Joseph Reyes has been a software developer for more than 50 years now, and he’s good at it.
“They used to call me ‘One-time Joe,’” he said.
In those earlier years, most computer programmers created, edited and stored their programs line by line on punched cards.
“When you’d write a program, sometimes it’d be 50 cards, sometimes it’d be 200 cards, depending on what was needed,” Reyes added. “A lot of guys were trying four, five, six times.”
But “one-time Joe” would almost always get it working right off the bat.
“It might not always do what it needed to do, but the logic would work,” he said.
Though his nickname was created with programming in mind, Reyes exemplified it throughout other facets of his life, including when he was drafted into the U.S. Army at 19 years old.
Reyes was born on June 13, 1947, in the Bronx, though he said he doesn’t remember New York as his family left for Los Angeles when he was just 4.
The moving didn’t end when the family arrived in California, though, and over the course of the next 17 years, they moved nine times, “all right here in the valley, from El Monte to Arleta to Panorama City.”
“I went to two of everything — kindergartens, elementary, junior high and high schools,” Reyes said, laughing.
Though the family never stayed put, Reyes continued trying to make roots wherever he’d go.
Reyes was the oldest of three — his sister is a year younger and brother eight years younger, which he says was great as he enjoyed doing his “own thing.”
He was very sports-oriented, and ran cross country and played first-string varsity baseball in high school.
“It was great because I was always busy with sports,” he said.
Reyes also excelled in math, and considered himself a mathematician of sorts. His teacher would even ask him to put the homework answers on the board, “He always trusted me.”
Reyes graduated from James Monroe High School in 1965, and began classes at Los Angeles Valley College in the fall, studying engineering.
“I was going to full-time work, full-time school and dating a lot, and I couldn’t manage it all,” he said.
He thought, “Well, I’m not going to give up my ladies and I need the money,” so he dropped one class, going from 12 to nine units, “and, boom, here comes my letter: ‘You are drafted.’”
In August 1966, Reyes was sent for two-month basic training at Fort Bliss, Texas.
He was quickly chosen as a squad leader, and though he didn’t choose to enlist, he said he’s “the type of person who can fill into almost anything,” so he had a good time.
“It was strange because I was just barely 5-foot-5,” he said. “So here I am, 5-foot-5 and most of the guys in my squad were all 5-10, 6-1, and I’m bossing them (around).”
After the two months of basic training, they gave him a stripe, and he began his fast track up the ranks.
Because Reyes had taken two typing classes in junior high and had been working at Kaiser Permanente filing paperwork before being drafted, they made him a clerk typist.
He was then sent to Fort Lee, Virginia, for several months, where he worked under a colonel.
“We had what we called ‘banker hours,’ where we worked from 9 to 4 — it was great,” he said.
Reyes met some friends who had cars, so they were able to take advantage of being on the East Coast, constantly traveling on the weekends.
“One weekend, we’d go to New York; another time, Washington, D.C. — the next time, it’d be Florida,” he said.
While there, Reyes turned around and made two more stripes, including one he received when he was awarded the Soldier of the Month in April 1967, beating out thousands for the honor. Moving up in rank quickly didn’t bother him, though.
In July 1967, Reyes was sent to Vietnam to the Ninth Infantry Division, 5/60th Battalion, Third Brigade, where he spent one day over a year, “because it was a leap year, so we had to spend one extra day there.”
“They sent me down to a city called Binh Phuoc — we were the furthest thing south that represented all of the United States (forces),” he said. “The Viet Cong would come through Cambodia, and they had to go through us because there were rice paddies (everywhere else) and they’d be exposed and in the open. We were hit on every single night because there was only one way to get through.”
When he arrived at camp, he encountered a master sergeant who had been in the Army for about 25 years.
“He saw what (rank) I had and asked how long I’d been in the service, and at that time, I think it was 11 months,” Reyes said. “I told him, ‘I earned every one of them.’ How could an 11-month-old guy, a young kid, have that many stripes already? And here he was already 25 years in, and had, I don’t know, maybe three more stripes than me, so he was really upset with me.”
Most of the soldiers were able to settle in, but the master sergeant sent Reyes out into the field that very afternoon with an M60 machine gun after learning he was also a sharpshooter.
Reyes, who was only about 120 pounds, told him he had never fired that gun before, but was told he’d learn, and he did.
“I learned quick,” he said, chuckling.
Reyes was given double duties because of his experience with the headquarters side of things as a typist. He would go out in the field and, when he returned, he’d begin the paperwork.
“Out of all the companies, I probably had the most duties,” he said.
His unit was mechanized, so they’d go out with armored personnel carriers, or APCs.
“Since we were mechanized, they would get us in the battle as best they could,” he added. “They would send us out by helicopter, whatever it’d take to get us out there, so we were in battle quite a bit. We had a ratio that we’d lose one guy and generally kill 12 to our one (loss).”
If one of their men was killed, they would bring his body back to camp, where Reyes then had to search his pockets.
“A lot of guys would get their full month’s pay and they’d just go to the clubhouse and drink beer, but some guys would have two, three months in their pockets, so I had to report everything they had.”
Because of his typing experience, Reyes also had to type the letters that went home to the parents after the soldiers had died.
“(They were) all hand-typed. If you make a mistake, just tear it and throw it away … I think I broke the record, seven letters with no mistakes in a row.”
Reyes said he saw a lot of soldiers he knew get killed.
“It was a lot of killing and death,” he said. “Unfortunately, I’m the one that had to type the letters and check their bodies.”
One soldier in particular stood out to him, another from Southern California named Scarborough.
The day Scarborough was promoted to captain, he was sent out into the field without time to change his promotion chevron.
“You never wear your silver, bronze or gold, just material so it doesn’t shine,” Reyes said. “Well, he just barely got promoted and out they sent him, he never had time to change it, and they got him — Scarborough got killed with a rocket.”
Reyes remembers unloading his body from the APC in the pouring rain.
“What was really hard was that I got back from Vietnam and this song just came out and it was called ‘Scarborough Fair’ — that was his last name. It played on the radio and would just bother the heck out of me.”
Reyes was also in Vietnam during the Tet Offensive, a coordinated series of North Vietnamese attacks on various cities and outposts in South Vietnam, in February 1968. His unit was asleep with their APCs set up in a 360-degree circle when they heard yelling.
“What the Viet Cong would do is take all these kids from these villages, young, give them a gun,” he said. “They shouldn’t have been yelling, that’s giving us a sign saying, ‘I’m coming’ … We lost a lot of guys, we lost 12 and I think we killed 69 of them — that’s the biggest loss we ever had.”
Soon, it was time for Reyes to return home, and because he had so little time left in his enlistment, he was honorably discharged in July 1968 as an E-5 specialist second class.
Coming home was strange for him. His friends would ask him why he was so quiet.
“It took me probably a good couple years (to get back to normal),” he said. “The more you talked about it, the better off you were. I was keeping it all in, so the more I started talking about it, releasing it (the better I got).”
He and his wife, Diane, were married a couple of years later, and now, they have four kids and 15 grandkids, all of whom live right here locally.
“They’re always at our house, all the time,” he said. “We have grandkids over minimum three, four days a week.”
He and his family moved to Santa Clarita in August 1985 to the same house they live in currently.
After he got back, Reyes returned to work at Kaiser, which put him into the mailroom as supervisor, and went back to school full time for computer science.
He was a quick learner and was able to pick up the major computer language that was being used at that time in just a few months, so he transferred into Kaiser’s computer department while continuing school.
Reyes went on to work for various companies after getting his degree, including Price Pfister, Security Pacific Bank, then on his own, which he did for 17 years.
“The very first day I opened my door, I got a job writing a system for a check cashier,” he said.
He made sure to remain owner of the system, and by the time he had it running, he had more than 300 customers using it, including some in Canada. He was then able to take the core of it and write various other packages for other areas, such as medical, video and bookkeeping.
“I had a suite in the industrial area off of (Avenue) Stanford, and here comes Windows for Microsoft,” he said. “I was already popping up windows like Microsoft did — a lot of developers didn’t know how to do that — still, slowly but surely I was losing customers.”
That’s when he decided to take a position with Tacori Enterprises, where he still works now and hopes to continue working for the next few years.
Reyes remains “one-time Joe,” always working to do things the right way. He takes the train to work and remains very active, averaging about 4 miles of walking a day.
“Before I go in (to the office), I walk around for a mile and a half, 2 miles, then I go to lunch and I walk to restaurants, which are a 20-minute walk each way,” he said.
Three times a week, he also goes to a personal trainer who’s certified in acupuncture and massage.
“I’m trying to keep myself young because of the grandkids,” he said.
He says he and his wife raised their kids with good morals, who then passed along those same morals to his grandchildren.
And though he didn’t choose to join the Army, Reyes still believes it was an important part of his life.
“I got my life going with my wife and my kids (because of it),” he said.