My father, Rene Reyes, was in Vietnam with the 101st Airborne. He was kind of a bad ass and I am very proud to say my dad was one of those first guys to drop into the jungles and give so much. I am proud of him and all the vets that served. But I want to share about a particular paratrooper. And that brings me to a big man in both stature and character. My father doesn’t share a lot with people, but this is something I can share. The other things I may never get to share with you, but this one means a lot to us Reyes’.
My father wasn’t the biggest guy in the 327th but he had the biggest man in the platoon take him under his wing. Spec 4 Reuben Louis Garnett Jr, was a big guy, who could kick anyone’s butt. But guess what they called him… “Sweet Daddy Grace.” Why? Because he was a wonderfully sweet and religious man. My father had only been in the army for a year or two, where Sweet Daddy Grace had been in since 1960. So, though he could drop you easily…he just wouldn’t, (unless of course you deserved it).
On March 4, 1966 my father’s platoon was ambushed near My Phu. To quote my father, “It was a BAD, BAD ambush.” They lost 24 brothers that day and one of them was Sweet Daddy Grace. My father said, “If it wasn’t for Sweet Daddy, I wouldn’t have made it home.” My father was one of 9 men from his battalion of 56 that got to come home eventually. So every year I am reminded on my birthday of a man I never met, who is responsible for the fact that I exist.
The troopers were ambushed between a rice paddy and a small village. There was just nowhere to go. My father did the only thing he could in that moment and dropped to the ground, less than 100 meters from the enemy, while being blanketed with heavy gunfire. A booming voice echoed in the cacophony. It was Reuben yelling at my father to head for cover, while he himself jumped up and returned fire.
My father got to cover, Reuben made sure of that, but he wouldn’t stop there, that just wasn’t in him. Reuben told his men that he was going in for the LT. 1st Lt Harry Godwin also had shown bravery above and beyond the call of duty, and had himself saved soldiers. He had dragged at least two men to safety before going in full force toward the enemy. Reuben couldn’t let him do it alone. So he did, what anyone who knew Reuben knew he would, and he ran straight into the belly of the beast running at full speed into the fray.
The truth is, I wouldn’t be typing this right now if it wasn’t for Sweet Daddy.
The story gets a bit foggy at this point, because unfortunately we lost the only two men who knew what really happened in those last moments. Some say they found Reuben holding Harry, some say Harry had already passed when Sweet Daddy got there. As much as I would love to know the details, they don’t matter. What matters is that these men gave all, they gave until they had nothing more to give. They gave with ‘complete disregard for his safety’ as the official documents say.
The truth is, I wouldn’t be typing this right now if it wasn’t for Sweet Daddy. I wouldn’t have taken my first steps…ridden my first bike….had my first kiss….driven my first Mustang, if it wasn’t for him. But what breaks my heart even more, and at the same time fills me with joy, is all the things that I have gotten to do that Reuben never will. I have a wife, two awesome kids, a great civilian job. I have spent 49 years on this earth. These things we take for granted, he never got to have.
I recently connected with the Garnett Family, and my father was able to visit them. There is a love that Reuben brought that can still be felt to this day. I have always been a Mustang fan, and found out that Reuben was one also. His sisters notified me that he had one and that he, like myself, enjoyed customizing it a bit. On the rear quarter panel he had in script font, “How Sweet it ’tis”. So, following in a great man’s footsteps I put the same on the back of my car. On the front passenger side bumper is a stenciled “SP4 REUBEN LOUIS GARNETT 3/4/66” You should always have your co-pilots name on your vessel.
SP-4 Reuben L. Garnett Jr, 101st Airborne 327th Infantry Regiment. Gone but never forgotten.