stuck in me. And that was not the first time I had heard it. I had heard that term when he was director as well. And it must have stuck, because that's basically what I'm doing there in the community. I'm taking all the lessons learned from the Marine Corps, from the CIA, from management, physical problems, money management, organizational skills, et cetera, putting them to work in the community. I think I've done just that. I've become a community ambassador. I'm giving back.

Philip Shaull:

Great. Anything else you want to share that may be... (END OF SIDE ONE, TAPE ONE.) (SIDE TWO, TAPE ONE BEGINS.)

Ralph Garcia:

I recently had a reunion in Tucson, Arizona with the Vitenam Vets of America. And I met and interviewed Randall Wallace, who was a director of the film, We Were Soldiers, a Vietnam war film about the battle of the Ia Drang. And the original story which was written by General Hal Moore and a guy named Joe Galloway who is a U.S. News and World reports journalist. And I met all three of those people. I interviewed two of them. That was Wallace and Joe Galloway. And one of the things that came out of that, that was really something, and that I had not focused on, and I think that it's probably true for many, many servicemen who were in war, and probably even -- and it's probably true for people in business life, and that is, that I did not consider the trauma of my wife. I'm a divorcee, by the way. I divorced my first wife in 1972 or something like that. Roughly three years after I got out of Vietnam. But that film brought to light that we did not consider the trauma, the heartache, the terror that wives and parents were going through back home while we were off doing our thing over in the jungles or whatever. The -- it wasn't until after that film that I even bothered asking my boys -- I have three grown boys -- well, they're men now -- what happened back then. And they told me some pretty poignant stories. Well, the older one did anyway. And that was probably something that should be surfaced is what the dependents went through back then and the moms and the dads and the kids. But in 1991, yeah, it was in 1991, Desert Storm had just finished in January or something. In May, I forget what it was, May 1st or something. May Day was coming and they were doing parades and things in northern Virginia and suburbs of Washington D.C. and bringing the troops home, and it was the first time that I had worn a camouflage or a utility jacket, not being in the service any longer. And I went to the parade like that. And these group of old guys came marching by and they beckoned me to come in and join them. So I went to join them. And it was kind of funny, because the crowd parted when I joined these guys that were moving. The crowd parted, I entered and everybody started clapping and applause and stuff. And I remember, that was the first time I had worn mine -- anything that depicted that I was a Vietnam vet from '68 to 1991, and that's when I joined this group, the DV

Ralph Garcia:

Not too many people are able to say, you know, that they're -- or want to openly declare that they were proud of what they did. I am proud of what I did. And I don't believe that I openly declared it. So that was the way to do it. I'm angry still to this day about like some of the pacifists activity. I'm one of the people who actually have some of the just hate or...I dislike or totally disagree with the amnesty that was given to the people who fled to Canada. My feeling is they're in Canada, you can't prosecute them, leave them there, they made their choice, that was fine, you know, good luck. I don't believe that amnesty should have been given to them because they never said that they did anything wrong. And -- but, it wasn't my decision to make. Had it been, I wouldn't have done it. I would have forgiven them and everything else, but I would have left them in Canada.

Philip Shaull:

Do you think that now, so many years later, that the attitude, general public attitude to the whole Vietnam era, and women who participated in it, has improved? And if so, is it ever enough, you know?

Ralph Garcia:

It's improved; it's not enough. There are still those who fought against the soldiers. They say they were fighting against our government at the time and government policy, but they in fact, it was the soldiers who took the heat for their actions. It wasn't the government that took the heat for their actions. Unless you want to say that maybe Johnson refused to run because of that. But, it was still some poor slob in the military whose name wound up on a wall, who died as a result of all the mistrust, all the things that were happening, and certainly, the fact that nobody was really determined to win. And I don't think anybody knew what they were doing. And my feeling was that if you were going to do something with the military, and it was going to be a military exercise, then the military ought to be the ones to plan and implement it.

Philip Shaull:

Thank you very much for your time. I appreciate it.

 
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  October 26, 2011
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