It was September 1966 and hurricane season in the Gulf of Mexico. With a force not seen in South Texas and Northern Mexico in years, Hurricane Beaulah hit the region swiftly and caused death and destruction all along the coast. In the aftermath, the only refuges for the victims, especially those in Corpus Christi, Brownsville and Matamoros just below the border, were rooftops and railroad tracks.
As a public information specialist assigned to 4th Army headquarters in Fort Sam Houston, San Antonio, I was summoned to join Operation Beaulah, an Army task force designed to help rescue hurricane victims from the ravaging floodwaters. Our group assembled at a former Army Air Corps facility in Harlingen, Texas, where the old barracks, hangars and runways remained dry and relatively unscathed.
We were joined there by Texas Gov. John Connelly and many federal, state and local officials, who came to see the damage and enact relief action.
For me, however, it was an experience I will never forget - not just as a soldier doing his duty, but as a soldier who had been trained as a journalist and public relations professional before I entered the military. After accompanying the task force on its mission to literally pluck victims from their rooftops with land and sea vehicles and helicopters, I learned that President Lyndon B. Johnson, whose home state was Texas, would be arriving the next day along with his White House press corps, Secret Service and top government officials.
My focus quickly turned to setting up the hangar for the president's press conference to declare the region a federal disaster area and thus eligible for national relief funds. I then led the president on a tour of the damage, on which he spoke with hurricane victims. Can you imagine, there I was - a low-ranking enlisted man - telling the president of the United States and my commander in chief where to go? I can tell you this: he was gracious and nice to me and everyone else he came in contact with during the one day he was there.
The president thanked me and our team before boarding his helicopter and returning to Washington. A few weeks later I was awarded the Army Commendation Medal for my contributions to the mission. I never felt more proud of serving my country. And today I extend my pride as a member of The American Legion.