Rio Grande Valley residents have a special regard for those who have passed on; that is evident in the level of activity seen on and around the Día de los Muertos and the popularity of votive candles that are frequently bought to commemorate birth and death anniversaries of deceased loved ones.
Just as evident is the high level of patriotism among Valley residents, a level that has been seen in many studies and anecdotes about immigrants’ devotion to their new home.
That respect is evident every Memorial Day weekend, as Valley residents participate in parades and other commemorative events. Some of those participants might not be directly related to someone who died during active military duty, but they know someone who has or feel a general kinship with their neighbors and the entire Valley community.
It’s a special devotion that warms the heart — and deserves consideration as local residents work to secure permission, and property, to establish a national military cemetery in Cameron County.
Local patriotism manifests itself in the high rate of Valley residents — many of them immigrants themselves or children of immigrants — who volunteer for military service, said to be among the highest in the country.
Growing numbers of people agree that recognition of such service — and the fact that it involves entire families, not just the military personnel — warrants a special place to lay those who have been willing to lay down their lives in the service of our country.
A national cemetery once existed in the county, at Fort Brown in Brownsville. However, it was closed in 1909 and 1,537 bodies were dug up and moved to the Alexandria National Cemetery in Pineville, La.
For a century there was no place in South Texas to lay and honor the bodies of local military personnel and veterans, until the Rio Grande Valley State Veterans Cemetery was opened in Mission in 2007. That 75-acre park has a capacity of 25,000 bodies, and is expected to reach that limit within 10 years.
Such time issues are affecting national cemeteries across the country; even Arlington National Cemetery, a 639-acre facility that has a capacity of some 400,000 graves, is expected to be filled within the next 25 years.
Our nation — and the many young men and women who do and will offer their service to protect our country and interests — will go on long after current cemeteries are all filled. And they are just as worthy of receiving the gratitude of all Americans, including having a special final resting place if they and their families choose to use them.
We pray that officials in the Valley, Austin and Washington all recognize the need, and value, of securing additional space to honor those who serve our country, and consider placing a national cemetery in CameronCounty.
Moreover, we also pray that our nation pursues policies that do not send our troops into harm’s way unnecessarily, so that our fields of honor need not receive many people who died during their service but can be filled with people who were able to live long lives as veterans and receive our nation’s gratitude before, not after, their passing.