War. Unfortunately, it’s part of life. For Antoniojuan (AJ) Garcia, he fought in many wars, but continues to battle another.
The seventy-four year old Arroyo Grande, California native, served in Vietnam, where he endured a causality. During a usual military operation, his legs were injured and AJ has used a wheelchair ever since.
But he didn’t let that deter him. After thirty-eight years, Officer Randle-Garcia happily retired from the Army. The gentleman was also lucky in love. He met his future husband, John Pence Randle, when they were kids. (John also enlisted in the Army the same time AJ did but he didn’t make a career out of it.) At thirteen, they both told their parents about being in love. AJ’s father’s remark, “Just don’t tell anyone else.” In the fifties, being gay meant you were mentally deranged. My god, how threatened and insecure people can be—even today! (Gulp.) Frightening. Fear.
AJ and John were together forty-seven years and raised two sons. Several years ago,
tragically, John was killed in a car accident. Around that time, their youngest son, Junior, was killed serving his country. Capt. Antoniojuan Eduardo Franco Ablaza Randle-Garcia Jr., died July 18, 2002, in the war against terrorism. He was forty-two.
Gerald, AJ and John’s other son, is living with HIV, which inspired AJ to ride in the 2013 AIDS/LifeCycle (ALC). That was his second ride, as in the eighties, he rode in the second California Ride, before it was called ALC!
You might wonder how he made the trek from San Francisco to Los Angeles: he had a customized three-wheeler that was operated by a hand crank.
Well…if you haven’t guessed it by now, AJ’s other war is AIDS. He’s unyielding in battling this enemy!
Turning seventy-five on the first of January, the vivacious Vet seems to wear a permanent smile. His positive attitude and boundless energy far exceeds this gal’s! Residing on Elizabeth Lake, a natural body of water in the Angeles National Forest just north of L.A., AJ welcomes me to his comfy abode. We sit alongside the water.
Ruby Comer: What brought you to the shores of Elizabeth Lake?
Antoniojuan Randle-Garcia: Well, I’m a country boy at heart. [AJ surveys the picturesque view.] I’ve been here five years.
It is absolutely enchanting here. Tell me, what is a typical day for AJ?
Walking my dogs, putting puzzles together, and spending time with other veterans. I also enjoy my family—and I love karaoke.
Who doesn’t enjoy karaoke?! Give me that mic! Say, when did you first hear about the epidemic?
In 1981, while I was in serving in the Army. My son contracted it from a blood transfusion.
Oh…my…God. So sorry to hear AJ. Damnit. How has the epidemic affected you?
It has made me more passionate in how I feel about this war that I came home to…which doesn’t seem to have an end.
Isn’t that the kicker?! How did the disease impact you and John?
We were only with each other, but still safe. [He pauses, looking out onto the breathtaking vista of pine trees and the Sierra Pelona Mountains.] We didn’t need anyone else but each other.
How tender. I don’t think those kinds of relationships happen all that often, AJ. [He displays a satisfying grin.] When did you first get tested, and was it anxiety provoking?
I was tested when I was giving blood. I knew that I would be negative, so it was not emotional.
Do you get tested regularly?
Yes, even though I’m not with anyone now.
Good for you. What was it like riding in the ALC at sixty-nine years young?
Ruby, it was like PT in the military.
[I chuckle.] What were the challenges?
My challenge was keeping my mind on the ride and not my mobility.
As you know, there’s a high rate of HIV infection in your generation. Can you address this?
Well most of the guys early on seemed to not care [about using protection]. As time went on, they opened their eyes. It was too late.
Why do you think that was?
No one believed it could happen to them.
Yes, regrettably, that always seems to be the way—“It will never happen to me.” How can we better reach out to them?
Just by what we are doing, sharing our experiences.
Who do you consider a hero in the AIDS epidemic?
Everyone who speaks out and supports us in this war. I am in the fight until the end.
Fantastic to have you aboard. Do you have any other comments?
Get tested and always be safe—even with your partner.
Fantastic advice, AJ. I’m excited to know more about you and John’s relationship.
We were in love with each other, Ruby, plain and simple. It’s like any other relationship, there were ups and there were downs. Communication was our glue. Even when I was deployed, we kept the channel open to talk about everything. We raised ten boys together until he passed in 2004.
Whaaat?! [My head spins.] Wait!
Yes. AJ Junior and Gerald are my biological sons. Our other nine sons adopted us. They were boys who came from unloving homes. They saw how loved and cared for our sons were. One by one they moved in with us. John was the soft one between us. He was stern but would give in. I was the voice that kept order.
Bless you guys. Holy Merciful Mary! AJ, you need to write a memoir! I’m fascinated and want to know more. Please write a book. [A gentle breeze whisks by and we both gaze at the ripples in the lake from a passing boat.] Looking back on your military career, are there any regrets?
I have no regrets. If I could, I would still be enlisted. Even though it was not always easy being gay, I never had any problems.
Nice to hear. Any words for the younger gay generation?
Be who you are at all times. Be informed and conduct yourselves accordingly. Remember, we are all in this fight for our community.
Ruby Comer is an independent journalist from the Midwest who is happy to call Hollywood her home away from home. Reach her by e-mail at [email protected].