Bobby Barrera always wanted to be in the military, and once he got in, he wanted to go to Vietnam. But he’d only been there for six weeks when his entire world and life would change forever in a huge fireball. As his armored personnel carrier was crossing a rice paddy and the Viet Cong command-detonated a 500-pound bomb. 

While his injuries would be severe and push him to the brink, he turned his life around, with the help of his amazing wife. He has since for the past 50 plus years dedicated his life to helping other veterans. He is an amazing person who epitomizes selfless service. 

Barrera was born in Del Rio, Texas, right next to the Mexican border and about 150 miles west of San Antonio. Growing up and graduating high school in Del Rio, “my thing was I always wanted to be a Marine,” he said. He wanted to join the Corps right out of high school, but his father said to him that as the fourth child in the family to graduate from high school, he wanted Bobby to be the first one to go to college. 

“I went to college for two years and decided it wasn’t for me,” Barrera said. After partying hard and drinking too hard in Junior college for two years, he knew what he wanted to do and went on his own to see a Marine recruiter. He joined up in 1968 and went to Marine Corps boot camp and advanced infantry school at Camp Pendelton, California.

He signed up with what was then just a two-year hitch. The catch was that you would have to do service in Vietnam. For Berrera, that wasn’t an issue at all. “That’s what I wanted,” he said. “When I tell some people this, they don’t believe me, but I graduated from Advanced Infantry Training on a Friday evening, and by midnight I was on a plane flying out of El Toro on my way to Vietnam. 

The seed for serving in the infantry was planted long before he ever took the oath of enlistment, he said: Barrera’s dad served in the infantry in Italy during World War II. Barrera arrived in Vietnam in August of 1969 and as he puts it, “my military career lasted only six weeks.” 

On September 16, 1969, he was on a mission as part of five Amtraks (armored personnel carriers or APCs in Army speak). Barrera was in the third track, which as he explained, was normally the safest place because if the enemy planted a mine in the road, the first or the second track would hit it. He and six other Marines were in the track along with Scout/Sniper Carlos Hathcock. Hathcock had 93 confirmed kills. Due to that, the Viet Cong had put a $30,000 bounty on his head. 

When Barrera’s track went over an area next to a rice paddy, the enemy command-detonated a 500-pound bomb. “They were after Hathcock,” he said. “Naturally, when a bomb of that size goes off, it [ignites] the fuel cells and there was this huge fireball.” Barrera and other Marines were knocked unconscious and badly burned. “Hathcock was the first conscious man there and he dragged us to the rice paddy, where he put us in to put the fire out.”