1952 was a big year for young Francisco Rene Cortez. He turned 17, joined the U.S. Marine Corps and got married.
The decisions he made that year changed the course of his life. Cortez went from a teenager who dreamed of being a warrior to a married man and, eventually, the father of 12 children.
He began a 20-year journey that took him from the south Texas towns of his youth – Hebbronville and Corpus Christi – to Japan; Hawaii; the Arctic Circle; Europe; the Mediterranean; the South Pacific; Vietnam; and finally California, where he was discharged.
1952 was also the year that Cortez went from being a store attendant at a plumbing company to being a leader of men. Just as fighting in Vietnam began to escalate in 1965, he joined the 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines, as a platoon sergeant and volunteered to go to war.
During his second tour, he was assigned to the 1st Reconnaissance Battalion, 1st Marine Division, in Chu Lai. In all, Cortez completed four tours in Vietnam before returning to the U.S. He was an acting first sergeant at the time of his discharge.
But his journey didn’t end there. After his years in the military, Cortez started his own landscaping business and went on to own other businesses as well.
“I started with a lawnmower, a hand edger and a grass rake in the back of a Toyota Corona,” Cortez said. “America is the land of opportunity if you just get up and go look for it."