Project gives back to Valley’s veterans

U.S. veterans Joaquin Garcia, from left, Enrique Martinez Jr., Miguel Angel Altamirano Jr., Rene Escamila and Vino Santillan stand inside the photo studio of photographer Martin Buitron at his home in Brownsville as Buitron continues his photo project to honor U.S. Veterans across the Rio Grande Valley.

Local photographer Martin Buitron felt the need to do something for the veterans in the Rio Grande Valley. As a son of a Marine veteran, Buitron saw the need they have to feel appreciated and thanked for giving a part of their life to serve the United States.

After his father passed away, Buitron said the burial ceremony with military funeral honors made him start thinking on a way to give back to veterans. Using his skills as a professional photographer, he decided to start the “Rio Grande Valley Veterans Photo Project” where more than 50 veterans have been photographed in Brownsville.

The photo shoots consist of the veterans holding an 8×10 photo of themselves from when they were serving. Usually, their boot camp photo is used but some paratroopers have decided to use a candid photo of them right before they jumped out of an airplane.

“ I’ve always been surrounded by veterans and once my dad passed that was (it). Watching the men perform the burial ceremony they did for him at his funeral (started the idea),” Buitron said. “I’ve been received very well by the veterans for whom I’ve taken their photo, they’re really happy that they’re getting something that they can show to their children and family.”

The next photo shoot is scheduled to happen in Harlingen on July 27. Future locations include Old Port Isabel, Weslaco, McAllen, Edinburg and San Antonio. After Buitron finishes the photo shoots, he plans to have an exhibit where all the photos can be displayed for the public to access them and “recognize veterans for the one thing they all have in common, they gave a part of their life to serve this great land of ours,” he said.

Laura Marquez, a Navy Veteran, is “behind the curtains” in the photo shoot project. She is in charge of setting up the appointments, setting up the snacks and calling veterans to confirm their appointments. As a veteran herself, she said she knows the feeling of having a photo of herself being displayed and being recognized for her service.

“ Being a veteran myself, I recognized, and I know a lot of the veteran community. We are a community, we are a family and we know each other,” Marquez said. “It felt so good that they took our picture and how we were featured as well in a display and that felt good.”

Gavino Santillan, an Army Veteran with the 82nd airborne division, said it feels nice to see the final result of the photo shoot. He said it makes him feel emotional and that the photograph will be something that will carry on to future generations.

“ Something like this means a lot because all of my family has been in the military. All my brothers, my nephews, my daughter,” Santillan said. “Something like this really means a lot to us. It is something that my kids will see from before to now.”

Joaquin Garcia, an Army veteran who served at the Vietnam War, said he remembers vividly all the experiences he had in the year he was deployed. Garcia said he is very blessed to be alive and he thanks God every day for giving him the opportunity to come back home, an opportunity that thousands did not get. Garcia was the first veteran to be photographed for the project.

“ I have a lot of experiences, but one that will live with me forever is that one of the guys, who was my neighbor, I got to see him in Vietnam and guess what? He saved my life,” Garcia said. “On the 19th of this month is going to be exactly 50 years since I got back from Vietnam. I had horrible experiences but I am alive.”