MCALLEN — It was nearly 9 p.m. in Afghanistan on Monday when Army Sgt. Cristina Wilson’s voice rang through the Veterans War Memorial for a morning ceremony in McAllen.
“Raising your hand and committing yourself to service is a brave and selfless act,” Wilson said via telephone from her fourth deployment overseas.
She thanked the dozens of veterans on hand — including some from World War II, and the wars in Korea and Vietnam, “recognizing all of those among us who have been part of this great brotherhood and sisterhood.”
Wilson was a “special guest” among many current and former military men and women at the war memorial Monday, including McAllen Mayor Jim Darling, a Vietnam veteran, and retired Army Col. Frank Plummer.
“I want to say thank you to all the veterans out here for your service. I know some of us came back about 50 years ago weren’t very welcomed,” Darling said at the outset of the Monday morning ceremony.
U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, D-McAllen, who is not a veteran but is the child of one, made sure to thank veterans a number of times throughout his keynote address on Monday.
“I’d like to thank Col. Plummer for all his work and really relentless efforts in everything he’s done for the veteran community here,” Gonzalez said. “I’d like to thank all of you here today.”
Gonzalez went on, outlining an issue he has taken up since he was elected to Congress in 2016.
“The diversity of our nation and our military is one of our greatest strengths,” Gonzalez said. “But I would be remiss if I did not mention the same of the veterans who we would be celebrating today had they not been cast from our nation.”
Two weeks ago, Gonzalez issued a statement supporting the House Judiciary Committee’s hearing entitled “The Impact of Current Immigration Policies on Service Members and Veterans, and their Families.” The hearing sought to address the Trump administration’s immigration policies and deported U.S. immigrant veterans.
In his speech on Monday, Gonzalez hailed one veteran who was deported who since died: “He fought for our home and we turned him away.”
Gonzalez also discussed the importance of mental health in the military: “Do not be afraid to seek help.”
And Gonzalez said he is working on legislation to train members of the military when they enlist and upon their departure from active service.
The ceremony then honored the few Purple Heart veterans in attendance. There were moments of silence. There was the 21 Gun Salute.
Before the ceremony came to a close, a Korean War veteran grabbed a microphone.
“Please don’t take this for granted,” he said.