With U.S. flags, uniforms and commemorative T-shirts, hundreds of veterans and community members participated Monday in a silent march to honor the nation’s fallen soldiers as part of Memorial Day.

Cars honked in support as the group made its way from the intersection of Boca Chica and Central boulevards to Veterans Park, where a special ceremony concluded the events for the day.

It was an emotional morning as the dozens of veterans gathered for the first time after more than a year of being socially distanced due to COVID-19. Last year, the parade and the other special ceremonies that have been happening during Memorial Day for more than 20 years were canceled due to the pandemic.

“We haven’t met in a year, but we are here to serve the veteran community. …To me it is very important because I’m very patriotic and we have to pay respects to the people that didn’t make it back,” Jesse Huerta, a Vietnam era veteran and a member of Warriors United in Arms, said.

“There are a lot of us that are here, we went, we came back and we prayed to God for us to come back. It is out of respect for the veterans, that’s the total commitment that we have. Everything we do is for the veterans.”

Tony Garcia, a Vietnam veteran and president of Warriors United in Arms, said it is important to have these events to show the rest of the country and the community that patriotism is alive and well in Brownsville. He said it is up to groups like the one he is part of to continue teaching patriotism to the younger generations so that the fallen soldiers and veterans from the community continue to be honored and thanked.

“There are a lot of things that we went through, a lot of sacrifices that we made. When we were in the military, we missed birthdays, funerals, weddings, Christmases, special events. Myself, I missed three Christmases out of four and it is something that people take for granted, but people like us, we appreciate it and we are thankful to live in this country,” he said.

Cameron County District Attorney Luis Saenz participated in the silent march and said without the veterans and fallen heroes, the citizens of this country wouldn’t have the rights that they have today that are easy to take for granted. He said he is glad that the parade and ceremonies were back this year because it is important to continue honoring them.

“In the courtroom, we’ve got a lot of rights, anybody has. The defendant and the victim, and we wouldn’t have those rights if it weren’t for these folks who went out there to defend those rights,” he said. “It’s unfortunate but we take it for granted. All you have to do, with all due respect, is to cross the river and find out that these rights that we take for granted they don’t have them over there.”

City Commissioner Ben Neece also participated. He said he was happy to be participating again after the one for last year was cancelled. Neece said he has participated in several parades in past years and added it is important to keep that spirit alive.

“To show our gratitude for all those people who sacrificed for our country, it’s important to keep that spirit alive,” he said. “Especially these days, right now.”

After the parade, hundreds of residents gathered at Veterans Park next to the Brownsville Public Library to pay their respects and to help place U.S. flags throughout the park. The Brownsville Fire Department also participated, elevating a giant U.S. flag in the parking lot.

With free hot dogs and aguas frescas, the attendees paid attention to the ceremony as organizers paid respects to the fallen soldiers with speeches from officials, the national anthem and a 21-gun salute.

“The fact that we have two of our oldest veterans today here is a blessing,” Cameron County Judge Eddie Trevino Jr. said. “And it should be a reminder of what this country is capable of and what it should aspire to.”

nreyna@brownsvilleherald.com