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‘With broken hearts,’ community honors fallen soldiers

Army Staff Sgt. Bradley Espinoza died Oct. 19, 2009, from wounds sustained when enemy forces attacked his vehicle with an improvised explosive device in Quest, Iraq. Espinoza, 26, was from Alton.

Army Spc. Alex D. Gonzalez died May 6, 2008, by small-arms fire and an explosive in Mosul, Iraq. He was 21 and from Mission.

20150525 MISSION Memorial Day 3914Army Cpl. Jose Rubio Hernandez died March 24, 2008, from wounds sustained when his vehicle encountered an improvised explosive device in Baghdad, Iraq. Hernandez, 24, was from Mission.

Army Staff Sgt. Omar D. Flores was killed July 8, 2006, when an improvised deadly device detonated near his mine-protected vehicle during combat in Ramadi, Iraq. He was 27 and from Mission.

Army Sgt. Javier Marin Jr. died Jan. 24, 2005, along with four other soldiers when their vehicle overturned in Mohammed Scran, Iraq. Marin, 29, was from Mission.

“Even in the last decade, our hearts have been broken by the deaths of our sons in Iraq,” Father Roy Snipes, of Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church prayed Monday during the annual Memorial Day Ceremony hosted by the ACE Club. “Some of our finest, our best and brightest, are with you now.”

Between patriotic songs of “God Bless America,” sung by Krystal Cavazos, whose grandfather is a veteran, and “You’re a Grand Old Flag,” sung by Our Lady of Guadalupe Cub Scout Troop No. 305, were somber moments of prayer and reflection on all the soldiers who have lost their lives fighting for the United States of America.

Mario Lizcano acted as the Master of Ceremony of the event, held at Leo Peña Placita Park. Lupe A. Gonzalez, principal at Our Lady of Guadalupe and Vietnam veteran, served as keynote speaker.

Gonzalez emphasized that Memorial Day is a holiday, though not a happy event.

“But it’s a somber and solemn occasion,” he said. “We honor those who have given their lives for this country.”

Americans are asked to do two things on Memorial Day, he said. First, pause at 11 a.m., play “Taps” and thank those who given their lives for this country. The second thing, he said, is to raise the American flag in the morning to full staff, and then lower it to half staff. At noon, it’s to be raised back to full staff.

“At noon, the raising of the flag signifies the memory raised by those of us who are living who resolve not to let their sacrifices be in vain, but to instead rise up in their stead and continue to fight for liberty and justice for all,” Gonzalez said.

He also emphasized that soldiers do not choose the wars in which they fight, but they answer the call of duty to serve and defend.

Gonzalez asked all veterans in the crowd to stand up and be recognized, and then he did the same for their families. Families, Gonzalez said, also make a sacrifice and suffer along with their soldiers.

Rose Guerra, who lost her son Pfc. Diego Montoya when he was killed in Afghanistan Sept. 2, 2010, exemplifies Gonzalez’s words. Guerra read a poem she wrote titled, “The Soldier,” standing next to a picture of her son’s coffin being carried off a flight. It’s called a dignified transfer, Guerra said.

The picture is powerful, she said, and she debated bringing it out for the ceremony. In it, squad soldiers in white gloves carry the coffin draped with an American flag.

“It shows a lot of impact, but I have gotten used to seeing it, and the grief and the sorrow have turned into much pride and much honor,” Guerra said.

And then she pointed to two other photos on display of families reacting as soldiers are buried. It’s important, she said, to remember what the families are going through.

“That is what it costs for us to enjoy the freedom of that we are enjoying in fact right now – the freedom of speech; the freedom to gather, to come and do these things; the freedom to worship, whether it’s at that church or the other one or the one down the street; the freedom to educate ourselves and better ourselves that we are not a country that has to stay within one social level because we have those freedoms,” Guerra said.

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