MISSION, Texas (ValleyCentral) — The Rio Grande Valley State Veterans Cemetery has a new designation as a purple heart cemetery.
The designation was presented and made official during a ceremony Tuesday at the veterans cemetery on S. Inspiration Road in Mission, with the local chapter of the Military Order of the Purple Heart.
George Rice, onsite representative for the state of Texas, told ValleyCentral the designation “meant a lot” to those who attended Tuesday’s ceremony.
“[There were] a lot of Purple Heart, a lot of wounded veterans out there today, probably about 70 or 80 combat wounded veterans out there in attendance,” Rice said, adding that multiple Gold Star families also attended.
Rice, an U.S. Army veteran and a two-time Purple Heart recipient, spoke at the cemetery about the history of the medal and importance of the cemetery’s new designation.
“It’s America’s oldest military medal and honor that we have,” Rice said. “It was first given by George Washington to designate sacrifices made. It’s the only medal that can be earned through sacrifice and blood.”
Jonathan Hargrove, operations manager at the cemetery, said the designation reflects “the amount of Purple Heart recipients we have buried here (and) the amount of Purple Heart recipients that are in the Valley.”
Hargroves estimated that 1,800 to 2,000 veterans have been laid to rest at the cemetery.
On Wednesday, Mark Joseph Griffen, a Navy veteran with no next-of-kin, will be buried in a 10 a.m. ceremony.
Griffin was a quartermaster seaman recruit who served from December 1973 to May 1975 and received the National Defense Service Medal. Griffin died at age 67 and will be honored with a flag ceremony, rifle volley, and the flag will be presented to a Navy veteran from Mission, who volunteered to receive the flag at the ceremony, Hargroves said.
Rice said he will attend Wednesday’s burial.
“It’s the right thing to do,” Rice said. “Several years ago, staff members or veterans working at the state cemeteries, here and the other cemeteries, noticed that we have veterans being laid to rest with no family, no friends, no honors, just the funeral home showing up, dropping off the casket and then being buried. That is not what we represent. It’s not part of our ethos.”
That’s why the unaccompanied burial program began, he said, estimating that he has attended about 20 such burials over the past four years at the Mission cemetery.
“We make sure that he has people there in attendance, and we make sure that he is given the honors that he has earned,” Rice said.