Lance Cpl. Emilio De La Garza Jr. went to high school in East Chicago and went to work at Inland Steel. He enlisted in 1969, and was a machine gunner. In 1970, he died after throwing himself on a grenade to shield two fellow Marines. He was 20 years old.
For his actions, De La Garza was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. De La Garza's family met the Navy corpsman who tried to save his life in Vietnam on Memorial Day.
On this Memorial Day, hundreds turned out at the Community Veteran's Memorial in Munster to honor De La Garza's service and his memory.
"Tell your children about Emilio, let them know what a real hero is," said Vietnam veteran Sammy Lyles, the Navy Corpsman on patrol with De La Garza that fateful day in April of1970. He remembers it vividly, but like so many others, he came home at war's end, and went on with life.
One day last fall he was visiting a website that had a posting, "Anybody out there ever serve with Emilio De La Garza?" Lyles was quick to respond: "So I email him and say, 'I was the corpsman with the platoon.' That's how it all started."
So Sammy Lyles was invited north from Alabama by the Marine Corps League Calumet Detachment for Monday's ceremony and dedication of a plaque that will forever honor De La Garza. It was a humbling, and even therapeutic experience for the Navy Corpsman who witnessed tragedy and heroics four decades ago.
De La Garza's daughter Rene Lugo said this moment helped mend her heart, just a little bit. She never got a chance to know her Dad. She was just 18 months when he died.
"I know the type of man he was. It doesn't surprise me that he did what he did. At the same time, it's just hard not having him here to see me grow up, to see his three granddaughters, and, you know, to be with my mom," Lugo said.
Bill Schroeder of the Marine Corps League, one of the driving forces behind Monday's event, says the moon and stars just seemed to finally line up for this tribute and lasting memorial to De La Garza. It was Schroeder's online posting that Sammy Lyles read back around Thanksgiving.