REFUGIO – Picking cotton is hard on the hands, thought 14-year-old Richard Sanchez.
But it wasn’t the labor of picking cotton and working at the Woodsboro gin. Sanchez didn’t mind that too much.
It was the South Texas summer heat that motivated Sanchez to attempt something different.
“I decided I wanted to work in a place that had air conditioning,” he said.
“I went to the hospital. Nuns ran the hospital at the time,” Sanchez said.
The nuns asked Sanchez what he wanted to do.
“I’ll mop floors ... anything,” he responded.
“How would you like to be an orderly?” one of the nuns asked.
That was in 1963.
“I worked summers until 1966,” Sanchez said.
When Sanchez finished high school in Woodsboro, he entered Blinn College in Brenham.
He married Rachel in 1968 and continued going to school.
Then in 1969, Angel Vega was killed in Vietnam.
“He was my best buddy. I will never forget him,” Sanchez said.
Sanchez joined the Marine Corps in 1970.
“I felt an obligation to serve my country,” he said.
The move began a long career in military service for Sanchez, but military life did not resume immediately.
In 1972, he was honorably discharged from military service as a corporal.
“I went back to college and got a degree in 1974. I became a RN (registered nurse),” he said.
“My first job was here at the Refugio County Memorial Hospital,” he said.
But civilian life didn’t last long.
“I joined the U.S. Air Force National Guard, He served from 1974 to 1977. I was influenced by Dr. Robert Johnston in Victoria,” he said.
Eventually, Sanchez transferred to the Texas Army National Guard as a second lieutenant.
“I was promoted to first lieutenant. From there, any assignment they had I volunteered,” he said.
His first assignment was to go to Honduras in Operation Big Pine 3.
Sanchez said intel said Ortega in Nicaragua was going to attack Honduras.
“I was with the 141st Mechanized Army from the valley, and we were going with the 49th Armored Division from Victoria,” he said.
“We went to Honduras to change their minds (about attacking),” he said.
“The 49th Armored Division and the 141st Mechanized Army went to the border, had one skirmish, and that did it,” Sanchez said.
After that, Sanchez said he returned to Central America three different times in Good Samaritan medical units: Guatemala in 1987; Belize in 1990; and Costa Rica in 1994.
Sanchez was in the Persian Gulf War in 1991, as well.
“I was with a hospital medical unit. I saw 200 patients a day there for two to three weeks,” he said.
By this time, Sanchez held the rank of major.
“Some people served there for four weeks. I was there for six weeks,” he said.
Sanchez’s unit also was called up when 9/11 happened.
“But we never went anywhere,” he said.
“I retired in July 2002 from the Army National Guard as a lieutenant colonel,” he noted.
With one retirement, another job presented itself.
“I was hired by the U.S. State Department. I spent one year in Africa in 2007-08 in Monrovia, Liberia,” he said.
“I was a medical officer training their army in the medical field,” Sanchez said.
He discovered something when he finished the job in 2008.
“I had a physical and was diagnosed with prostate cancer,” he said.
It took until 2010 to get back to full duty.
At that time he was assigned to go to Fallujah, Iraq. He worked as a medical officer closely with Marines and Navy units.
“When I came home, my wife pointed the finger at me and said, ‘No more!’” Sanchez said.
But there was one thing left after he left the U.S. State Department.
“In 2010, I took the veterans service officer position in Refugio County,” he said.
“County Judge Rene Mascorro hired me. I told him I’d stay like a year,” Sanchez said, laughing.
“But I liked it ... because I was helping people,” he said.
Sanchez helped not only veterans but widows of deceased veterans, so he decided to stay on an additional four years.
Now, at age 73, Sanchez has logged nine years in the position.
The recent passing of County Commissioner Ann Lopez struck Sanchez hard.
“We were pretty close. She was a first cousin. It hurt me when she died, so I decided to retire,” he said.
To date, Sanchez has seen close to 400 people – widows, veterans, including the 200-plus veterans of Refugio County.
He said 20% of the veterans he sees are from another county.
“A veteran is a veteran,” he said.
“I told County Judge Bobby Blaschke that I aimed high and accomplished what a few good men can do, and I was an army of one,” he said.
Sanchez was in three wars in three branches of service.
“I loved everything that I did. I did all phases of nursing,” he said.
Sanchez delivered nine babies in the county and saved people’s lives.
“Everybody at the courthouse was good to me. I am still in contact with people I served with in Africa and Iraq and from every branch of the service,” he said.
Now he wants to enjoy yard work and gardening.
“My journey has been terrific. I feel very blessed,” he said.
“I always had something else waiting for me. Now, I don’t have anything waiting for me.”
Tim Delaney is the Refugio editor at the Advance-Guard Press and can be reached at 361-526-2397, or at refugio@mySouTex.com.