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Waterford opens heart to Vietnam vet
Dealer presents 2010 Ford Fusion to wounded warrior, gives others 2 checks
Phil Waterford hands the key to a 2010 Ford Fusion over to Vietnam veteran Bob Gutierrez on Monday. Gutierrez – who grew up in the area with First Assembly Pastor Mike Dillman – now lives in Texas. - photo by JASON CAMPBELL
When Phil Waterford got home from the Memorial Day drama events that he emceed on Saturday, he couldn’t sleep.

After spending Friday night learning about the stories of the men who have overcome great adversity, and listening to those same stories again on Saturday, Waterford – who owns and operates Manteca Ford Mercury – could only think about what he could do to help those who gave so much to their country.

And he came up with the perfect plan.

With no sleep to his credit, Waterford called his financial advisors on Sunday morning and told them that he was going to give away two checks and a new vehicle to “wounded warriors” that afternoon – something that they discouraged him from doing at the time.

While those in charge of his finances claimed he couldn’t afford to do it, Waterford said that he turned over the keys of the 2010 Ford Fusion that arrived on the lot Sunday morning to wounded Vietnam veteran Bob Gutierrez – who was afraid that the car he drove to Manteca for the Memorial Day celebration wouldn’t get him back to Texas – in an emotional moment at Sunday’s community gathering at Woodward Park.

“When I called up my financial advisor, he told me that I couldn’t afford to do it, and I had to tell him ‘I can’t afford not to,’” Waterford said before giving Gutierrez the keys on Wednesday. “Those stories on Saturday weighed so heavily on my heart, and I just felt that it was something that I had to do.”

Gutierrez – who attended Stagg High School with First Assembly Pastor Mike Dillman – was injured when a rocket exploded in his face in Vietnam and severed his neck from ear-to-ear.

According to Dillman, soldiers had already tagged Gutierrez thinking that he had expired.

And even though he spent more than two years in the hospital and it took a total of three before he would learn how to talk again, Gutierrez wasn’t about to give up on something nobody ever thought he would overcome.

“At first the doctors said that I would never eat again, and that I’d never talk again,” he said. “That was something that was just unacceptable to me, and I wasn’t going to let that happen.”

The entire exchange actually seemed like it was something that was bound to happen even before it began.

Even though he was late to Friday’s dinner because he had just returned from Washington, D.C., Waterford was there to meet Gutierrez for the first time – not knowing that in less than 48 hours he’d be giving him a brand new vehicle.

And even at the community event on Sunday, Gutierrez – who sat on stage with the rest of the honored guests – didn’t realize that the shiny new Ford Fusion that had been on display was the one he’d be taking home to Texas.

He figured that it would be for one of the other two wounded soldiers – Christopher Braley or Jose Jaurequi – that were also being recognized at the event and presented with checks from Waterford.

When Waterford called Gutierrez up to the microphone, the veteran thought for a brief moment that he’d never even get the chance to slide behind the wheel.

“I thought for a moment there that I was going to have a heart attack – that I’d never get to drive that beautiful car,” he said jokingly to Waterford. “I was shocked, and it was something that I’ll never forget.”

Gutierrez couldn’t help but get emotional during the exchange.

“This is something that has never happened to me before,” he said, holding back tears. “It’s just unbelievable. There aren’t enough words to say, thank you, Phil.”

The response from Waterford was brief.

“I was just answering God’s call,” Waterford said. “I didn’t give the car away – it was something that I just felt that I had to do.”

By Wednesday afternoon, Gutierrez was spending time with his son who drove up from Northeast Texas to take his father’s old car back home.

And even with all of the obstacles that he’s overcome, Gutierrez says that if he had the chance to do it all over again, there isn’t anything that he would change.

“People have asked me if I know now what I knew then, would I still go to Vietnam?” he said. “And I always answer, ‘Yes.’

“First, I’m an American, and I love my country, and everything that I experienced over there opened my eyes, my heart and my mind to the reality and the power of Jesus Christ. You can’t put a price on that.”