A Personal Look into the Bravery of One Mexican Army Officer Who was Ready to Protect Me
You know I have been blessed with a world of unbelievable and unusual experiences, many resulting from my travels. It’s now 2:26am ET and I thought I was going to go to bed now but I have the TV on and just learned that our new POTUS has indicated to the President of Mexico, if the report I have heard on TV is correct, that Mexican soldiers are cowards and the US could send in our troops. Could that be true?? If you haven’t seen the Peter Sellers film, “The Mouse that Roared,” do your best to get your hands on it as, if that scenario was put into action, it might be the best thing that ever happened to Mexico in the style of Peter Sellers! But I actually know, like a brother, a fellow whose family has been Mexican for centuries and whose last name is French from the days when the French occupied Mexico. I’ll call him Juan to protect his real identity.
Juan’s family owns a chain of hotels, restaurants and so many other businesses in Mexico. His house, in a residential area of Mexico City, is extraordinary and I’ve had the privilege of being invited to his house twice. His elegantly finished basement has a huge room, complete with mannequins that sport his traditional folkloric clothing that is worn for ceremonial occasions and is reminiscent of the outfits mariachi players wear. That room is like a salon in a museum with at least 100 different outfits complete with vests, trousers, sombrero’s, and matching boots humidity-controlled closets!
Juan went to military school and military university and when he graduated, he went into the Mexican Army as an officer. He was in the army about 15 years when he decided to retire at the age of 35 from the Mexican Army and resume life as a private citizen. He married, had a son, built a gorgeous house for his family and I met him when part of my job included spearheading the international development of the travel company that I worked for as Executive Vice President of a $1.5billion travel company and Mexico was one of 21 countries I brought into our international network.
Juan is a sharp-shooter and a very brave man and if he is an example of the average soldier or officer in the Mexican Army, I wouldn’t be in a hurry to throw the word “cowardly” in their faces as I believe that, like our own soldiers, they are lovely people but don’t threaten them with a weapon unless you’re ready for a battle! And why under Heaven would be want to threaten Mexico with invasion, occupation, or warfare???
I was traveling from Mexico City to Cuernavaca, an historic and wonderful place to visit a little more than an hour’s drive from D.F., the Federal District of Mexico, which is the way that Mexico City is referred to. Juan picked me and my company’s CEO up at the airport and we were whisked off to Cuernavaca, the place that the heir to the Woolworth forturne, Barbara Hutton, built a hacienda which became the Camino Real Hotel after her death. We were on our way to a meeting of our Mexican regional heads who represented our presence all over Mexico. I was in the front seat and my colleague was in the back as we drove on a marvelous highway to Cuernavaca when Juan announced that he needed to stop at the next travel plaza to fill up his Range Rover. Juan commented, “It’s not a good idea to stop for gas or anything else en route because of banditos but don’t worry, I have my gun and I know how to use it!”
Sitting between me and Juan on the consul was a triangular leather case. When Juan got out of the vehicle to deal with the gasoline purchase, I turned to my colleague and asked, “Do you think there’s a gun in there?” Pragmatically, he replied, “Have a look!” I unsnapped the flap on the triangular case and, lo and behold, in this beautiful hand-tooled leather case was a serious revolver. Having the gun within inches of my elbow did not make me feel better.
The trip was altogether wonderful! Cuernavaca was wonderful! The over-500-year-old museum built by the Spanish was wonderful. The hotel we stayed at, Casa Tomayo, an AMAZING place that I’ll tell you more about another day, was wonderful and everything went perfectly including having dinner at Barbara Hutton’s house! But an overriding memory was the Juan-and-the-gun episode even though I never saw it leave its case.
About a year later,on a Sunday morning, Juan was sitting at his kitchen dining table with his back to the interior of his house. His wife and nine year-old son sat across from him with their backs to the large sliding glass doors about 30 feet behind them. As Juan looked up from his morning newspaper, he saw three men dressed in black with black ski masks hiding their faces climb over the huge garden wall that fenced out the world from his property. Juan’s mind and body went into Mexican Army Officer mode. He said nothing to his family as there was no time to have them move. As he stood, he pivoted, turned to the interior of the house, went to his bedroom and came back with that same gun that sat between us on the drive to Cuernavaca. In seconds he was back in his kitchen’s dining area but the three men were in the house. One held his wife by her hair and had his gun pointed at her head. Another had his son by the neck with a gun pointed at his head. The third was looking about the area assessing what they came to steal.
When Juan told me this story, he said he was on auto-pilot! There was no conscious thought. He was in soldier-mode and poised for action. He did what he was trained to do in military high school, military college and in the Mexican Army. In seconds, Juan had shot the man holding his wife in the knee and then, a nano-second later, he shot the man holding his son in the forehead. The latter was instantly dead and the other was in great pain and unable to walk. So, at this point, there were two shot men on the floor. When the third bandito saw his two compatriots in trouble, he tried to help the one with the injured knee out of the house but gave up and ran off before he was shot too.
Juan had to face many hearings to prove that he was defending his family in order to avoid being accused, himself, of wrong-doing which, since the invaders were still in his house when the police arrived, he was ultimately able to prove but the whole series of incidents that occurred that day took its emotional toll on him, his wife and son.
But I can tell you one thing for certain that I learned from the trip to Cuernavaca and the incident that took place in Juan’s house: Juan was correct. He had a gun and he wasn’t afraid to use it. Not only was there no fear, there was an abundance of skill, training, focus and bravery and nothing was going to stand in the way of him exercising the skills he was trained to perform in the Mexican military.
So my bit of advice: Before the warmth and hospitality and friendliness of Mexican people gets interpreted as weakness, cowardice, or anything else illogical, know that Mexicans are people with millennia of history, centuries of traditions, fierce pride in their culture, imbued with legends of the bravery of their ancestors, and in many ways remind me of the Scottish who don’t need to be smacked twice to dig their heels in and respond with double force. Cowardice is a ridiculous insult to throw at the people of Mexico.
On a whole other level, the thought of threatening Mexicans with a US invasion is the stuff that fiction is made of! But, you may recall that President Reagan ordered the US Marines to invade the tiny Caribbean island of Granada so maybe there’s a sense of emulating another POTUS.
It might be a good idea if bedtime reading of Dale Carnegie’s book, “How to Win Friends and Influence People” were prescribed or maybe audited classes at a Finishing School for all members of government who are in political positions whose words carry heavy meaning could be a good thing to bring a level of grace and charm, diplomacy and statesmanship to all government proceedings. Taking a less from the Brits who have cultivated an image of educated, well bred, and stopping everything every day for a spot of tea at 4pm while their historic means of dealing with destinations was to take them over, divide the locals into two teams and set them off to hate and kill one another while they stepped aside so as not to get killed and removed the valuable assets from that destination, an M.O. that was implemented in India, Africa, the Middle East, and Ireland. But their image is one of very proper etiquette and well-chosen words. Approaching the international community and residents in the US with boxing gloves on is not the best approach.
And thinking about Scotsmen brings to mind the Scottish prayer that I’ve updated to be relevant in the 21st century: “From ghosties and ghoulies and long-leggedy beasties, things that go bump in the night and beasties who punch allies in the face, Good Lord deliver us!”
--Gotta Fly Now!sm
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Nationally syndiated radio show host