Vietnam War taught Lincolnton volunteer about life
LINCOLNTON – Arturo Granados remembers the words like they were spoken to him yesterday.
“When a bullet comes your way, it isn’t going to see if you’re black, white, red, Hispanic, rich or poor. If it comes your way, you better kiss your life goodbye.”
That’s what Granados and 300 fellow soldiers heard from a colonel when they first arrived in Vietnam in 1969. Now 67, Granados left his wife and 6-month-old daughter at home and spent a year in Vietnam working as a cook before returning to the United States in 1970. Forty years later, he’s making an impact in Lincolnton, volunteering at CMC-Lincoln in the emergency room as a translator.
Granados, a native of Costa Rica, came to New York in 1962 with a goal of learning English and working as a salesman. Granados got his love for sales while working as a 16-year-old security guard in his native Costa Rica. He got into a sales competition with his co-workers one Christmas and was hooked from there.
So Granados made the trip to New York City with aspirations of getting into retail. His trip was short-lived, though, as the summer of 1963 hit.
“I spent one year here in the United States and then I went back to Costa Rica because I almost died of dehydration,” Granados said.
Granados said he worked at a supermarket in New York and pulled in only $50 a week.
“Basically with paying for my room and everything, I wasn’t eating properly,” Granados said. “I started feeling very weak and had to go to the hospital.”
After recovering, Granados eventually ended up at a Sears department store in Chicago because the store needed an employee fluent in Spanish and English. Granados was happy working at Sears, but he loved traveling and wanted to do more.
“I joined the army as a volunteer because I thought it would give me an opportunity to travel,” Granados said. “I knew the war was going on in Vietnam, but I didn’t care about that.”
But two years after entering the U.S. Army, he was still based in the U.S. and ready for yet another change. “I went up to my captain and said, ‘I did not join the United States Army to stay here in the United States,’ ” Granados said.
Fifteen days later, Granados received his orders for Vietnam, where he stayed for a full year. While his year in a war zone might have been a harrowing experience, Granados also gained a valuable lesson that has stuck with him.
“We only got hit about three times in the year that I had,” Granados said. “We were lucky. You learn to appreciate life with the way we were living in the bunker. It’s an experience that I recommend to every young man and woman – in the Army, Air Force, Marines or whatever.”
After he returned to the U.S. in 1970, Granados picked up right where he left off in the retail business, working for two different companies until 2005 when he retired. Granados moved to Lincolnton in 2008 after his daughter Lorena bought a house in the area. After three years of retirement, he decided he needed to get back to work.
He now works in the Men’s Department at Belk’s department store in Gastonia and volunteers part-time at CMC-Lincoln.
“I actually work more than I’m supposed to because I really enjoy being there,” Granados said. “Even though I don’t get paid, I really enjoy volunteering at the hospital.”
He’s had to earn a living his entire life, and at 67, he’s not changing anything.
“I feel very happy when I help my co-workers and the patients,” Granados said. “It’s very rewarding to just talk to the people there and be able to help them out.”