GEORGE WEST, Texas — If you’ve ever been to Jalisco Mexico Taqueria in George West in Live Oak County, then you know you’ll find an interesting crowd in this city of a little more than 2,500 people.
“Good people here,” Neco Mades Flores tells us. He’s a regular and if you spot him, you’ll always find him with a cup of coffee talking with some of his friends.
Going to the restaurant every morning and talking with his friends who are fellow veterans, brings this 78-year-old to life.
Right now, he says he’s unemployed but from the way he shares his story, he’s doing a job that most in the area, if not all, can’t.
"I teach children karate,” Flores tells us and when we ask how it’s going, he says, “Oh great. Well, I don't charge though that's not a job, so. Whenever I can get a job, carpenter job, I get one.”
But it's teaching kids karate and not carpentry that keeps this man going. He calls it his therapy.
Helping others, Flores says, helps him.
He tells us he learned karate in Okinawa, Japan. That’s more than 7,500 miles away from his family home in Floresville.
"I won the lottery by the way,” Flores tells us. When asked when, he responds by saying “1964.”
Never once did Flores hesitate to answer the call to duty especially since all of his brothers served in World War II and Korea.
You’re from a military family, we asked him. He responded by saying, “Well, in those days you had to be … because it was your duty.”
His duty to serve our country as he was drafted by the Marines in 1964.
"Third Battalion, third Marines, third Marines division,” Flores tells with a good laugh at the end.
After a year in Okinawa, Flores and two of his buddies from Floresville were shipped off to Vietnam.
"At first, it wasn't too bad because I was young, didn't know any better,” Flores said about his experience."I had no responsibilities.”
But then that one memory comes flooding back. Getting off the ship, onto a little boat, and then something he never expected.
"The door opens up and you see machine gun fire hitting the water and mortars blowing up,” he said remembering his first time seeing the beaches of Vietnam. “While we were still on the little boat, you could hear bullets go 'bing,' like that, you know.”
When asked if that scared him, he quickly answered, “Well, I was too, we were too conditioned what to expect.”
Flores may have been there and survived the horrors but he remembers very little.
"I know I was there and it is in writing and in the records but I remember hardly nothing,” he told us.
Flores deployed back to Vietnam twice and throughout the entire time and even today, Flores remains proud of his 20 years of Marine service to this day.
We wanted to know how he was treated when he came home from Vietnam.
“Well, I ignored everybody,” he says.
When asked what they said or what they did, Flores telling us, "Well, I never listened to them.”
But did Flores come back a changed man? “No more than anybody else,” Flores tells us.
It was back in Okinawa, a year before his first deployment to Vietnam, that Flores learned what proved to be his purpose in life. It turns out that would be karate.
These days if he's not at Jalisco Mexico Taqueria, you can find him a few blocks down the street at his Dojo which is right next to his home.
As he points to the gear for the kids, Flores shows us how “this is equipment we use and we go full contact.” “Everything has its place and when the kids come, they just put everything away,” he adds.
We wanted to know what Flores felt he instilled in the kids who come to his Dojo. He didn’t miss a beat in his response. “Self-discipline,” Flores tells us.
Flores says it's not difficult to do. He just had to learn how to speak their language, think like they do, and that's why they all get along so well together.
"You can't communicate with them as an adult,” Flores says. “You got to communicate at them with their language.”
And when he looks back at his life, Flores says it's just anyone else's.
"We had a tough life here,” Flores says. “Good tough life here and then, the Marine Corps, there wasn't no change. You still had a good tough life.”
When we asked what he thought the rest of his life would be like, Flores tells us, “Same. Teaching karate, working, and then I drop dead.” Then adding, "I'm lucky to be here now. It's good enough for me.”
When we began our Table Talk series last year, we committed to traveling to all 12 counties we serve in the Coastal Bend and we’re not done yet. At this point, we have 3 more counties to visit. They include Brooks, Duval and Jim Hogg counties.
That’s where we’d like you to join in on the conversation. Where would you like us to go? Where's your favorite hot spot where people love to eat and talk? We always want to hear from you.
You can always reach me through social media as well as email me at firstname.lastname@example.org as we continue our travels throughout the Coastal Bend.