Memorial Day observers in Mission pay tribute to the fallen

U.S. Army soldier Irene Miller salutes a headstone of a veteran after planting a flag during Memorial Day ceremonies at Rio Grande Valley State Cemetery on Monday, May 31, 2021, in Mission. (Joel Martinez | jmartinez@themonitor.com)

MISSION — The city of Mission and the Veterans Land Board hosted a Memorial Day ceremony Monday to honor those who died serving their country.

“Today we not only celebrate veterans, today’s designated day is for those who did not come back,” Mission Mayor Armando O’Caña said at the event, held at the Rio Grande Valley State Veterans Cemetery in Mission. “Those that went before us in the spirit of freedom, may they rest in peace here in this solemn land that we have provided together with the state of Texas and the United States government.”

Fransisco Albiar receives a hug before the start of Memorial Day ceremonies at Rio Grande Valley State Cemetery on Monday, May 31, 2021, in Mission. (Joel Martinez | jmartinez@themonitor.com)

Community members, veterans and families from all over South Texas gathered at the cemetery to place flags at each headstone and honor the dead.

Retired Sgt. Major David Flores from Mission spoke at the ceremony.

“Today on this day we stand together on the hallowed grounds,” Flores said. “This is a symbol, not just here in front of us but across the state, across this nation and around the world of all those who have gone before us.”

Flores said he was pleased to see such a large turnout this year and was honored to speak and serve to carry the legacy of those soldiers who have fallen.

“They had a hope that our country would continue to remain free and so I continued to serve to carry that torch and that hope,” Flores said.

For some, Memorial Day means so much more than just a three-day weekend, like for the Espinoza family from Alton.

Gabriel Espinoza said he lost his older brother, Bradley Espinoza, in Iraq in 2009 and attended the event not only to honor him but all the men and women who fought for their country.

“We just try to keep everybody’s memory alive and just show our respect for everybody that’s here,” Espinoza said.

Asked what Memorial Day means to him and his family, he said, “Every day is Memorial Day for us, today especially. Just take a second to remember why it’s a three-day weekend. It’s not just to have an extra day, there’s a reason why, and we need to do our best to try and remember that.”

During the ceremony, San Antonio resident Rosie Peña Guerra read a poem she wrote after her 20-year-old son died in Afghanistan in 2010.

Flags lay at the headstones of veterans during Memorial Day ceremonies at Rio Grande Valley State Cemetery on Monday, May 31, 2021, in Mission. (Joel Martinez | jmartinez@themonitor.com)

“It is said that a man does not die until he is forgotten,” Peña Guerra recited from her poem. “So it is good that we come out here for remembrance. It is also said that though we do not know them all we do owe them all.”

She said it is important that everyone do their part in remembering the fallen.

At the event there was a traditional honorary missing man’s table to symbolize the fallen’s absence.

During the event Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops from the Valley attended to salute the flag and pay their respects to their veterans.

Boy Scout troop leaders Rosie and Oliver Arriaga from Troop 272 in McAllen said it is important to bring their scouts to Memorial Day events to show them how to honor and respect their veterans.

“In my opinion having that sentiment is the foundation,” Oliver said. “It is very important and it’s just a way of showing them how lucky we are to live in this country and this is one of the ways of doing it. … I think we should be more involved with the veterans in whatever they need. So, having this every year is an opportunity for our kids and other people to come and see what we have. What our soldiers did for our country and for our future. It’s just a way of us giving thanks.”

Rosie said her father was a World War II veteran and said, “Growing up, Memorial Day meant honoring our fallen soldiers and I’m grateful that that tradition has continued.”

U.S. Army soldiers and others plat flags at the headstones of veterans during Memorial Day ceremonies at Rio Grande Valley State Cemetery on Monday, May 31, 2021, in Mission. (Joel Martinez | jmartinez@themonitor.com)

She said she attended Memorial Day ceremonies with her dad as a little girl and always felt a sense of pride and patriotism toward the fallen soldiers.

“Veterans are very special,” O’Caña added. “We treat our veterans with the best honor, respect and integrity that we can and everybody that’s buried here, I made a pledge as mayor that they are not going to be buried alone.”

The mayor laid a flag down at the ceremony like many others for his brother who is buried at the cemetery.

“Citizens don’t forget your veterans,” he said. “If you’re out there at the Island that’s fine, but don’t forget to at least pray for your veterans.”

Prospects for a historical park to honor veterans is in its infancy, according to O’Caña.

He said the park will be located south of the cemetery on Inspiration Road and is aimed to be built in the next three years.

“We’ll be able to display and honor all of the veterans that have served from the city of Mission,” O’Caña said.


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Photo Gallery: Memorial Day observers in Mission pay tribute to the fallen