When the city decided to cancel its annual silent march to honor veterans and the nation’s fallen soldiers this Memorial Day, one Rio Grande Valley resident stepped up to organize an event in its place. On Monday morning, Brownsville’s veterans, friends, and family members walked the mile between HEB and Veteran’s Park in silence to remember those who lost their lives in service.
“I’m here because this is a gold star,” said Jose Vera, whose brother, Abelardo Vera was killed in 1968 in Vietnam. “This event was canceled because of the virus and many other reasons. We’re here because it’s a special day.”
Veterans and family members gathered in the parking lot for photographs before the march began. Brownsville Police officers and vehicles led the parade, followed by two veterans carrying flags ahead of the crowd of 70. All wore masks to keep safe.
The event was organized by retired U.S. Army Sgt. Enrique Castillo, Jr., who planned to participate in the march even though it was cancelled, as he does every year in honor of his mentor and colleague Sgt. 1st Class Russell P. Borea, of Tuscon, Arizona, who died Jan. 19, 2007 while serving during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Borea was killed when an improvised explosive device detonated during combat operations. Castillo was injured in the attack and lost his right leg and is a purple heart recipient. “I do my part as far as to honor my platoon sergeant, but of course, to join the local veterans so we can go and give our respect and memorial. We do this every year,” Castillo said of the event.
Castillo estimated this was his seventh or eighth year marching in Brownsville. He planned to complete the walk this year, as well, event or otherwise.
The march began with a prayer led by BPD’s chaplain. The march proceeded in silence and ended in a ceremony at Veteran’s Park in which the crowed prayed and heard the national anthem, Taps, and completed another moment of silence.
Richard T. Hernandez, a Vietnam veteran, marched on Monday to honor his brothers Sam and Oscar, who were both Marines. “When I Joined, my mom was very upset. I said mom, somebody has to defend our country. We can either defend it out there or here. So, I joined, I did two tours overseas, I went to many places, many countries. Most people don’t have the slightest idea what it is,” he said.
Another participant named Luis honored his three brothers — two in the Army, one in the Marines. “I’m proud of them. They sacrifice their lives for freedom and for America,” he said of the celebration.
Castillo’s resolve to keep the event going despite the circumstances was echoed by fellow veterans. “We were going to do it anyway,” said one Vietnam veteran. “I’m deeply disappointed that the city didn’t go through with this to recognize our veterans that have fought in wars, passed, on, and paid the ultimate price to be free.”
Another retiree, Sgt. Castro, served in Afghanistan and Iraq and returned from a tour in Africa two and a half years ago. “I was still going to do my walk no matter what. We have a lot of friends, family that have served and we need to honor them,” he said.
“I just want to say thank you to the frontline workers — nurses, doctors, everybody that’s putting in service right now.”