By FERNANDO DEL VALLE
SAN BENITO — Most were teenagers trying to stand strong, but they couldn’t hide the fear in their eyes.
It was the 1960s, and at the city’s depot many in their families cried as their soldiers boarded the trains that took them to war.
“They were scared not knowing where they were going or if they were coming back,” Victor Garza, chairman of the city’s veterans board, said yesterday.
“It was a family gathering — a lot of sobbing,” he said. “They were just out of high school or they didn’t finish high school.”
Today, the San Benito War Memorial stands at the same spot where the depot stood along Sam Houston Boulevard for decades.
With its Spanish-style architecture, the War Memorial was built to resemble the old depot, which was razed in the 1970s.
In 2007, the city’s Economic Development Corporation borrowed $411,000 to allow the San Benito Veterans Advisory Board to launch the memorial’s construction.
Seven years after its dedication, the War Memorial stands as a symbol of this community’s strong patriotic pride.
It has also become one of the city’s major attractions.
Earlier this week, city commissioners approved the publication of a notice calling for proposals for a bronze sculpture of an eagle with a 9-foot wing span.
“The eagle represents the United States as a nation,” Garza, a former city commissioner, said. “It holds in its claws an olive branch signifying we seek peace. Sometimes we enter wars to assist countries in becoming peaceful.”
Garza said the eagle will perch atop a black granite pillar jutting from the center of the fountain just beyond the War Memorial’s wrought-iron gates.
“It will be a centerpiece — but each stands alone,” Garza said of the sculptures.
When the city dedicated the San Benito War Memorial in 2011, the veterans committee planned to display three bronze sculptures to honor soldiers who fought for their country.
So, the committee began selling brick pavers and benches to raise money to commission the sculptures’ creation.
In 2012, the board unveiled a $25,000 sculpture depicting a helmet atop a rifle, symbolizing fallen soldiers.
Then in 2015, the group dedicated a $25,000 statute portraying a soldier standing near the railroad tracks, waiting for the train that would take him to war.
Now, after raising $35,000, the board is seeking proposals for the creation of a sculpture of an eagle whose open wings will span nine feet.
“It’s a tribute to the community,” Garza said. “There’s a lot of pride involved. It’s not just veterans. We have a lot of veterans’ families. It’s their funds that made this possible. It hits close to home.”
Garza hopes to unveil the memorial’s third sculpture in time for Veterans Day.
However, the committee has further plans for the War Memorial.
Next, the group plans to create as many as five granite memorials engraved with the names of area soldiers killed in World War II, the Korean and Vietnam wars and the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
So far, the committee plans to include the names of about 100 soldiers, Garza said.
“It’s ongoing,” he said of the work behind the War Memorial’s development.