Cameron County solicits land donations to build veterans cemetery

We have the right people working on it, and they are eager to get this thing off the ground. And our veterans group is committed to helping them as much as we can.

The Cameron County Commissioners Court took the first step in possibly creating a veterans cemetery in the county by approving an item to solicit donations of land to build it.

Commissioners Court announced the decision Tuesday afternoon.

The nearest veterans cemetery, the Rio Grande Valley State Veterans Cemetery, is located in Mission nearly 60 miles away from Cameron County.

Precinct 4 Commissioner Gus Ruiz, a veteran, said the agenda item coincides with Texas House Bill 4739 that calls for a veterans cemetery to be built in the county.

State Rep. Janie Lopez, R-37, introduced HB 4739 March 10 that would allow a board to select up to seven locations to build veteran cemeteries in the state, “one of which must be in a county that is contiguous to an international border and the Gulf of Mexico.”

A public hearing on HB 4739 is scheduled to take place before the Defense and Veterans Affairs Committee at 10:30 a.m. Thursday in Austin. Ruiz planned to be at the meeting.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, from 2017-2021 there were 12,461 veterans in Cameron County.

Vietnam Veteran Tony Garcia, a member of Warriors United in Arms, said the organization is doing everything possible to help get a veterans cemetery built in the county.

“I think it is very possible. We have the right people working on it, and they are eager to get this thing off the ground. And our veterans group is committed to helping them as much as we can,” Garcia said on Tuesday.

Garcia has heard from the wives of veterans who are heartbroken because they often have no way to travel to visit the gravesites of their husbands buried in Mission.

“It’s a long drive and most of those widows are in the 70s and 80s, and some of them cannot travel that far. It is a hardship for them, and we want to work with all of our elected officials to see if we can make this a possibility,” Garcia said.

Cameron County Commissioners Court discusses consideration and possible action to solicit donations of real estate property for use as a veterans cemetery Tuesday afternoon, March 28, 2023, in Brownsville. (Miguel Roberts/The Brownsville Herald)

The RGV State Veterans Cemetery in Mission opened in 2006 with initially 31 acres and 6,190 gravesites. It has grown to 75 acres with up to 25,000 plots, according to its website.

A roundtable discussion was held last year in Cameron County, where several veterans and their families discussed the need for a veterans cemetery in the county.

At that discussion, Samuel Perez Jr., director of veterans services for Cameron County, said, “I have a father-in-law who was born and raised in Brownsville, lives in La Feria, and he will not be buried in the Mission cemetery because he doesn’t believe he will be visited by his loved ones in Hidalgo, in Mission.”

The Mission cemetery is one of four such state veterans cemeteries in Texas, with others located in Corpus Christi, Killeen and Abilene. All were built through a partnership between the state and the U.S. Department for Veterans Affairs.

Any member of the U.S. armed forces who dies while on active duty or any veteran who was discharged under conditions other than dishonorable may be eligible for burial in a national cemetery.