This article was written by San Benito High School student reporter Cyntya Diaz Avendano and is part of the Veterans Voices Project.
This is the reality of war: no love, warmth, or joy of any kind, just pain, suffering, and death. Nine months overseas and there wasn’t any hot food, coffee, or warm clothes. Only the constant yelling in one’s ear from his superiors.
Berto San Roman of Hollister was a then 19 year-old member of a United States Army artillery unit fighting in Vietnam. He fired continuously throughout long hot days and the long cold nights.
“I was so tired one day I closed my eyes for five seconds, when I felt a huge kick on the side of my head,” San Roman said in his interview with students from San Benito High School’s Mexican-American history class.
There wasn't any water, food or bathrooms to bathe in. They only had the things the things on their back. They had to deal with the putrid smell that emitted from their bodies for not bathing for weeks, or months, as the veteran recalled.
“I remember not taking off my boots for the time I was over there. I promised not to be that dirty again.”
The story that brought the reality of war to the high school students was the story San Roman told of the time he and his unit had to go around shooting the presumed dead enemies after combat.
On the ground there were many bodies and soldiers had to be careful while turning them over because of the booby traps that were strapped to them. San Roman was supposed to die on many occasions.
The first happened during a firefight. The side of his head and leg were both very badly injured. But three days later, San Roman was back on camp.
The second occurred, when his troop leader didn't let him in the foxhole and seconds later, the troop leader was dead. The hole had been bombed. San Roman, who had found another place of safety, was stunned but alive. He could never explain to himself why the leader wouldn't let him in the foxhole that night. He was one of many that was chosen to live, prosper, and thrive.
“They called me ‘Lucky’,” said San Roman, about the nickname he received in Vietnam.
San Roman is now 69 years old and has achieved way beyond what he would have thought.
He worked in the fields as a child. As a teenager, he was drafted into Vietnam in 1968.
San Roman later returned home and married his wife in 1973. They had four children, two girls, and two boys. He put all of his children through college, while working at Gilroy Foods.
He has dealt with post-traumatic stress disorder and other life challenges.
Berto San Roman is a survivor, chosen by destiny and luck to thrive in life, something which he has done.
Student reporter and San Benito High School senior Cyntya Avendano Diaz . Photo courtesy of SBHS. Note: Cyntya Avendano Diaz is a senior at SBHS and currently plans to attend Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, where she will major in veterinary science.