Local veterans remember fallen comrades

HARLINGEN – “Combat boots represent the final march of their last battle,” said the speaker as dog tags clinked against the inverted rifle.

“The helmet and identification tags signify the fallen soldier,” continued the speaker, Narciso Villela III, commander of VFW Post 2410.

He and a small group of other veterans and their families gathered Monday at the post on 2006 N. Whalen Rd. to observe Memorial Day. They met in the parking lot in the sunny midafternoon as an easy wind blew.

A few wore masks; all of them listened in solemn respect to Villela as he spoke about the importance of Memorial Day. They saluted with great respect as the National Anthem celebrated the U.S. flag being raised and as Taps played afterwards.

Villela, a retired Marine Corps staff sergeant, said Memorial Day brings many memories to mind.

“I lost a lot of good friends in Iraq in 2003,” said Villela, 41.

He recalled four members of a tank crew who died together during his first deployment.

“We lost a good crew into the Tigris River,” he said. “Lost all four during a sand storm. We were crossing a bridge. I don’t know what happened, but it slowly veered to the right and it went into the river upside down.”

He recalled another fallen comrade, Gonzo, an undocumented immigrant who was killed in Bagdad.

“He died protecting a checkpoint in Bagdad,” he said. “He was shot by a Syrian who jumped over one of the walls.”

Once over the wall, the Syrian began spraying the area with bullets. Gonzo climbed onto a 50-caliber weapon. He was wearing a flak jacket, but one of the Syrian’s bullets went in right beneath the sleeve, ripped through his upper chest cavity and came out the other side.

Villela remembered these and so many others on Monday, as did everyone in attendance. Leo Kennedy, a Korean War veteran, was the oldest veteran in attendance at age 90.

“It’s to remember our friends who gave their lives to our country,” he said. Caught up in the power of the moment, he couldn’t speak further.

James Schreiber, 65, said he never misses Memorial Day, no matter what.

“My father and all my uncles were World War II veterans,” said the Army veteran.

“All my brothers are veterans,” he said. “Two of them saw combat in Vietnam and the other two were in Germany.”

Villela’s daughter Heaven, 15, had a profound take on the observance.

“I think about the people that lost their lives, and it’s kind of scary because one of those people could have been my father,” she said, a distant look clouding her eyes.