For more than 30 years during Memorial Day, veterans and family members would gather outside Hanna High School for a special ceremony by the American Vietnam Veterans Brownsville Chapter One that honors the fallen soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice and died while in action.
This year, due to the COVID-19 concerns that are changing the way our community interacts with each other, the special ceremony is cancelled for the first time in decades.
“It is sad, really, that because of the coronavirus we decided to not have it … It is safer for us, it is safer for the public; it does hurt because this would have been our 35th annual ceremony … but with this virus going on we don’t want to have any more infections. We want to play it safe,” Rogelio Rocha, vice commander of the chapter, said during a phone interview.
The ceremony usually includes a short speech that welcomes the veterans and family members of the ‘fallen brothers’, a guest speaker and a 21-gun salute that honors them, Rocha said, and added that the ceremony sometimes includes a religion part where a priest blesses the plaque that has the name of the veterans.
“To us, it’s very important because of the sacrifice they made. The call was made and they answered some right out of school, others volunteered and we answered the call,” he said. “Whether in the beginning of the war, towards the end, or the middle.”
Rocha continued on how the organization started around 1981 to honor the men who lost their lives by having a plaque with the names of those who were killed in action. Reminiscing, he continued on how they had to hold fundraisers to get funds for the plaque and added they decided to do it outside of Hanna High School because back then it was called Brownsville High School and it was the school all the veterans attended, since it was the only one.
The vice commander said even though some members of the community think of this holiday as a long weekend where they can go relax at the beach, he said it is a very important day to remember the veterans who sacrificed everything. He said he lost his older brother during the Vietnam War.
“We can’t go without honoring the men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice,” he said. “As veterans, we cannot let the day go without honoring them.”
While this year there will not be a ceremony like the one the chapter is used to having, Rocha said there will be a private gathering with some members of the chapter that will include a flag raising and a gun salute to honor the heroes. He added all the members have been very understanding about the cancellation of the ceremony.
“It is hard for the guys but they all agree because we don’t want to have more infections for the public and we want everyone to be safe,” he said.