Valley, Mexicali vets honored

November 13, 2001|By JENNIFER RALTON-SMITH, Staff Writer

With a quickly setting sun casting a mellow glow over the Veterans Memorial Plaza in Imperial Monday evening, some 400 people gathered for the sixth annual Sunset Retreat ceremony.

Organized by the United Veterans Council of Imperial County, the ceremony was devised as a way of honoring living veterans who reside in the Imperial Valley and Mexicali.

The first cold wind of the season started to blow and the sky darkened to a steely gray as ceremony narrator Joe Rodrigues, U.S. Army (retired), opened the retreat by asking those present to observe a moment of silence for the victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

As a U.S. Border Patrol color guard posted colors and the last words of the Pledge of Allegiance echoed across the parade field, a man in a wheelchair was brought close to the lectern by family members.


For 83-year-old Guadalupe Medrano of Mexicali, this was a moment like no other.

He was about to become a U.S. citizen.

Medrano enlisted in the U.S. Army in World War II and served in Germany. A now frail man who has suffered two strokes, he nonetheless listened attentively as local immigration Judge Jack Weil guided him through the citizenship ceremony.

Along with his freshly signed citizenship papers, Medrano was handed a personally signed letter of congratulations from President George W. Bush.

The area's newest U.S. citizen and his extended family watched from the sidelines as the ceremony proceeded.

The presentation of the POW/MIA flag was an especially poignant moment for many in the crowd as they saw the familiar flag being borne onto the parade ground to the sounds of "Amazing Grace."

During the roll call two-bell salute, retreat participants were asked to remember not only those veterans who died in the last 12 months but to think of the 300-plus New York City firefighters and 33 New York City police officers who died Sept. 11.

The ceremony was flawless in its presentation but according to Heywood Bell, U.S. Air Force (retired), and a member of the United Veterans Council, that's only because a lot of planning and hard work goes into each retreat.

Earlier in the day, the parade ground where dignitaries and guests would sit was occupied only by Joaquin Reclosado Jr., U.S. Marine Corps (retired), and the color guard going through paces in a last-minute rehearsal.

Wearing bright blue work overalls and a large-brimmed hat, Reclosado drilled his team tirelessly until it got it just right.

Looking on, Bell said Reclosado was the driving force behind the idea to come up with a ceremony that would honor the living veterans of Imperial Valley and Mexicali.

"Junior here has done as much as anybody. He puts together what happens on the parade field and that's the heart of the whole thing," Bell said Monday afternoon.

At the end of the retreat, Reclosado took a moment to describe how some five years ago, he and other veterans decided that, "Not only should we honor the veterans who have died; we've got to say thank you to the veterans still living, especially the World Ware II veterans whom we are losing at a rate of 1,300 a day."

Reclosado said the motto of the United Veterans Council is "As long as there's one veteran on the field left to be thanked, then we're going to be here to say thank you."

>>Staff Writer Jennifer Ralton-Smith can be reached at 337-3442 or

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