More than 40 military veterans were in attendance at Riviera Independent School District’s Kaufer High School gymnasium Monday morning for a special Veterans Day assembly.
The annual event celebrates military veterans from all branches of service, as well as honors those who have passed on.
“In the area, we’ve had many, many soldiers that have served for us,” event organizer and part-time social studies teacher Artie DeLaRosa said. “And I want them to be here to honor them (and) respect them to the best of our abilities.”
The assembly began with Riviera ISD Superintendent Karen Unterbrink giving a welcome address to those in attendance.
“We’re here today to honor our heroes, to remember their achievements, their courage and their dedication,” Unterbrink said. “And to say thank you for their sacrifices.”
During the assembly, the veterans were honored with performances from the Kaufer High School band and Nanny Elementary students singing “You’re a Grand Ole Flag.”
Patriotic artwork created by Riviera ISD students lined the gymnasium floor, and pre-kindergarteners participated in a short parade dressed in patriotic costumes.
This year’s assembly was special as it marked the 50th anniversary of the death of Gumesindo DeLaRosa, a local soldier who died in combat on Nov. 12, 1969 during the Vietnam War.
The featured guest speaker for the assembly was Gumesindo’s uncle, Ernesto Longoria.
Longoria, a U.S. Army veteran who was drafted in 1969, accompanied Gumesindo’s remains from California to Riviera for his burial.
“I know 50 years is a very long time, but I remember it all like it was yesterday,” he said.
Longoria spoke about Gumesindo’s decision to drop out of Del Mar College to join the U.S. Army.
“Gume said that he had requested infantry,” he said. “He also told me that he wanted to serve his country, so that hopefully his younger brothers would not have to go fight in this war.”
Longoria said he was “overcome with grief and with guilt,” after he was told about Gumesindo’s death and his mother’s request that he “bring him home.” He spoke about the “large crowd” that was waiting for Gumesindo at the Corpus Christi Airport.
“Gumesindo received the hero’s welcome that he very much deserved,” Longoria said.
Longoria said Gumesindo’s death impacted his life “in a very personal and profound way” and for a long time he felt guilt about it.
“But after many years, I realized that what I actually needed to do was to appreciate, to respect and to honor Gumesindo,” he said. “I need to appreciate Gume for the choices that he made 50 years ago. He chose to serve his country at a time when his country needed him.”
Also speaking during the assembly was Primitivo Gonzalez Jr., who served as Gumesindo’s platoon sergeant during the Vietnam War.
“Gumesindo is my brother, and the rest of his family are my family,” he said.
Gonzalez spoke about his memories of Gumesindo as well as the difficulties that veterans have in speaking about their experiences to the general public.
“We were trained to live in combat,” he said. “And (endured) awful sights that shouldn’t be seen by anyone. But we’re all proud to serve.”
Four veterans were also presented handmade Quilts of Honor during Monday’s assembly in recognition for their service.
Quilts of Honor is an organization of volunteers who create quilts for veterans and active members of the military. The Texas chapter of the organization is based out of San Antonio.
Each Quilt of Honor is handmade and labeled with the recipient’s name along with the names of the volunteers who pieced the quilt together, quilted it and performed the binding. The quilts are also given a serial number, which is entered with the recipient’s name into a National Register in Washington, D.C.
Jerry Martinez, a Vietnam War veteran who served in the U.S. Marine Corps, presented the quilts at the assembly.
Receiving Quilts of Honor on Monday were Maxwell P. Dunne (U.S. Army, Vietnam), Primitivo Gonzalez Jr. (U.S. Army, Vietnam), Luis Muniz (U.S. Army, Vietnam) and James Clement (U.S. Marines, Afghanistan).
Anthony Ruiz can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or (361) 221-0251.