Hundreds pay respect to Villalon

NUBIA REYNA AND ERIN SHERIDAN | STAFF WRITERS 

BROWNSVILLE —  Some praying, some crying and some holding American flags, dozens of community members gathered at the Brownsville-South Padre International Airport to witness the arrival of the remains of U.S. Army Spc. Miguel Angel Villalon shortly before 4 p.m. on Thursday.

Villalon, 21, a Brownsville native, was killed in Kandahar Province, Afghanistan, on Jan. 11 while conducting operations in support of Operation Freedom’s Sentinel, part of NATO’s Resolute Support Mission.

The arrival of Villalon’s remains came after several hours of delay and was received by the Fort Bragg honor guard.

Also waiting for the arrival were the Brownsville Fire Department, Police Department, Cameron County deputies, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers and agents, among many more.

“It was sad because my husband served in Vietnam and I was pregnant when he left and you never know what kind of news you’re going to get,” Anita Infante, who was at the airport paying her respects, said. “He’s a hero; he volunteered.”

After the arrival at the airport, a procession including Villalon’s family members and several law enforcement vehicles made their way through the city to drive by Oliveira Middle School and Perez Elementary, where he was a student, and the apartments he resided in when he lived in Brownsville.

Hundreds of students waved American flags at the procession and held signs that said “local hero” and “thank your for your service,” among many more while they were accompanied by their teachers. Hundreds of kids were also seen outside of El Jardin Elementary near the airport with signs and flags.

“This is a way of thanking the Villalon family because they lent their child so he could serve his country and so all of us could enjoy all the benefits that we have in this country,” Vietnam veteran Guadalupe Leal, who has family related to Miguel Angel, said while waiting at the airport.

United States Army Spc. Miguel Angel Villalon remains arrive at Brownsville South Padre Island International Airport in Brownsville Thursday, Jan. 23, 2020, who is a Brownsville native and was killed in Afghanistan in early January of this year. (Miguel Roberts/The Brownsville Herald via AP)

“This reminds me of 47 years ago that we brought my brother here, who was in the Marines, and died serving and this brings me memories of my brother and that’s why I’m here; to pay my condolences to the family.”

Governor Greg Abbott has ordered that the State and U.S. flags in Cameron County and surrounding counties be lowered and fly at half-staff in honor of Villalon. The flag will remain at half-staff until Villalon’s burial on Saturday.

Adrian Avilez, a Desert Storm veteran, waited outside under the late afternoon sun just an hour before the plane arrived on the tarmac. It was his first time paying his respects to a fallen soldier at the airport in Brownsville.

“Even though we didn’t know him, he’s our comrade. It’s a sad thing because you work so hard to protect this country. We have to go far away to do this work. He paid the ultimate sacrifice for us here,” he said.

Avilez stood with a group of local veterans also preparing to pay their respects to the fallen soldier and his family.

“We want them to know there is a community of veterans here. We’re a band of brothers.”

Villalon joined the Army in 2018 to be a combat engineer and reported to the 307th as his first assignment. His awards and decorations include the Purple Heart, Bronze Star, Army Achievement Medal with “V” device (awarded to service members who perform “meritoriously under the most arduous combat conditions”) and the Combat Action Badge.

Visitation will be held from 1 to 10 p.m. Friday at the Brownsville Event Center; the funeral service will be at 10 a.m. Saturday at the same location and will be followed by the burial in Buena Vista Burial Park. The public is invited to pay their respects.