Posted: Nov 4, 2013 9:00 PM
Updated: Nov 5, 2013 11:02 AM
McALLEN - A leisurely walk at the Veteran's War Memorial of Texas in McAllen brings solace to Consuelo Mata.
"I really like walking here. There's a lot of peace," she said. "It's marvelous."
"I say my prayers here, for all of them who died in the war," she said.
Mata's husband was a veteran.
The memorial brings back painful memories to those who served in battle.
"You could hear the bullets whiz by you. You could hear the mortars. But you had to worry about your Marine ... make sure he's good to go, make sure he's coming back home," Iraq War Veteran Rene Abendano said.
"I am the commander of the Donna VFW Post 10802," he said.
The concrete walls bear the names of Rio Grande Valley warriors who made the ultimate sacrifice.
"My uncle served in the Marine Corps. I served in the Marine Corps. I have a cousin who served in the Marine Corps," Abendano said.
The Valley has a rich history of military service.
"I think we're more patriotic ... I really do," Vietnam War Veteran Robert Diaz said.
Patriotism, though, demands sacrifice.
"A war is very difficult," Diaz said.
Diaz saved seven men in Vietnam. Still, he doesn't consider himself a hero.
"I'm not a hero, that's for sure," he said wiping away tears.
A mundane binder holds the medals he earned through valor and blood.
"You don't win a medal; you earn them. It's not a race. A lot of people don't understand that," Diaz said.
Diaz served in the U.S. Air Force.
"Fly, fight and win," Diaz said quoting the Air Force's motto.
The medals, he said, are keepsakes that will go to his grandson.
Diaz fights back strong emotions when he speaks about his war experiences. His eyes well up as he fights to regain his composure while he recounts the harrowing events.
"Vietnam affected me that bad. I get very emotional when I talk about Vietnam," he said.
The horrors of war leave an indelible mark on service members, Diaz said.
Sights, smells, lights and scenarios bring back vivid memories of the battlefield, former combatants said.
Many struggle to overcome Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Those who suffer the condition said they are often called crazy.
Getting help through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is a challenge.
"You feel like a second-class citizen," Diaz said.
The Valley does not have a VA hospital. It does have two clinics - one in Harlingen and the other in McAllen. Those clinics are overwhelmed by the number of veterans seeking services.
Still, Veterans find solace in the memorials that dot the region. From a war memorial in Brownsville, to a celebration of Freddy Gonzalez on an Edinburg street corner and the majestic Iwo Jima cast in Harlingen, the memorials let veterans know they are not forgotten.
For some, personal mementos bring the comfort they seek.
"It was carried by my brother," Veteran Juan Martinez said while showing a knife. The knife once belonged to Pedro Martinez. He was killed in action at a very early age.
"July 21, 1966," said Juan Martinez of his brother's death.
The younger Martinez embarked on a mission to honor his brother. He fought to have Baseline Road south of Mercedes renamed in Pedro's honor.
"I decided I needed to do something for him. You know, so his memory wouldn't fade away," he said.
"Anybody that sees PFC (Pedro Martinez), they know he is a veteran," Martinez said.
Pfc. Pedro Martinez was the only Relampago resident killed in Vietnam.
Veterans said it is difficult to forget those who died in battle. Many of them died while they were very young.
"Very hard to accept, because they'll never know their kids, grandkids," Diaz said.
Diaz said he finds comfort in knowing Old Glory waves above the graves of the fallen.
"The most beautiful flag," he said.
"It's a privilege and an honor to serve this country," Martinez said.
The veterans don't consider themselves heroes.
"There are a lot of heroes out there. I'm just a regular Rio Grande Valleyite. I love my country," Avendano said.