When the city decided to cancel its annual silent march to honor veterans and the nation’s fallen soldiers this Memorial Day, one Rio Grande Valley resident stepped up to organize an event in its place. On Monday morning, Brownsville’s veterans, friends and family members walked the mile between HEB and Veteran’s Park in silence to remember those who lost their lives in service.

Biame Garcia-Burt and his brother Maru wave American flags as they celebrate their first Memorial Day Monday at a ceremony honoring veterans and fallen soldiers in Veterans Park. (Denise Cathey/The Brownsville Herald)

“I’m here because this is a gold star,” said Jose Vera, whose brother, Abelardo Vera was killed in 1968 in Vietnam. “We’re here because it’s a special day.”

Participants gathered in the parking lot for photographs before the march began. Brownsville Police officers and vehicles led the parade, followed by two veterans carrying flags ahead of the crowd of 70. All wore masks to keep safe.

The event was organized by retired U.S. Army Sgt. Enrique Castillo, Jr. Castillo attends the city’s every year in honor of his mentor and colleague, Sgt. 1st Class Russell P. Borea, of Tuscon, Arizona, who died Jan. 19, 2007 while serving during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Borea was killed when an improvised explosive device detonated during combat operations. Castillo was injured in the attack and lost his right leg and is a Purple Heart recipient.

“I do my part as far as to honor my platoon sergeant, but of course, to join the local veterans so we can go and give our respect and memorial. We do this every year,” Castillo said of the event.

He estimated this was his seventh or eighth year marching in Brownsville, and said he planned to complete the walk this year — event or otherwise.

The march began with a prayer led by the Brownsville Police Department’s chaplain. The march proceeded in silence and ended in a ceremony at Veteran’s Park, where the group prayed and heard the national anthem, Taps, and completed another moment of silence.

Veteran Luis Serna waits for the start of the silent march for Memorial Day Monday in the parking lot of the HEB on Central Boulevard. (Denise Cathey/The Brownsville Herald)

Richard T. Hernandez, a Vietnam veteran, marched on Monday to honor his brothers, Sam and Oscar, who were both U.S. Marines.

“When I joined, my mom was very upset. I said, ‘Mom, somebody has to defend our country. We can either defend it out there or here.’ So, I joined. I did two tours overseas. I went to many places, many countries. Most people don’t have the slightest idea what it is,” he said.

Another participant named Luis honored his three brothers — two in the U.S. Army, one in the Marines.

“I’m proud of them. They sacrifice their lives for freedom and for America,” he said of the celebration.

Castillo’s resolve to keep the event going despite the circumstances was echoed by fellow veterans.

U.S. Army Retired Sgt. 1st Class Richard Salinas salutes as the national anthem is played Monday during a ceremony for Memorial Day honoring veterans and fallen soldiers in Veterans Park. (Denise Cathey/The Brownsville Herald)

“We were going to do it anyway,” one Vietnam veteran said. “I’m deeply disappointed that the city didn’t go through with this to recognize our veterans that have fought in wars, passed on, and paid the ultimate price to be free.”

Another retiree, Sgt. Castro, served in Afghanistan and Iraq and returned from a tour in Africa two-and-a-half years ago.

“I was still going to do my walk no matter what. We have a lot of friends, family that have served, and we need to honor them,” he said.

Castro, who did not provide a first name, also thought of others who deserve praise.

“I just want to say thank you to the frontline workers — nurses, doctors, everybody that’s putting in service right now,” he said.

Veteran Jose Vera stares at the memorial wall marking his military service as well as that of his brothers Eligio, Conrado and his departed brother Sgt. 1st Class Abelardo Vera who was killed in action while serving in Vietnam Monday during a ceremony honoring veterans and fallen soldiers on Memorial Day in Veterans Park. (Denise Cathey/The Brownsville Herald)