GANADO – The sun brightened the Friday afternoon sky as Ganado residents turned truck hatchbacks into benches and set up chairs along West York Street to wait for the Warrior’s Weekend caravan passing through South Texas.
About 60 first-graders from Ganado Elementary School struggled to contain their excitement as they waved flags at each passing car. Two of their teachers, Tina Gresham and Melissa Fowler, said welcoming the warriors is an annual tradition.
“We want them to understand the importance of our flag and everything our veterans do for us,” Fowler said. “Many of these people have given their lives, given their limbs and just given up a lot of things for our freedom.”
Warriors were escorted from Fort Hood and Houston to Port O’Connor all day Friday as people waved at them by the roadside. The warriors were served lunch in Cuero, Gonzales and El Campo.
Founded in 2007, Warrior’s Weekend is a nonprofit dedicated to supporting U.S. veterans with an emphasis on the those wounded in the global war on terrorism. About 650 warriors traveled to Port O’Connor on Friday and Saturday for the event, said Ron Kocian, the nonprofit’s president.
Ruben Bermea, a Ganado resident who sat with his family on West York Street in an American flag shirt and a bandana, said he looks forward to the warriors’ arrival every year.
“I wear a lot of flags. I am about the flags and eagles because it’s the military,” he said. “It is a good thing to know that somebody is fighting for this world ... (and that) I can wake up in a world and have the right to say something.”
Many of Bermea’s relatives served in the military, including two nephews, who were deployed to Iraq with the U.S. Army, he said. One of those nephews, Richard S. Arriaga, of Ganado, was killed in Iraq at 22 years old, just two years after he enlisted.
Arriaga was honored with an “American Hero” plaque in the Honor Pavilion at the Field of Honor in Victoria, next to those of other young men, who died fighting so others could live in peace.
The caravans arrived at the Field of Honor at Parkway Church about 1:45 p.m. for a ceremony, where they were greeted with a roar of applause from volunteers and residents, who shook their hands and hugged them in gratitude.
Shannon Alvarez, 44, quickly found her flag in the Field of Honor after she got off one of the buses from Fort Hood. Alvarez has served in the U.S. Army Transportation Corps for more than 22 years. Last year, she said she returned from a nine-month rotation in South Korea.
Originally from southern Louisiana, Alvarez said she wanted to go to Warrior’s Weekend because she loves to fish.
Seeing the Field of Honor and finding her flag made her emotional, she said.
“I always think about those who made those sacrifices before me,” said Alvarez. “People are still patriots, still love this country and care about their soldiers. We’ve pulled back on some of the wars, but the soldiers are still there, still training, still getting ready if ever called on.”
Jose De La Fuente, 38, also stationed at Fort Hood, said he was just expecting to go out and fish when he signed up for Warrior’s Weekend. De La Fuente has served in the U.S. Army for more than 14 years.
“I had no idea about all this,” he said. “The drive was awesome. That is the one thing about Texas – you always see the support come out.”