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Local veterans meet after 50 years, realize one saved the other during Vietnam War

Posted at 10:01 AM, Jun 30, 2023

Two Vietnam veterans from Nipomo meet weekly for lunch, but this story, like many others from the military, goes much deeper. They both went on to become lawyers and, coincidentally, now drive the same color and model vehicle. But the twist is, they had never met until Honor Flight Central Coast California took veterans to Washington D.C. in May. During the trip and after a quick exchange of ‘here’s when and where I was in Vietnam’, the two quickly realized one had helped save the other’s life.

Esteban Valenzuela and Bob Gosney served in the Vietnam War in Danang until 1968. Esteban was an infantry Marine on the front lines, and Bob was a 1st Marine Aircraft Wing air controller.

“Sometimes we get pinned down, and when you're down and can't move, you're very vulnerable,” said Valenzuela. “The only way that we could get out of that mess was with air support.”

“I directed all the Marine jets where to go,” said Gosney about his responsibilities as senior air traffic controller. “If there were emergencies from the infantry guys who were engaged in combat, I had to get them emergency aid immediately.”

During an offensive in July of 1967, Esteban’s unit was out in a field and came under heavy fire and needed assistance.

“Out of nowhere, these jets would just appear,” said Valenzuela. “’Oh my God, here they come.’ I turned and you could see the bombs come out of the jets, tumbling right over our heads. We’re like, ‘Oh my God, please keep going to the tree line where we’re getting the fire from.’ These guys were on, man. These pilots had a lot of guts.”

Esteban never met any of the pilots that helped save his life that day, but a chance encounter in front of the U.S. Marine Corps Memorial in Washington D.C. during his honor flight in May seemed to be one only seen in the movies.

“I said my callsign was Joyride, and he seemed to recognize Joyride right away. He turned around,” said Gosney. “He said, ‘This guy saved my life.’ And when I heard that, I just kind of went blank.”

“And I go, ‘Are you kidding me? After all these years, I’m going to meet the guy that sent in the jets that pulled us out of near death.’ My God,” said Valenzuela.

“I was never told anything good. This is the first time in 56 years I was ever told that something turned out good,” said Gosney.

Since the revelation during their honor flights, Esteban and Bob meet for lunch once a week to talk about life and their unique experiences as Marines.

“The whole United States, we could have lived in. We ended up five miles from each other if that,” said Valenzuela.

“Oh, yeah, we even drive the same kind of car,” said Gosney.

“We were brothers then, and we’re brothers now,” said Valenzuela.

The two pick a random restaurant each week and have lunch weekly. This past week was at a Mediterranean spot in Santa Maria.