Chris B. Cordova

Going to see Chris

by: Jack Stoddard
Tank Commander, B co 1/77th Armored Bn
5th Inf. Div. - 1971

I arrived in Vietnam at the ripe old age of twenty two. I served as a Tank Commander with M co 11th Armored Cav. Regiment for nine months (photo right) and then with the all volunteer unit of the Air Cav Troop 11th ACR known as the ARPS (Air Rifle Platoon: next photo) for another nine months. My second tour, 1971, was with B Co 1/77th Armored Bn 5th Inf. Div. I served as a Tank Commander and that's when I first met Chris, my driver, and Jim, my

      We were on B22 and our call sign was Double Duece, I received many medals from Vietnam but the best award was the comradeship developed between men. I retired from the Army in 1985 as a Chief Warrant Officer 2, Jack C. Stoddard (USA RET).

Jack Stoddard: ARPS I knew Chris for almost a year, he was the driver of my tank. He got to Vietnam when he was 19 and we had a party when he turned 20. We had a lot of real good times, together along with a few bad ones. His main running buddy was Jim, our gunner. They were always doing things together. Chris was young and quiet, and Jim was the older teacher, but they were both drafted and shared that common bond. I can remember Chris always going to church services as often as he could. Even while we were in the field. There might have been only two soldiers at the services

      I had managed to take good care of my guys for the whole year that I was their tank commander. Chris had extended for 6 months in Vietnam so when he got home he would have no duties to perform with the National Guard. It was a new program and a lot of guys were doing it. It meant that he would go home 4 months after me.

      While I was in base camp starting to out-process, Jim was out of country on R & R, our platoon was sent on a support mission. Chris was driving the ole Double Deuce (B22), Stick was the loader and a new 2nd LT was acting as tank commander. They were working a sweep of a large cleared-area between Xuan Loc and the DMZ. I was told they ran into a platoon of NVA soldiers and the ACAV's had them pinned down in a valley while the tanks blocked the exits so they couldn't get away. The ACAV's started taking heavy fire so they backed out a little and called for the cobra gun ships.

      There were Three cobras and two loch's firing up the area of suspected NVA. One of the cobra's for no apparent reason went in for his run going west to east instead of north to south like the others did. He fired two rockets. One hit to the right front of B22 and the other landed on the turret between the main gun and the driver's compartment. Chris, who was in the driver's compartment, was killed instantly. The LT. who was on the front fender of the tank talking to our medic on the ground was wounded very badly and the medic got hit in his arm. He later lost it. This whole thing took 10 seconds. I later learned the pilot of the cobra was under

      For me this was the worst day of my life. I had lost a very special friend. I still feel that if I had been there it wouldn't have happened. That afternoon I went to the motor pool and cleaned all the blood off my tank. I wouldn't let anybody help, it was my job. Two days later I had to tell Jim. We sat in the corner of our hooch and cried together about the loss of our friend. I then wrote a letter to Chris' parents and promised myself if I ever had another son I would name him Chris.

Many years later, in 1990, my wife Sue and I had a very special son. We named him Christopher, just as I had promised myself many years before. Christopher was born with Cerebral Palsy and when he was three weeks old while laying in front of me while watching TV he stopped breathing! An image of Chris appeared next to the TV and he was pointing down towards my son. I looked at Christopher and he was turning blue. I immediately started CPR until his color returned. In that split second I knew Christopher had a guardian angel. Chris, my old friend, had alerted me and saved my son's life. Chris may be gone but he will never be forgotten. I'm not afraid of death because I know that only means the tank crew of the old double deuce will be back on the road once again!

It's 3:00 a.m., Friday July 3, 1998. I just opened the garage door and as I'm on my way back into the house to get my coffee I can hear the deep mellow sound of the dual exhaust on my classic baby "Sweet-thing," (a 1960 Chevy El Camino) echoing off the garage walls. I'm on my way to visit the burial site of my good friend Chris Cordova. After many hours of research and with the help of my wife Sue we were able to find out where Chris' home town was, and with Sues magic fingers on the keyboard of the computer we even had a phone number for Robert Cordova who turned out to be the younger brother of Chris! After talking with Robert and finding out exactly where Mosquero, New Mexico was I decided that I'd like to go and make sure Chris had a nice plot and headstone. Plus I wanted to once and for all close some doors so that I could open some new ones. So with coffee in hand I pulled out into the street watching the garage door close behind me. In seven hundred miles and fourteen hours I'll finally be with my friend of over twenty eight years ago.

      I left Las Vegas and soon was going over Hoover Dam. Being so early in the morning the traffic was light and before long I was climbing the canyon wall heading for Kingman, AZ. The trip was nice as it stayed cool all the way to Flagstaff before I had to roll down the windows to pick up a breeze. I love driving across I-40 because being an old car buff I really enjoy driving 70 mph and looking in everybody's back yards along the way seeing what kind of old cars they have parked there. Especially around Gallup! On this trip I didn't hear the normal, "Stop looking around and keep your eyes on the road," my wife would constantly be telling me. This trip I was on my own. This was my quest, something I have wanted to do for a long time.

      Around 3:00 p.m., I pulled into Tucumari, NM and started on RT-54 toward Logan, NM. It was nice to get off the interstate and travel on the back roads again. The weather was great! Hot but still very nice with white clouds cutting off the heat of the sun every so often. Once I arrived in Logan I followed the old main street through the city. You could see that at one time it must have been a busy place but now a lot of the stores were closed. Just as it must be in a lot of small towns in this country. As I kept going North the road seemed to be getting smaller and smaller until I finally turned onto to RT-39 heading for my final destination of Mosquero. Now the road was a narrow two lane highway that seemed to be darting out into nowhere. There was nothing but green rolling hills all around with only a few ranch houses scattered about to interrupt this gorgeous land.

      I was starting to get really nervous. I kept thinking about all the things I have wanted to say to Chris. And I was nervous about meeting the Cordova family! Did they want to meet me? Have they put everything in the past or would they want me to tell them everything I remembered from 28 years ago? I guess I really didn't know what to expect.

New Mexico, Mesa After going about 20 miles I was approaching the base of this beautiful mesa. I was sure I would drop off toward the right side and go into a valley where Mosquero would be found, but instead as I reached a fork in the road I started to climb right up the side! It was very steep and I was just hoping my old car would make it up through these steep sharp curves. As I slowly maneuvered my way through this wonderful mesa I came upon a huge wall of rock and saw it was covered from top to bottom with names and dates. I wondered if Chris had maybe put his name there when he was a boy. As I finally reached the top there was nothing but green rolling hills with Juniper trees scattered about as far as you could see. It was nothing like I had expected the top of a mesa to look like. I thought it would be flat and rocky. I was hoping there would be a gas station in Mosquero as I was down to a 1/4 of a tank and still had to travel the 30 miles back to Logan later in the day.

      I soon was approaching the very small town of Mosquero and I mean very small. With luck I saw a single old gas pump on the right side of town with a big sign saying "open" leaning against it. As I pulled toward the old gas pump I couldn't help but think why would anybody want to live in this little spot in the road place? I stopped my car and as I was getting out an older man approached and asked how I was doing. I returned the greeting and as he was removing the front cover on the pump so he could reset the meter by hand (the old pump had broken 3 years earlier) I asked him if he could answer two questions for me. One was where was the cemetery located? and the second was where did Robert Cordova live?

      He replied with, "Oh sure that's easy." Then he said he'd just call Chris Cordova (that was Robert's son who had been named after my friend) he was the town marshal and was always around. As the man was filling my car with gas I was looking over the town. I could see a volunteer fire dept. building with a closed sign in the window and next to it was a small market with an even smaller bar attached to the side of it. That my friends was downtown Mosquero, NM, except for the post office I saw later.

      A few minutes later a pick up truck pulled up and a young Mexican man walked up to me. I assumed it was Chris as I put my hand out and said, "Hi, I'm Jack ... you must be Chris." He said, "Yes, and I would be happy to take you to the cemetery as soon as you get your gas, sir." Formal. Reserved. Like I felt. In a few minutes I was following him down the road to where my friend rested. We only went a short way when we turned off onto a gravel road and soon my car was getting covered in a great cloud of white dust. I remember being upset about that and then feeling ashamed at such a time because I was about to see Chris and worrying about a little dust was really stupid! Within five minutes we had pulled in the grave yard. It was on about a 1/4 acre plot of land with a small fence around the outside of it. I guess there were about 30 grave sites in all.

      I was feeling really nervous now. I had so many things I wanted to tell Chris. As we approached the first grave I could see it was Chris' father's grave, as it read PFC Jose Cordova, died in Germany ww11. As a lump was forming in my throat I was all of a sudden thinking to myself that Chris' dad was here and was taking good care of him and that Chris would be all right. Then came the real hard part. I walked up to Chris' grave site. New Mexico, Mesa There was a small stone just like his dad's. It had his name, rank, where and when he had died on it. There was a small patriotic flag made of flowers in front of it. They had long since died but you could tell Chris was being thought of and not forgotten. His nephew put his hand down and moved the wreath so I could see the complete head stone.

      As I knelt down something very strange happened to me. It was as if I somehow knew Chris had heard all my thoughts I had about him during the last 28 years and I didn't have to tell him anything at all because he already knew.

With tears in my eyes all I could say was, "It's good to see you buddy," as I patted the top of his headstone. New Mexico, Mesa I just sat there patting the headstone for maybe five minutes, as Chris' nephew backed away to give me some privacy. Finally, I said one more time, "It's good to see you Chris," and I stood up and walked a few steps backward just looking at the grave.
      I really felt a sense of peace as I finally turned and walked back toward my car wiping tears from my eyes. I didn't want to break down and cry as I knew I still had to meet the rest of his family in a few minutes. The tears would come later as I was driving out of Mosquero.
      Soon we were pulling into the front yard of Robert's house. It was a large wooden house with new and old cars scattered through out the yard. Robert walked into the yard to meet us. For just a moment I thought it was Chris they looked so much alike. We shook hands and I could tell this was as awkward for him as it was for me. He introduced me to his sister, his wife Francis and their older son Floyd. I was then invited into their house and was offered a beer that I gladly took. I am not really a beer drinker but I really needed it now! We all sat around in the living room making small talk as I was trying to figure out how to give them a copy of the story I had written about Chris. I decided to just pull it out of my pocket and hand it to them so that's what I did.
     I gave it to Robert and watched as he took the two page story from the white envelope. I was so scared at that moment. I took another large gulp of beer while wondering if they would like my story or not. How would they act? Did I do the right thing? I just waited. The story was passed from one person to the next with only a few nods of their heads being any sign at all of what they read. I could see Robert's eyes had gotten a little red but other than that not a word was spoken! I was offered another beer and after a few minutes of prodding I accepted a plate of home made enchiladas. While all of us sat around the kitchen table, and I ate, Chris' (Robert's son) wife entered the kitchen doorway and said, "That was a really nice story you wrote about Chris. We all liked it very much." That was all that was ever said about that. But it did make me feel much better and a little more at ease. After I had eaten a few more bites of dinner out came the photo albums!

      There must have been a hundred pictures of various sizes already in the living room with a separate special area for each one of the sons and cousins who had served in the military. Chris had his spot with his medals hanging next to his basic training picture and next to him was Robert's son Floyd. Floyd had served in the Persian Gulf but was now on disability from a back injury.

      After the two beers things started to get better. All the stories of Chris and Robert, who was two years younger, started pouring out in this small room atop of this beautiful mesa in New Mexico. Robert told me a doctor who had lost his son in Vietnam had built a memorial and chapel in the little town called Angel Fire, MN. It was 80 miles north west of Mosquero. All the boys from the surrounding four counties who had died in Vietnam have their pictures and some personal effects placed in the memorial building.

      Chris' picture along with his dog tags are there. Every week a different picture was placed in the chapel and that soldier's family was notified. Robert called that place, "Holy ground." A lot of the conversation was about how the two boys grew up and how their Uncle Joe had taught then to hunt, fish, and swim in the local swimming hole. Soon with a third beer in our hands, Robert, Floyd and myself were heading out the door and on our way cruzin', as Robert put it. My feelings of being a stranger was now fading as I realized I was being accepted as a friend.

      There couldn't have been more than 30 houses in this small town. Many of them were boarded up as the people who had once lived there were now long gone. When Chris had been a boy here there were probably 300 people living in town, but now there are only around 100. Most of the small ranches had been bought out by three large ranches in the area. Francis still worked at the Bell Ranch but Robert now worked at a small chemical plant 30 miles away. As we left the house we went a half block away and saw the small white buildings that were the elementary and high school. Robert told me a picture honoring Chris was in the main hallway of the high school. We then drove by the church and the little hospital, that was closed over 10 years ago. It was now the school superintendent's house.

      Every time we drove past a house everybody would wave and I would wave back. I could imagine what they must have thought at the site of this strange gringo riding around in Robert's green pickup truck! Everybody knew everyone else in this town. It was like one huge family. You just couldn't help but fall in love with Mosquero, New Mexico!

      Robert drove us down the Bell Ranch road about 40 miles. As we drank beers more stories came out about Chris' funeral and how Robert was on his senior class field trip to the Lake of the Ozarks when he was notified of Chris' death. The class (all five of them) cut the trip short and returned early. He said the whole town of 300 turned out as well as the Honor Guard from the Air Force National Guard in Clovis, NM.

      Bob told me about the wild elks in the area and how many he shot each year. Floyd pointed out the local sights like the two Indian caves and when we got to the end of the Mesa they pointed to an area across the valley where dinosaur foot prints were. We had a really nice talk as we returned home and I felt I now knew more about Chris than I had known the whole year I had lived with him.

      Robert wanted me to stay the night and kept asking me over and over again, but I didn't feel right about staying. I didn't want to ruin their 4th of July holiday. But deep inside I really liked these new found friends and could have stayed longer. But I knew I had to get home to my own family.

      I had finally closed my door with Chris, but I also knew I could open it again and be welcomed not only by him but by his family and friends as well. I left at dark and as I was driving out of town the impact of what had happened hit me again. I had to wipe the tears away as I climbed back off the mesa and headed for the busy world below. I couldn't help but think of the past and how my wife had told me go ahead and write a book of how I felt about the way Vietnam really was. How it was about good men just doing a job as best they could. Not killers or heroes, but boys just like Chris. And of how when I said I wanted and needed to go see Chris she said, "Go do it ... we'll get the money somehow. Just go and do what you have to do!" She's not only a good wife but she understands me sometimes more than I understand myself.

Thank you Sue for helping me find peace with my old friend. Perhaps, Chris, my friend, you have found a peace too.

Jack, Chris, Billy, and Sue

Stoddard Family

SP4 - Army - Selective Service
5th Infantry Division Mechanized
20 year old Single, Caucasian, Male
Born on 09/12/50
Tour of duty began on 06/12/70
Casualty was on 05/11/71
Body was recovered
Panel 03W-Line 31

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