My grandpa, David De Jesus, was in the Marine Corps during the Vietnam War. He was ranked E4 and started out working with logistics. De Jesus was eventually stationed in Iwakuni, Japan and worked in the Marine Corps headquarters.
While being sworn into the Marines in downtown Los Angeles, De Jesus sat next to a man who would become one of his best friends, Pete Mills. They began conversing and found out they lived three miles apart.
De Jesus and Mills were put on the same bus that was taking them to San Diego for their training. When they arrived, the men found out they were a part of the same unit.
Their bond grew throughout basic training. Mills would often spend time with De Jesus and his family. One of De Jesus’s most cherished memories was when Mills allowed him to borrow his brand new Camaro. De Jesus did not own a car, so Mills told him to use it for as long as he would like and to call him when he was done. De Jesus said this perfectly showcased Mills’ character since he was such a selfless person.
De Jesus described Mills as perfect at his job. He became their platoon leader and was an overall stand up guy. De Jesus said that Mills always had everyone’s backs and took responsibility for all their mistakes.
When their unit was preparing for final inspection, everything had to be perfectly clean, including dry canteens. One soldier’s canteen still had liquid inside, and Mills received punishment for it. He was yelled at and beaten in the stomach with the canteen until he had welts. Afterwards, he did not get mad at the soldier; instead, Mills said to him “Don’t worry about it, it was my fault.”
The night before Mills was deployed to Vietnam, he spent time with De Jesus and they both swore to see each other again. However, since De Jesus was not deployed to Vietnam the men would never meet again.
Mills began his tour in Vietnam on Aug. 22, 1968. He died on Aug. 12, 1969, two weeks before he was supposed to come home. A high ranking military officer needed a ride to another camp, and Mills volunteered. Unfortunately, Mills ran over a landmine and died instantly.
Mills was more than a Marine, he was a husband, father, actor, musician, and artist too. De Jesus said that Mills planned on pursuing an acting career after he came home from Vietnam.
Since De Jesus and Mills were not in the same unit, they started to lose touch during their infantry training. Regardless, any time they were on the Liberty Station in San Diego, they hung out and Mills would go over to De Jesus’s house and visit him and his family.
While Mills was deployed to Vietnam and De Jesus to Japan, they would write letters to each other. They were often busy, so letters took months to be received. This caused them to lose touch. De Jesus did not hear of Mills again until Mills’ wife visited De Jesus’ home to inform the family of her husband’s death.
Years have passed since Mills’ death, but my grandpa still thinks about him almost every day. He said he was inspired by how great of a guy Mills was and how happy he was all the time. Whenever he has a hard situation, my grandpa always thinks to himself “What would Pete do?”