View Full Version : Vets recall days of service, tradition

11-12-08, 07:51 AM
Vets recall days of service, tradition
By Ron Maloney
The Gazette-Enterprise

Published November 12, 2008
SEGUIN — Juan DeLeon wears the topkick rank insignia of a first sergeant, the senior enlisted man in a U.S. Army or U.S. Marine Corps combat arms company.

He also wears on his black leather vest patches that identify him as having been wounded in action, and a patch that shows his commitment to his country and to his fellow veterans and promises that he will never forget their sacrifices.

And DeLeon was joined at just after 11 a.m. Tuesday by about 300 members of the Seguin community who will never forget either — many of them veterans and members of Seguin’s four largest veterans organizations, American G.I. Forum, American Legion, Disabled American Veterans and Veterans of Foreign Wars — in a first-ever joint celebration of this nation’s veterans, whenever and wherever they served.

Veterans Park off Jefferson Avenue has existed for some 60 years and this was the first-ever time it has ever seen a joint celebration of Veterans Day involving all four groups.

The event, which featured reminisces of warfare by those who served from World War II to the war in Iraq, included a performance by Jefferson Elementary music teacher Keith Robinson’s Jefferson Singers. It opened with Seguin Mayor Pro Tem Bob Pees and County Judge Mike Wiggins, who read proclamations recognizing veterans, their day and National Veterans Awareness Week, Nov. 9-15.

“Veterans Day is dedicated to the veterans who have protected our freedom in years past and those who protect it this day,” Pees said in reading the city proclamation by Mayor Betty Ann Matthies.

Wiggins began by saying he was happy to be in Veterans Park on Tuesday.

“How about y’all?” Wiggins asked, surveying the crowd packed in, around and behind chairs and bleachers the city moved to the park for the event Tuesday morning.

There was loud applause.

“If you’re happy to be here too, thank a veteran,” Wiggins said. “Because we can be here only because of our veterans and what they’ve done for us in the past and what they’ll continue to do in the future. This is the day we thank our courageous veterans and especially the veterans of Guadalupe County for their noble, selfless work.”

Joint Honor Guard members DeLeon, Rocky Contreras, Charles Ruppert and Arthur Neely raised the flag, and the commanders of the various veterans groups spoke briefly after a performance by the Jefferson Singers.

Reno Reiley, commander of American Legion Post 245 opened remarks of the commanding officers.

“We remember how men and women set aside their civilian pursuits to serve their nation’s cause, defending the freedom of mankind and preserving our precious American heritage,” Reiley said. “We believe our determination made us better warriors because we fought with our minds and our hearts as well as our bodies.”

J.P. Amador of American G.I. Forum said he was honored to be on hand to recognize the sacrifices of American veterans.

“It is really a pleasure to see everyone here together,” Amador said. “We are here to honor our veterans, and this couldn’t have been possible without them.”

Disabled American Veterans Commander Marlin Howze thanked the audience for taking time to show appreciation to military members who have served and continue serving overseas.

“Right now, many of our young servicemen and women are in countries and positions hostile to them and our country,” Howze said. “They are fulfilling their duty. We must fulfill our duty by giving them support and by showing them that we have not forgotten them.”

Soldiers, sailors or Marines who have served in the nation’s wars then spoke of their experiences.

U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Jeremy Boatwell, who has done two tours in Iraq — even though he suffered serious wounds that could have kept him home after his first tour — spoke on brotherhood and sacrifice and how the men he met at the American Legion as a boy growing up in Seguin inspired him to embark on a life of service to his country.

“If you’ll excuse me,” Boatwell said, “I’m going to remove my cover (hat). I feel it’s important everybody sees my face.”

Boatwell’s face and the side of his head bear the readily visible scars of those wounds from his first tour.

The Marines, he said, emphasize “the skills of a man and the will of a man.”

The skills he spoke of were those necessary to do a bloody and difficult job as Marines. The will, he said, is even more important because it is made up of a man’s character, commitment and fortitude.

Just as he’d seen as a youth at the Legion hall, Boatwell said he’d seen the will of men — and women — in the streets and in the battlefields of Iraq.

“There are those who have expressed their lack of faith in our generation, and I understand because we do strange things sometimes,” Boatwell said. “But I assure you that because of your past service and their current service, the will of our young men and women who serve us is intact, and this country is in good hands.”

Army National Guard Staff Sgt. Charles Just fought in two Gulf wars.

“I’ve served 19 years and have many great memories because of people like those of you who are here today,” Just said, his voice sometimes cracking with emotion during his remarks. “When we put on that uniform — be it Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines or Coast Guard — we all become the same. I would like to personally thank the men and women here today. May God bless them and their families.”

Paul Soto, retired U.S. Navy warrant officer who served in Vietnam, walked to the podium in his Navy veteran’s baseball cap. But he carried two others in his hand — flat caps for the American G.I. Forum and the American Legion.

Soto said he felt it wasn’t right to wear just one or the other at a ceremony where all four groups were taking part.

“I’m a member of the American G.I. Forum and the American Legion, and Bill Owen just now invited me to join the VFW in Geronimo, which I will do,” Soto said. “The DAV not yet! But I support the objectives of all these organizations, and I urge other people to support them and their objectives, most of which are to continue fighting for benefits for veterans.”

Soto spoke of the camaraderie experienced by men — and, beginning in the first Gulf war, women — who take up arms that is sometimes hard to understand for some of the people they protect.

“You may never have met them before you go to war, but they become your family just as you have a family here at home,” Soto said. “Because you don’t want anything to happen to members of your family, so that takes away all fear and you do what you must.”

Soto nodded across the park, behind the bleachers to where DeLeon stood erect in his leather vest with the first sergeant’s insignia, the artillery’s crossed cannons branch insignia and a patch that recognized the Third Marine Regiment, one of the most storied combat units of the Vietnam War. The Third Marines continued the tradition in the Gulf War, being the first unit to march into Kuwait.

“Brother DeLeon over there has a patch that’s appropriate to this,” Soto said.

DeLeon nodded acknowledgement, but didn’t otherwise move except to quietly mouth the words Soto said out loud.

“Brothers Forever,” the patch read.