After three combat tours, former Marine helped Vietnamese villages rebuild.
Old structures and bridges may not stand out to most people, but they do to Pedro Lopez-Torres.
They transport him to 1970, when he and his platoon spent one month building a bridge that once connected two Vietnamese villages.
Lopez-Torres, now 86 years old, enlisted in the United States Marine Corps in 1951.
He was 19 years old.
Lopez-Torres only saw combat during two tours in Korea and one in Vietnam.
When he returned home, he traveled to Europe and South American before he was sent back to Vietnam.
This time, he was in his late 30s, and he led a combined action company tasked with repairing a bridge.
The bridge was originally constructed more than 30 years prior during French occupation.
Villagers used it to move water buffalo and other supplies across a river wide enough to fit a truck.
Over time, the villagers used the bridge’s wood for their homes and other needs.
Lopez-Torres and his team were instructed to make minor repairs, but they decided they could do better and build a brand new bridge.
“We thought, ‘We’re going to do something good because that’s what we were trained for,’” he said.
The company lived in the village, sleeping in a different home each day.
Men would start their day early, change into swim gear and worked the entire day on the bridge, he said.
They would scrounge for supplies throughout the providence, and they also took unwanted supplies from nearby Navy bases.
At night, people from the village would pitch in after their daily routines.
Finally, after a month, they completed the bridge.
It was sturdy, but flexible enough to withstand the river’s current and inclement weather.
The company and villagers celebrated.
Villagers gave Lopez-Torres a certificate to thank him and his platoon for their hard work.
Before he left, they also threw a going-away party.
After that, Lopez-Torres returned to the United States and retired from the military in 1971.
He worked in Washington, D.C., and then as the vice president of sales for a British company that sold safety products, such as fire equipment, internationally.
Now retired, he spends time with his daughter, who lives in Orlando, and his 14-year-old grandson.
He lost touch with the men who helped him build the bridge, and he doesn’t intend to return to Vietnam.
However, he will always remember the peaceful moments in an otherwise tumultuous time.
“In the beginning, we were there to kill,” he said. “Then we weren’t there looking for a fight. We were teachers. We were teaching them how to protect themselves.”