HARLINGEN — “Ralph Garcia, thank you for your service. Rest in peace.”
Sofia Mullowney, 10, had just laid a wreath at a veteran’s grave at the City Cemetery of Harlingen.
Sofia, a member of Girl Scout Troop 02128, had fanned out across the cemetery yesterday morning along with aging veterans, law enforcement officers and other community volunteers. They carried green wreaths and sought out the grave markers of veterans.
She and about 200 other people had first gathered at the Veterans Memorial at Pendleton Park for the city’s second Wreaths Across America, honoring veterans.
The National Wreaths Across America Day coordinates wreath-laying ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery as well as at more than 1,400 additional locations in all 50 U.S. states, at sea and abroad.
About 200 city officials, volunteer committees and veterans of all branches of service attended the ceremony at Pendleton Park. It was organized by the Veterans Memorial Park Committee and the Harlingen Veterans Advisory Board. Speakers repeatedly bore up the significance of the sacrifice made by so many to protect the freedom of the United States. They also spoke of the pain suffered by loved ones of service members.
“Help us to heal their hearts and share in their sorrows and their joys,” said Chaplain Randy Nichols as everyone bowed and prayed with him.
Flags of the different services fluttered in the fresh breeze of late morning, their staffs held sturdy by members of a local Law Enforcement Explorer unit. A man in shades wore a red shirt with the words “Echo Company,” several members of Boy Scout Troop 1701 paid reverence to the moment, and a man in camouflage and a green shirt that said Cameron SWAT stood stoically.
“Good morning, everyone,” said Mayor Chris Boswell.
“It’s a pleasure and an honor to be here this morning and welcome you to participate in this ceremony in celebration of Wreaths Across America,” he said. “You live in a community where so many volunteers and community leaders want to come together to remember their veterans.”
And so they were. The American Legion Auxiliary, Texas 091 Civil Air Patrol U.S. Air Force Auxiliary, U.S. Border Patrol and Harlingen Fire Department all had a presence. There were even some members of the Texas A&M Corps of Cadets present.
“I have always been involved with this Veterans Memorial for quite awhile now,” said Michael Machner, 20, a 2018 graduate of Early College High School. Fellow cadet Alec Macmanus, another Harlingen native, had accompanied him.
Machner, smartly dressed in his spotless uniform, considered for a moment the importance of the day’s observance.
“It’s a good opportunity for us to learn from previous generations,” he reflected. “There are a lot of veterans here.”
Sal Carmona, a Harlingen police officer and retired Marine Corps gunnery sergeant, addressed the crowd.
“We are proud to be Americans,” he said. “We are made up of people from many walks of life. We can worship as we see fit, we can raise our children to believe as we do, and we don’t have to ask permission to travel. We can vote for whoever.”
As he did at least year’s inaugural Wreaths Across America, he again recited an iconic quote from President Ronald Reagan.
“‘Freedom is never more than one generation from extinction,’” he said, quoting the 40th president.
“We don’t pass the message to our children through our bloodline,” Carmona said. “It must be protected.”
The ceremony at Pendleton Park concluded, and attendees divided into separate groups who journeyed to cemeteries throughout the Valley. They carried with them wreaths to place on the graves of veterans.
At the City Cemetery of Harlingen, scouts, American Air Force Auxiliary, girl scouts and current service members and veterans looked for the headstones of those who had served.
“I think this is amazing,” said Nancy Mullowney, Sofia’s mother.
“My husband and brother-in-law served,” she said, “and my aunt and uncle were both in the Navy. My father-in-law was a veteran.”