By JACOB LOPEZ
While Command Sergeant Major Ruben Vela is being laid to rest at Rio Grande Valley State Veteran Cemetery, his friends, family and fellow U.S. Military personnel are taking the time to remember the high-ranking serviceman.
“I’m a proud son,” says Emilio Vela of his father, a San Benito native. “It’s a great honor that my dad was able to serve for my country.”
Emilio added that several veterans who knew his father have shared fond memories of Ruben, who died at the age of 58 on Wednesday, Aug. 27.
“I have a text message from one of his troops. He says, ‘Your dad was the first one to give me my first coin,’ and a coin means a lot when a Command Sergeant Major gives it to you,” Emilio said.
According to Emilio, his father also served as a mentor for many of his troops, because he strongly believed that everyone could achieve greatness.
While his time spent amongst the military ranks, including one of the highest possible, Command Sergeant Major, earned him the respect of his family and peers, it’s his dedication to his wife and children that truly stands out for Emilio.
“I missed my dad a lot when he was out,” said Emilio. “It was like — he was away from home, but he would always call us. … He would always put us first. …We never lacked anything.”
Victor Garza, Chair of the San Benito Veteran Advisory Board, shared his story of his meetings with Ruben.
“This young man is from San Benito — born and raised —graduated from here,” said Garza.
“Command Sergeant Major … that’s the highest you can go as an enlisted man,” said Garza. “It’s not every day that somebody puts in 38 years of service.”
“We both went to elementary school together. We’re not in the same grade, but I knew him from the neighborhood.”
Garza said that back in grade school, he considered Ruben to be a “pachuco,” a term often used to categorize the fashion and lifestyle associated with lowrider cars and zoot suits.
To Garza’s surprise, he en-countered Ruben at a Veteran’s Day function, and the two caught up with each other.
“Here’s a person I haven’t seen … since he graduated high school,” said Garza. In the years since, Ruben had enlisted in the U.S. Army and earned his Command Sergeant Major rank.
Garza, inspired by Ruben’s story, had him slated to speak at an upcoming Veteran’s Day event. Unfortunately, Ruben lost a six-month battle with cancer before he got the chance.
Still, Emilio takes solace in knowing that Ruben has been reunited with his mother, who died in March.
“There is true love,” said Emilio. “I’m okay with it, because they’re [his parents] together.”