MISSION — The U.S. Army recognized Staff Sgt. Bradley Espinoza’s exemplary service to his country and gave him full honors as a “true American hero” at the soldier’s funeral Thursday.
Espinoza was killed in Qwest, Iraq, on Oct. 19 when enemy forces attacked his vehicle with an improvised bomb.
Brig. Gen. Perry Wiggins, on behalf of Army Chief of Staff Gen. George W. Casey Jr., presented four flags to the man’s family Thursday: one to his wife, Maria Espinoza, another to his mother, Magdalena Espinoza, one to his 6-year-old daughter, Celeste, and one to his 3-year-old son, Joseph. Wiggins also presented them with a Bronze Star and Purple Heart posthumously awarded to the soldier for his service to the nation.
Escorted by four Mission police motorcycle units and 15 other law enforcement vehicles from local, state and federal agencies, the funeral procession departed Rivera Funeral Home on Alton Boulevard toward San Martin de Porres Catholic Church on 5 Mile Line in Alton.
Veterans of various wars gathered at the church and welcomed their fellow service member by displaying American flags. Also waiting for the casket were members of the Mission Veterans Memorial High School football team, hand-in-hand and decked out in their blue jerseys. The pallbearers were Bradley Espinoza’s brothers Gabriel and Miguel, and Staff Sgts. Jason M. Kovic and Woodrow D. Hawthorne, Capt. Michael B. Smith, Sgt. 1st Class Wayland Allen, and Sgts. Luis Gutierrez and Kyle R. Kelly.
The Rev. Julian Becerril officiated the Mass, alternating between English and Spanish. The homily was in Spanish, but all of the readings were in English.
“Sgt. Espinoza is in a better place now,” Becerril told the family in Spanish. “We don’t have to worry about him. We have to worry about the ones who remain here.”
On its way from the church to the Rio Grande Valley State Veterans Cemetery in Mission, the procession passed by the soldier’s house in Alton, Mims Elementary School in Mission and Cavazos Elementary School in Alton.
More veterans, friends and members of his extended family awaited him at the cemetery.
After the 15-gun salute and the playing of taps, the press was asked to leave the premises for the private interment.
“To see his kids there, it breaks your soul” said veteran Felix Rodriguez, an official from the Hidalgo County Veterans Service Office.
“What we are doing is surrendering honors to a fellow soldier, Bradley Espinoza, who is an American hero” Brig. Gen. Wiggins said.
Wednesday night, the soldier’s family celebrated his life and was presented with his Army Commendation Medal, Army Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Iraq Campaign Medal, Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Noncommissioned Officers Professional Development Ribbon, and Overseas Service Ribbon.
The 26-year-old was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 12th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division based in Fort Hood. He entered the Army in July 2002 as a combat engineer and has been stationed at Fort Hood since November 2002, according to the military.
“This is one of the most honorable things we can do and pay in recognition of our soldiers, and each person that is part of this particular ceremony, in recognizing Bradley Espinoza, is (taking part in) a great honor,” Wiggins said. “He is a true American hero. He stood and fought for this nation and defended his nation’s freedoms. This nation owes him a great debt of honor.”
Martha L. Hernández covers Mission, western Hidalgo County and general assignments for The Monitor. You can reach her at (956) 683-4846.