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A Day Of Guilt, Sadness And Envy


MAY 27, 2002
Copyright © 2002
THE MIAMI HERALD. All Rights Reserved.

MIXED EMOTIONS: Hector Torres' daughter gave him this painting, depicting Torres in different stages of his military career.



They sent for Hector Torres.

One of the guys from his hometown lay gravely wounded in a military field hospital in Vietnam. Spc. 4 Anibal Roman cried out in anguish, begging for Torres to come to his side.

''He didn't think he was going to make it,'' said Torres of Pembroke Pines. 'He was in so much pain he kept saying, `Somebody kill me, somebody shoot me.' He just wanted to die.''

Torres and Roman, like several of their comrades, were from the central mountainous region of Jayuya, Puerto Rico, about 2 1Ú2 hours from San Juan. They had left Puerto Rico for Vietnam at a disadvantage: Neither spoke English.

''I told him he was going to make it,'' said Torres. ``I said we were going to be back in Jayuya.''

Roman lost an eye, a leg -- and whatever limb or organ he didn't leave on the battlefield was badly damaged after a rocket-propelled grenade took out the armored personnel carrier he was in, Torres said. But somehow, amid tearful words of encouragement from Torres, Roman pulled through. He made it back to Jayuya.

The two men met again two years ago on their beloved Caribbean island. What Torres saw filled him with happiness. Roman, despite all that he had endured, was doing well, with a wife and two kids.

Three others from the Jayuya group did not survive, Torres said.

''On Memorial Day, I have a sense of sadness because of the people that didn't make it,'' Torres said. ``You feel a sense of guilt.''

He also feels some envy, because while veterans of other wars were welcomed back with parades and praised as heroes, Vietnam veterans were received with disdain, he said.

Today he plans to stay home, pour himself a glass of cognac and watch the observances on television.

Torres said he tried three times to visit the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., but steps from the wall, he froze. Too painful.

''I just couldn't do it,'' he said. ``I tried. That's it for me.''

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