COMMENTARY: Tribute to a Valley soldier

It is widely known that hundreds of thousands of Americans fought and died in World War II in the name of freedom and democracy. What is not as well known or documented, however, is that many soldiers who fought in the war were part of a generation of families who migrated from all over the world in the early part of the last century. Their migrant story is the same as many of ours, but we do not often realize that their sacrifices inflicted a deeply personal and lasting toll on their families here at home.

Recently, I visited Cambridge American Cemetery in the United Kingdom, one of 26 permanent American military cemeteries maintained by the American Battle Monuments Commission that memorializes and pays lasting tribute to the lives of Americans killed in World Wars I and II. This visit gave me the opportunity to reflect on the experiences of the family of Pvt. Ramon Sepulveda, an American of Mexican descent who hailed from the Rio Grande Valley.

Like many families in the Rio Grande Valley, Adolfo and Tomasa Sepulveda and their young family migrated to Texas from Mexico in the 1920s. Most immigrants fleeing Mexico during this generation did so because of the turbulent Mexican Revolution, which caused difficult social, political and economic circumstances for many.

Specifically, the Sepulveda family was from Congregacion Garcia, a small community near Reynosa. Once in America, Adolfo worked in the agricultural field and Tomasa raised their six children.

Without hesitation, all three male children, upon entering adulthood, served their newly adopted country by enlisting in the U.S. military. The Sepulvedas’ first child, Pedro, enlisted in 1942. Ramon, their second oldest, reported for duty in 1943. Their third son, Adolfo Jr., later served in Korea as a Marine.

Ramon was assigned to the Second Infantry Division and on June 7, 1944, the day after D-Day, he and his fellow troops landed at Omaha Beach on the coast of Normandy, France. During a subsequent battle late that summer, Ramon was severely wounded, evacuated from combat and airlifted to a hospital in England. Although he was decorated with the Purple Heart while alive, on Oct. 17, 1944, Ramon died from wounds he sustained in battle while still hospitalized.

Upon being informed of Ramon’s death, Ramon’s family back in Texas had to make the heart-wrenching decision of having their son and brother buried at the American Cemetery in Cambridge.

The agonizing comprehension that they would never again see young Ramon must have been devastating to Adolfo, Tomasa and their family. The emotional suffering surely remained with them all of their life.

Thus, the Sepulveda family, a migrant family who moved to Texas to pursue a better life and the ideal of opportunity for all, became one of many families who knowingly participated in the American Dream and willingly paid the ultimate sacrifice.

Parents of service members assigned overseas often relate that they feel both pride and apprehension — understandably proud that their sons and daughters are dutifully serving their country, but also acutely aware that the decision to serve potentially means dying while fighting for our freedom. Ramon Sepulveda’s story is one of thousands woven into the fabric of our American Story, dating from the American Revolution to the present wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

I do not know if Ramon’s family ever had the opportunity to visit his gravesite at the remote location of the Cambridge American Cemetery, but by virtue of the great honor of serving in the United States Congress, it was my sincere privilege to visit this site to honor not only Ramon, but all other true American patriots who sacrificed their courageous young lives on behalf of a country that they so loved.

To Pvt. Ramon Sepulveda and all others who so selflessly served our country, we honor and salute you.

Filemon Vela, D-Brownsville, represents Texas’ 34th District in the U.S. House of Representatives.