The Amazing (Purple) Heart of SPC

November 12, 2018

Public Information Officer


Many families have more than one member who has earned a Purple Heart for service in heroic circumstances. But few of the double, triple and quadruple-Purple Heart families have a member whose “heart” took an eight-year-plus journey before its owner saw it for the first time in 2018. 

There are many highs, lows and emotions to overcome behind every Purple Heart, and Albert Borrego, an automotive technology program student at St. Philip's College, described his Purple Heart journey.

Q: How did St. Philip's College become part of your life journey, and why?

A: I first started in the automotive technology program in January, and I graduated from Madison and Lamb of God High School in 2002. My family is in the auto business. 

Q: So you're here to become more literate in the terminology of your family business---automotive technology.

A: It’s been a family trade, and I just wanted to get more educated, not only to find out what I didn’t know, but also the terminology...

My first memories at an early age are of my grandfather. He had a paint and body shop and my family has dabbled in mechanics, not only vehicles ... my father fixes washers and dryers on his own. Watching them got me interested when they said "hey, hand me that tool right there."

Q: What does a family member in an entrepreneurial family business in San Antonio see over the years?

A: A lot. Watching the different vehicles coming into my grandfather's shop for paint and body... there were a lot of custom cars coming through. He’s downsized a lot. The shop used to be on Flores St., and he's 80 something now. Working out of the house on a couple acres in Elmendorf, he’s still doing about 10-12 cars a week. He knocks 'em out, from minor dents and dings to a full paint job.

Q: You served your country. Tell us your story. 

A: I was a knucklehead and troublemaker from the wrong side of town. And my mom's dad was a World War II veteran and Purple Heart recipient. Being a knucklehead, he always pushed me for that as well. I was in the Army. I was an airborne infantryman. Almost eight years. I don’t think I was one-two years in the states. After each deployment, we had 30 days of leave to come back.

Q: You served in heroic circumstances, moving back and forth from the war to family in San Antonio. Elaborate on what you are comfortable sharing.

A: I was in Iraq. It was early morning between 8 and 10 a.m., coming off of a night patrol. The sun was coming up. We started a foot patrol and we were getting to our objective and one of the guys stepped on an IED. A dozen people or so were with me. I was in a ditch and was one of the first two in. When I got up I didn't even know I had a shrapnel wound and I had no idea I was knocked out for a while. They threw me a metal detector and we were searching for IEDs in a minefield. I was knocked out for a minute or two and searched for more mines. I didn’t realize my fingers were off my hand. And I had shrapnel in the arm, back and legs, a pretty good brain injury.... 

Q: Do you recall being recognized for your service?

A: It was six to eight years before I received an award. They offered it at first and I didn’t want what was offered to someone who lost their life and it took me a long time to accept it.

Q: Can you recall being treated for your experience with the IED?

A: When I got hurt, I went to the treatment clinic and then got discharged from a disconnected field clinic. When I told her [his doctor] about the incident, that's when she started digging and the award was one of the results.

There was a senator or congressman who wanted to present it. And I’m not good with stuff like that. I asked them just to mail it. It came in a big old manila envelope.

Q: That's a ceremonial-quality envelope, and a large shadowbox. There's probably more to share, but you need time to change focus on your class that begins in a few minutes. Thanks for sharing your story. 

A: Thank you. I picked up the box at a garage sale and I added glass and felt. There’s my dad’s blue infantry ribbon, and things I had on my uniform when I was injured, including The Big Red One patch. There’s a wreath that says I received fire and I returned fire. The expert marksman, and airborne wings. Some different awards that I have. There’s my Army photo to be used in case I was captured or needed to be identified… I’m headed to the Veterans Day ceremony today with our department chair and his wife, representing automotive technology. I’ll see you there.