BY DUANE A. VACHON, PH.D. Emilio Albert De La Garza, Jr. was born on June 23, 1949, in East Chicago, Indiana. He graduated from E.C. Washington High School in 1968. He was married and employed by Inland Steel Company in East Chicago (Indiana Harbor), Indiana, before enlisting in the Marine Corps.
Renee De La Garza Lugo can’t remember her father— a man who threw himself on a grenade to save his fellow Marines during the Vietnam War. She was an infant when he died.
On April 11, 1970, LCpl. De La Garza was serving with Company E, 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division as a machine gunner on a squad night patrol with Company E, 3rd platoon, approximately four miles south of Da Nang. The squad had taken several hits,. De La Garza spotted one of the VC hidden in a deep pond and went into the water with his knife taking the VC prisoner. As the VC was being brought to shore the VC pulled a hidden grenade. De La Garza yelled “Grenade” and was killed by the blast.
Lugo, 42, of Chicago, was always told stories about her father, Emilio De La Garza Jr., and his heroic effort made overseas so long ago, but she had many unanswered questions.
Through a special Memorial Day ceremony in 2011, she was able to fill in many details of her father’s death when she met the man who tried to save his life in Vietnam after the grenade had exploded. Sam Lyles was the corpsman with the platoon when Emilio threw himself on a grenade to save his buddies. Lyles tried unsuccessfully to save Emilio. He traveled from Birmingham, Alabama to meet Lugo and attend a dedication ceremony for Lance Cpl. Emilio De La Garza Jr., a Medal of Honor recipient.
“I told Sam, ‘I can’t even explain in words how I feel. You’ve mended my heart so much.’,” Lugo said. “I still have that empty hole but I feel so much better knowing him and talking to him and getting all these details that I hadn’t known before.”
A monumental plaque was dedicated to De La Garza on Monday and will be installed at the Edward P. Robinson Community Veterans Memorial sometime this week.
“I’m very honored,” Lugo said. “And I’m very proud of my father and what he did. I’m overjoyed that … people still remember him and people still talk about what he did.”
And as the nation prepared to honor the memories of thousands of fallen Soldiers, Marines, fathers, daughters and sons over the holiday weekend, Lugo sat with her new friend and learned about the father she never knew.
“I’ve heard the story so many times, but I wanted details,” she said. “I wanted to know exactly what happened. (Sam) filled me in on that.”
“You get older and you understand,” she said. “I’ve learned that that was just the type of person he was. If you needed help, he would help you. And I’m proud of him for that. I’ll always miss him. But I’m proud.”
Medal of Honor Citation
The President of the United States of America, in the name of Congress, takes pride in presenting the Medal of Honor (Posthumously) to Lance Corporal Emilio Albert De La Garza, Jr., United States Marine Corps, for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty on 11 April 1970, while serving as a machine gunner with Company E, Second Battalion, First Marines, FIRST Marine Division (Reinforced), Fleet Marine Force, near DaNang, Republic of Vietnam Returning with his squad from a night ambush operation, Lance Corporal De La Garza joined his platoon commander and another Marine in searching for two enemy soldiers who had been observed fleeing for cover toward a small pond. Moments later, he located one of the enemy soldiers hiding among the reeds and brush. As the three Marines attempted to remove the resisting soldier from the pond, Lance Corporal De La Garza observed him pull the pin on a grenade. Shouting a warning, Lance Corporal De La Garza placed himself between the other two Marines and the ensuing blast from the grenade, thereby saving the lives of his comrades at the sacrifice of his life. By his prompt and decisive action, and his great personal valor in the face of almost certain death, Lance Corporal De La Garza upheld and further enhanced the finest traditions of the Marine Corps and the United States Naval Service.
Action Date: April 11, 1970
// Richard M Nixon// President
Emilio is buried at St John’s cemetery, Hammond Indiana. If you’re in the neighborhood why not stop by the cemetery, pay your respects and thank him for his service.
The information in this article was sourced from a variety of sources both internal and external. Every effort was made to ensure that the information is current and correct. These articles are presented to honor the heroes they are written about.
If you can read this, thank a teacher. If you can read this in English, thank a veteran.