‘Mallards at Sunset’
The story of Paul “Tex” Hernandez
SAN ANTONIO — On a balmy evening, January 18, 1971, in the Republic of Vietnam Marine LCpl. Paul “Tex” Hernandez assumed his perimeter position on Grid 027625 near the small village of Thanh Quit.His elite unit, 2nd Platoon, 7th Combined Action Group, contained Marines, a corpsman, Popular Forces, and a Kit Carson Scout (a VC-turned-friendly). They stopped for the third time that night, setting up a defensive perimeter the size of a city block.
On “Tex’s” left were two Popular Forces members. Everyone was supposed to be awake, however the two PFs weren’t, and that would change Tex’s life forever.
“In our circle, our perimeter, anybody that moved inside the circle was supposed to be friendly,” remembered Mr. Hernandez. “If you had something inside the circle, you assumed it was one of us.”
A machine gunner by MOS, Mr. Hernandez was on the radio that night, next to the platoon’s machine gun. “Tex” remembers hearing movement, but as it was inside the “safety” of the perimeter, he paid no heed.
His next memory is being shot in the back and hearing a grenade go off at the same time. “I was instantly paralyzed,” he said. “I stayed conscious and could hear my fellow Marines yelling, ‘Move Tex, move.’ But I couldn’t.”
The other Marines engaged in a short fierce fire fight while a medevac was called. “I remember hearing and seeing the bird, and it seemed to me that it would come down then go up, come down then go up. I recall being put on the chopper, but everything was fuzzy.”
According to the unclassified official engagement after-action report: “CAP 2-7-2 ambush initiated organic weapons fire on 10 VC with weapons at grid BT 027625, 5 KM No. of Dien Ban District Headquarters. The enemy returned small arms fire and fled in an unknown direction. Two USMC were WIA, 1 USN was WIA, and 1 Kit Carson Scout was WIA during the contact, all of which were medevaced by helicopter to 1st Medical Battalion. A sweep of the area disclosed 4 VC KIA; 3 K-54 pistols; 1 AK-47 rifle; 7 M-26 grenades, and 6 ChiCom grenades …”
The next thing Tex Hernandez remembered was waking up on a table at 1st Medical Battalion in Da Nang. “The first thing I saw was Doc Sanchez and Capt. Mallard.”
Captain Mallard was the commanding officer of 7th Combined Action Company, and Doc Sanchez, with 4th Combined Action Platoon (CAP 2-7-4), was Mr. Hernandez’ brother-in-law.
“When Capt. Mallard found out Doc Sanchez and I were brothers-in-law he refused to put us in the same platoon in case something happened to us. He said, ‘How will I explain it to your wives,’ ” said Hernandez. “Capt. Mallard had everyone’s respect. Our Company was known as ‘Mallards at Sunset.’ Capt. Mallard had some problems after the war because of all the letters he had to write to the mothers and wives.”
Combined Action Platoons and units were not your normal line units. In an article for VFW [February 1995], former Marine and CAP member Al Hemingway describes the CAP mission. “The Leathernecks would place a squad of men in certain villages to teach the local militia, known as Popular Forces or Regional Forces, tactics, small arms, and patrolling. In return, the PFs and RFs would provide the Marines with intelligence on the whereabouts of the Viet Cong.”
“We were all infantry and supposed to be at 12 men per platoon,” said Mr. Hernandez. “But we weren’t always at full strength. We lived in the villages, and tried to protect the Vietnamese from the Viet Cong. One of our main problems was that we were so small. We got overrun a lot.”
In his book After Tet: The Bloodiest Year in Vietnam Ronald Spector states, “The Marines of CA units were among the few men to come close to experiencing the Vietnam War in a way that fulfilled the traditional American expectations of a war as a personal encounter with a human enemy.”
After Tex’s “personal encounter,” he was flown to Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines, and later to Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio. Some of the doctors there said Tex would walk again, however, he learned the outcome was much bleaker. When he was moved to the VA Hospital in Memphis, Tenn., he was told he would never walk again.
Tex medically retired with full benefits in August 1971, and was awarded the Navy Commendation Medal with Combat “V” and the Purple Heart. He returned to his hometown of Brady, Texas, which he says was a “wonderful place to go.”
Once discharged and home, Mr. Hernandez developed his own way to deal with his paralyzed state: alcohol.
“I wanted to drown myself in alcohol, and I sure did try,” he said. “I suppose I drank enough to launch four or five battleships.” His life began to change for the better in 1985 while in Memphis for surgery. There he met the woman who helped him “see the light.”
Suzanne was working in the pharmacy and administering medication to patients in the Spinal Cord Section. Despite all the pain of surgery and complications, the only pills Mr. Hernandez would take was a multi-vitamin.
“I guess that must have impressed her,” he said, because she went downstairs and looked up my records to see if I was prescribed narcotics and pain pills. I was, but I didn’t want them.”
Tex and Suzanne began corresponding after his return to Texas, and were married April 2, 1987 in the town of Kerrville, Texas.
Today, Mr. and Mrs. Hernandez live a simple life in Brady, a town of 5,000 residents. He serves on the Texas Association of School Boards, and they both keep up with many civic and community functions and organizations. Their home looks like a Marine Corps museum and they even help with recruiting.
“I remember the doctors telling me more than 25 years ago that I would never walk again because my spinal cord didn’t work,” said Mr. Hernandez.
“They were right and they were wrong. They were right because I never have walked. But they were wrong because my spinal cord does work. Every time I hear the Marines’ Hymn, it tingles. See, it does work.”
Sadly, Paul died on 17 October, 1999, after a long battle with melanoma. Since then, the CAP Unit Veterans Association Board of Directors has voted to make Paul a permanent presence on the board, keeping his nameplate and chair at all future board meetings.Paul’s friends can honor his memory by contributing to a fund to erect a flag pole to fly the POW/MIA flag at the middle school in his hometown. As a member of the Brady School Board, Paul was instrumental in getting the middle school built. Please send your checks to:
Paul Hernandez – Brady Middle School Memorial Fund
c/o Superintendent’s Office
100 W. Main Street
Brady, Tx 76825