WESLACO — It’s become something of a Veterans Day tradition at the Hidalgo County Precinct 1 offices located here off of Joe Stephens Drive — a moment of pause to honor the men and women who have served in the United States Armed Forces.
Implemented by Commissioner David Fuentes when he first took office, the event has slowly evolved from an open invitation to stop by his office for an all-American hotdog, to the formal flag raising ceremony that took place Wednesday morning.
In the still morning air, a quiet settled over the small crowd that had gathered in the Precinct 1 parking lot as members of American Legion Post 172 of Mercedes, raised an American flag while those veterans in attendance stood at attention and saluted.
Once the flag was at full mast, the Star Spangled Banner began to ring out over loudspeakers. The crowd then recited the Pledge of Allegiance before the color guard was dismissed.
“Consider this just a small token of our appreciation for what you have done,” Fuentes said a moment later.
With his office located so close to the Mid Valley International Airport, Fuentes joked that next year’s evolution of the ceremony should include a flyby with a plane bearing a Veterans Day banner.
“Somebody write that down. We’ve gotta get it done next year,” Fuentes joked.
But beyond the lighthearted quips, observing Veterans Day has a more serious importance to the commissioner. Many of his family members and friends have volunteered for military service, he said.
“There’s more to it than just them being somewhere else defending our country, it’s the families that get left behind,” Fuentes said, speaking of how military deployments can affect a family’s dynamic while one parent is away.
“Those are the types of things that we should really appreciate,” he said of that sacrifice.
“We enjoy our freedoms, our democracy and everything else that we do here because of the freedoms that they’ve provided by defending our country,” Fuentes said.
Weslaco Mayor David Suarez, echoed the commissioner’s appreciation of veterans.
“I’m just honored to be a part of that and to be in a community that (does) honor the veterans, not just on Veterans Day, or veterans week, but every day,” Suarez said.
Just one day earlier, Suarez presided over an event honoring veterans when the city unveiled a new veterans reserved parking space in front of Weslaco City Hall.
The mayor said he’s glad to see how much more community support veterans receive today compared to just a few decades ago — something he has witnessed firsthand as a veteran himself.
“It’s very special to me. I, being a veteran, I went through it,” Suarez said, referring to his peacetime service as a medic with the U.S. Army in the mid-1980s.
“I never served in war like some of my colleagues, but in war or peace, veterans are thanked. And I always support and participate in veteran recognition. I think the country has gotten better every year,” he said.
But Suarez isn’t just mayor of Weslaco, he’s also Fuentes’ chief of staff, and is one of several members of the commissioner’s staff with military service.
“It’s no surprise that all of them are in leadership positions,” Fuentes said.
Just before the ceremony drew to a close, Fuentes again thanked veterans for their service.
“All of these gestures come from the heart, from us recognizing that the work that you do should be recognized, not just on days like today… but we should do it more frequently and more often,” he said.