Iti’El Figueroa

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“Hey. Come here nephew. You may have heard those stupid stories about my past.  They are lies, all lies. Yes, now that you’re older and you can understand, I can tell the true story.

I was about twenty-years-old when they sent me the letter. Of course, I did not want to go. I was in the church. I was religious. I did not want to kill people. I wrote a letter back explaining that I would not do a good job because I would not shoot anyone. At least that is what my mother told me I did, because I do not remember.

Yes, they thought it was a joke. Yes, they thought it was an excuse. Yes, they did not listen to my letter. Yes, they sent me far away from home.

This is what I do remember, my friends’ heads blown twenty feet away from their bodies. I remember my buddy who died because I did not shoot my gun to cover him.

That day my buddy died, the Vietcong took me prisoner. I was easy to capture because I did not shoot my rifle. They used strange drugs to ask me questions. They tortured me, things I cannot say. I lost a lot of memory there and, finally, I lost my faith.

The day I lost my faith was the day I was not the same man anymore. All I can tell you is, after


that day, I went crazy. Yes, I killed a lot of people on that day. Maybe I killed more than you can imagine, maybe innocent, maybe not. I cannot even tell you for sure, but I escaped from that hell. I ran deep into the jungle and stayed there until I lost count of the days. The army sergeant who found me said I was in shock, that I looked like I had seen a ghost.

A few days after he found me, l woke up in the hospital and he was there. ‘You are lucky son. Do you know your name?’ he asked.

I smiled and thought to myself, ‘You know, this is an easy question.’  But I could not come up with my own name. All I could remember was that day I was found, as if I was born that day.

My family thought I was dead. My mother contacted the Red Cross and flew twice to Vietnam to search for me. She was the one who found me in the hospital. When I finally learned my name, they said I had been in the jungle for five months and Missing In Action for a year.

So, if you think the worst part was over, you are wrong nephew. It was only the beginning. When I got home, I did not recognize anybody, not even my family. I had to remember my name, social security number, birth date, my friends’ names, basically everything. It was difficult to be in a home with ‘strangers’ who said they were my family and who talked about my past. They would say, ‘Don’t you remember your sister? Here’s her picture,’ and I would look at the picture of a little girl in a white dress and I would say, ‘Really?’ and they would say, ‘Don’t you remember that guy, he was your friend before you left?’ and I would say, ‘That guy? Really?’ I tried but I couldn’t remember anything. I had even begun to doubt that I was my mother’s son.


She was a good woman, my mother. She died a few years after I was found, almost twenty-three years ago. I did not have much time with her, not much to remember her by.

The truth is nephew, no matter what happened, I am glad to be alive. I am telling you this because I could be dead like all my buddies. I think God didn’t leave me, that he really helped me in the war. So no matter what you hear about how I lost my past, there was a reason. I think God let me lose my past so that I would only remember my bad actions and the new opportunity that he gave me to come home and to live this I have.

So, remember what I have told you nephew, in case you ever lose your faith.






Reprinted with permission. pastiche, Volume I © Copyright, Estudio Casa Bohemia, Cabo Rojo, 2004. All rights reserved. 


  1. Wow, it is sorprending what your uncle has passed true. I really can not familiarized with your uncle’s experienced. I imagined how he felt when he got back home. If I get home, I will be comfortable with my family, but not your uncle, not him. He was sorraunded by people that told him that they were they family, but he by mind, did not remember. Everybody tells me war change people, war makes a human mind go crazy, but I did not know, it was in that extreme. I really like your uncles story and tell him that I hope that he does not have bad dreams.

  2. This is a really deep story. Sad but meaningful one. Second Chances. We can’t lose in vain those chances that God gave us. Maybe at the beginning we cannot see clearly and we blame God for everything that is happening to us, but at the end is just another chance to prove yourself. I was in a car accident and my car(my father buy it) was totaled but i was intact(i know its not as serious as your story). So i am taking this chance to clean my errors and to make my father proud. we can’t lose faith in God but more importantly we cannot lose faith in ourselves.

  3. Faith is something that keeps you going no matter what. God works in mysterious ways and everything always happens for a reason maybe it took you years to realize it but you did. Life can be so hard that you say “Why me? if I believe in you” I think every christian have think this and we don not know the reason in that precise moment but later on we can see what he had planned for us. It is really sad everything that happened to you I think no one deserves to be in a situation like that. This story really make me sad but knowing you can tell it now and see positive things from it keeps me believing that God never leaves us alone even if the situacion is too painful or hard to bear.

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