Proud salutes, teary remembrances and heartfelt stories of bravery filled The University of Texas-Pan American Visitors Center April 12. More than 200 people - many relatives - of the 16 fallen Rio Grande Valley soldiers and Marines gathered for an emotional ceremony to celebrate the creation of the UTPA Valley Heroes Memorial Scholarship and the opening of an exhibit to honor their sacrifice.
The tribute and announcement of the scholarship honors the 16 Valley servicemen who lost their lives while serving the country in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.
"I wanted to do something to honor the lives of these young men and women, many who did not yet have a chance to go to college. It is my hope that the scholarships will serve to memorialize their sacrifices and inspire deserving veterans to pursue an education," Cárdenas said. "This scholarship has a purpose and that is to make sure that as long as this University stands, there will be at least 10 students who will carry with them the memory of these heroes every year."
Raquel Moore, wife of the late Major H. Gary Moore, spoke on behalf of the servicemen's family members who attended the ceremony.
"I know Gary was a big proponent of education...I am confident that all of the service members being honored today would be happy to know that others will be getting this opportunity," Moore said, fighting back tears.
Army Sgt. Rogelio Torres, friend of the late Army Sgt. Christopher Ramirez, thanked UTPA for starting the scholarship and honoring his fallen "brothers."
"I'd like to encourage my fellow veterans to take advantage of this opportunity to better your education and future," Torres said, while speaking slowly to control his feelings. "I know someday I'd like to take advantage of it myself."
Dr. John Edwards, vice president for Enrollment and Student Services, said the UTPA Valley Heroes Memorial Scholarship will furnish 10 awards of $1,000 a year to qualifying students. To be eligible for the scholarships one must be an undergraduate student, have honorably served a minimum of six months active duty (in the military), have a GPA of at least 3.0 (if a returning or transfer student), have an ACT score of at least 20 or an SAT score of at least 930 and must also be enrolled at least half time (six credit hours).
"The scholarships will also be available to any members of the immediate families of any of the fallen Valley heroes," Cárdenas said. "I beg you to not let the lack of finances keep you from coming to college."
"I thought the ceremony was wonderful," she said. "I think it was a good idea that they (UTPA) did this."
Applications are available through the Student Financial Services Office, the Department of Military Science and online at www.utpa.edu/valleyheroes The deadline to turn in the application is June 1, 2005.
The memorial exhibit, containing enlarged photographs of the soldiers and Marines and short biographies of their lives, passions and favorite hobbies was also unveiled.
Attendees were able to walk around the exhibit which also featured glass-encased items including Army Specialist Mark Zapata's firefighter helmet, Marine Private First Class Dustin Michael Sekula's saddle and Diaz's fishing pole, among photographs, letters and other personal items from each of the soldiers and Marines.
The memorial exhibit will be on display through the summer at the UTPA Visitors Center.
"The exhibit is important because it gives those of us not familiar with these soldiers the opportunity to see a side of them not otherwise known to the public," Michelle Alvarado, director of Student Financial Services and Valley Heroes Memorial Scholarship committee chair, said. "We are given the opportunity and privilege to see them in their everyday lives and activities that interested them."
"Our purpose is to bring hope to others out of the ultimate sacrifice," Edwards said. "These scholarships will bring hope to countless young people - hope of a better life through continued education at UT Pan American, hope of yet to be known contributions made by the future scholarship recipients and hope based upon these sacrifices and the future students that spring from these sacrifices."
For more information or to schedule a tour of the exhibit, call 956/381-UTPA.