HARLINGEN – Geronimo T. Cruz looked solemnly at a paver at the Veterans Memorial in Pendleton Park.
“I served at the same time as this guy,” said Cruz, 89, looking at a paver with the name “PFC Herman Wise.”
Cruz remembered vividly serving in the Korean Conflict. He was one of many individuals yesterday at the Veterans Day Recognition Ceremony, solemnly saluting the flag at every opportunity.
More than 100 citizens, both veterans and supporters, gathered for the event.
Numerous speakers addressed the crowd about the sacrifices made by the nation’s veterans.
The Harlingen Police Department and Fire Department coordinated their efforts to present the colors.
Meizie Salinas, chaplain for Disabled American Veterans Chapter 121 gave the invocation.
Harlingen Police Officer Sal Carmona, who is retired from the Marine Corps, spoke about the history of Veterans Day.
Members of Boy Scout Troop 1701 handed out water and greeted people as they arrived.
“It’s really great being here to honor their sacrifice and those who died defending our nation,” said Ali Halloum, 15, a Life Scout.
Fellow scout Mason Hohnadel, 16, was also happy to be there.
“We really appreciate their service,” said Mason, also a Life Scout.
“I think it’s good to give back for what they did for us,” he said.
Salinas read from II Timothy 1 – 7.
“It speaks about soldiers, soldiers of Jesus,” she said immediately before the ceremony.
“It’s a recognition of all those who have passed for our freedom,” she added.
Other organizations represented at the ceremony included American Legion Post 205, Disabled American Veterans Chapter 121, and Cameron County Constable Pct. 5.
“I’m here with my grandparents,” said Jaylynn Walker, 17, a junior at Harlingen High School and a second lieutenant in the school’s Army JROTC program.
“They lost their son in Iraq in 2007,” she said. The son, her uncle had died when she was in kindergarten, but the loss was still very vivid in her memory.
She watched quietly, poignantly at the ceremony unfolding before her.
“I came out her to help anyway I can,” she said.
U.S. Navy Chief Teresita Garcia, who immigrated from Mexico and grew up in Roma, spoke with passion about her decision to enlist in the U.S. Navy in 1994. She’d served on board the USS Dixon AS-37. She’d later earned her Seabee Combat Warfare and later served in New Orleans and Fort Worth while earning degrees in general studies and interdisciplinary studies.
She’s currently the senior enlisted leader for NOSC Harlingen (Naval Operational Support Center).
Lenore Combs, secretary of the Veterans memorial park Committee, spoke about the role of women in the military.
“Women have a long but underappreciated history in the American military, having served in every conflict from the American Revolution to the current war on terror,” Combs said. “In contrast to the early days as cooks, spies and nurses to the combat roles they fulfill today, the roles of women have evolved with the military.”
She pointed out that more that 200,000 women are currently on active duty, and it is predicted that by 2020 more than 18 percent of all US veterans will be women.
“Everyday our servicewomen and our military take giant leaps forward that pave the path for our next generation of heroes,” she said. “The so-called ‘brass ceiling’ has been broken.”
Mayor Chris Boswell didn’t address the crowd officially, but he expressed gratitude toward those who served.
“We should never take for granted the service of our veterans,” he said. “I think it’s very important that we thank them for their service and sacrifice, not just on Veterans Day but ever chance we get.”
Jim Flohr, who was a combat engineer in the Army, sat in quiet anticipation of the ceremony. His wife Aurora appreciated the recognition.
“I think it’s good for all the veterans,” she said. “I think it’s great. I know it brings back memories but it’s the best thing they can do.”
And then of course there was Cruz, standing near a large stone sculpture with the word “KOREA” in bold letters. He was almost in tears as he looked at the pavers of his fallen comrades.
“I was there from 1950 – 1952,” he said, confirming he saw heavy combat in Korea.
“That’s all they had when I got there,” he said. “I was in the 25th Division. I was a medic. I couldn’t hide. When they said ‘medic!’ I had to go to go to the front.”