Learning of the possibility that there could be something closer, I just imagine what it would have been like to have him closer, being able to pass by his grave several times a week, being able to stop by and just sit with him quietly for just a few minutes, being able to stop and put flowers on his grave.
Families of veterans pleaded with members of the Texas Defense & Veterans’ Affairs Committee to bring a veterans cemetery to Cameron County.
They attended a hearing before the committee held Thursday in Austin, where they discussed the importance of building such a cemetery in the county.
Many of the pleas were very emotional with widows telling their stories of their inability to travel to Mission, where the nearest veterans cemetery is located, if they want to visit their loved ones.
Esmeralda Castle, whose husband Sgt. Scott Gordon Castle passed away in 2019, said she has to make a two-hour trip to visit Scott in Mission.
“We travel two and half hour’s round trip…that trip is hard. It was hard at the very beginning,” an emotional Esmeralda said. “All I wanted was to be near him, to be at the grave, just there, but I just could not and there wasn’t time…”
“Learning of the possibility that there could be something closer, I just imagine what it would have been like to have him closer, being able to pass by his grave several times a week, being able to stop by and just sit with him quietly for just a few minutes, being able to stop and put flowers on his grave,” she said.
State Rep. Janie Lopez, whose district includes parts of Cameron County, introduced HB 4739 on March 10. It 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 hearing on HB 4739 was held Thursday.
The nearest veterans cemetery, the Rio Grande Valley State Veterans Cemetery, is located in Mission nearly 60 miles away from Cameron County.
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.
Widow Maria de los Angeles Ybarra said she comes from a patriotic family and that the passing of her husband, a Vietnam veteran, was very difficult on her. Although she wanted to bury him at the veterans cemetery in Mission, the drive would have been too difficult for her.
“I decided to cremate him and keep his ashes,” she said, and with tears added, “Unfortunately, my son is a Marine, he passed away last month, and I had to cremate him too. So I pray that they bring a veterans cemetery here to Cameron County so I can able to bury their ashes, and my family will be able to visit their burials.”
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, from 2017-2021 there were 12,461 veterans in Cameron County.
Jesus Galvan, a Vietnam veteran who has lived in Brownsville most of his life, said as he gets older, he thinks about where he will be laid to rest when he dies.
“Naturally, I would like for it to be close to my wife and children, my wife of 60 years because I would want for them to visit my grave…I would like to be buried at a veterans state cemetery [in Cameron County],” an emotional Galvan said.
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.
“In this country, we always say we love our veterans. We say that we love our military, and we say that we respect our flag. I believe us as elected officials we owe it to our people, our people that loved our flag so much and country that they made the ultimate sacrifices. Help me remember them and honor them, as this is their last wishes for their loved ones,” Lopez said.
To find a comprehensive list of bills filed — and the status of those bills — visit MyRGV.com and click the 88th Texas Legislative Session tab, which has an interactive spreadsheet and a comprehensive list of AIM Media Texas’ legislative coverage.