PHARR — Eddie Bell, a retired Army first sergeant from Copperas Cove near Fort Hood, tends to be on the go most of the time.
As the state president for the Korean War Veterans Association, he usually answers his phone from one of the many areas around the state where he is happily hunting down Vietnam conflict-era veterans to ensure they finally receive the welcome home they richly deserve.
But Pharr — a town near the southern tip of Texas on the border with Mexico — was, well, perhaps a little too far to normally venture to, especially with no nearby chapter of the KWVA. A chance call, however, put him in touch with Leslie Trevino — the activity director for Brook Ridge Retirement Community in Pharr — who wanted the dozen veterans she looks after properly honored on Veterans Day.
“I will be going down there as soon as I possibly can,” Bell said. “I didn’t realize just how many veterans we have in retirement homes — how many World War II veterans still living, even. They have a 96-year-old who served in the Women’s Army Corps in World War II. I have got to hear their stories.”
Trevino, who has family who served in the military, said she simply wanted to ensure her residents received proper honors on Veterans Day. So she contacted the Junior ROTC at Pharr-San Juan-Alamo Early College High School, who agreed to provide a color guard to post and retire the colors; called her sister in Midland, Lisa Bryant, who along with Jeremy Clifton of SGO Designer Glass provided personalized glass mugs for each veteran with their name and service branch emblem engraved on it; and after many calls to multiple organizations, finally managed to get in touch with Bell.
“Eddie is just amazing. I sent him all the information on my veterans the Monday before Veterans Day, and by Wednesday he had shipped me certificates, pins, coins and American flags,” she said. “Each was personalized for the veteran depending on the war they served in. My eyes swelled with pride watching their faces as they were honored. We are blessed to have so many veterans living in our community.”
Bell said it saddened him knowing there was no one taking care of his brother and sister veterans from the local area when he got the call.
“How could they be ‘forgotten’ like that? They are now on my list of support, as long as I can give it to them,” he said. “They are forgotten no longer — someone cares on this end. I was honored to give all I could to help make them happy on Veterans Day.
“I wish more of the veterans groups we have here in Texas — and around the world — would give more time and care to our veterans in homes like this,” Bell said. “All day long on Veterans Day, I was thinking about how they must feel knowing that someone cares about them all the way from Copperas Cove.”
After the festivities, local musician Ben Raiche played each of the five service songs.
Agripin Valderaz, a Korean War veteran, served in the Army from 1951 to 1967. He attained the rank of first sergeant before transferring to the Navy, where he served until 1976 and retired as a chief petty officer.
“It was great,” he said. “I felt low, because of the guys who couldn’t be here with me, but I’m glad the Lord gave me the strength and the guidance to come back.”
World War II Women’s Army Corps veteran Annette Grimsted, who served from February 1945 to December 1946, said she enjoyed getting to talk with her fellow veterans.
“I think it’s very nice that some still remember that some of us tried to do our best,” she said.
Trevino said she intends to make the Veterans Day event even better in the future. As for Bell, he’s already planning to pack notebooks and recorders.
“And it’s not just me, either,” he said. “I have a few other organizations, such as the Women’s Army Corps Veterans Association, just itching to go down and talk to these amazing veterans, too.”