Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Army Lt. Colonel Raymond Trejo Rivas

Remember Our Heroes

By Sig Christenson - Express-News Comal County Sheriff's Deputy Tom Cheek liked to tell his friend that if he went to the well often enough, he'd end up wet.

“And sooner or later, you're going to fall in,” he said. “We joked about that, we both being prior service. Sooner or later, if you put yourself in harm's way, there's a price to pay.”

Cheek, a Navy veteran of Southeast Asia before Saigon's fall, shared that conversation with a large group of mourners Tuesday at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery.

Retired Army Reserve Lt. Col. Raymond Trejo Rivas, 53, of New Braunfels was buried six days after his death outside Brooke Army Medical Center's emergency room, and nearly three years after a mortar blast in Iraq.

Rivas had trouble with speech, balance and memory after a mortar exploded about 25 feet from him on Oct. 12, 2006. The injury was a profound blow to an engineer and veteran soldier who had served in Bosnia, Kosovo, Africa and Afghanistan, as well as Iraq. It forced his retirement.

But he was a fighter. A 2007 San Antonio Express-News story profiling the battle Rivas and others were making to recover from traumatic brain injury noted that his wife, Colleen, thought someone else would call if he was badly injured. Rivas himself did that despite stuttering, repeating himself and complaining of a headache. He later endured intensive therapy but was known at BAMC as a good patient.

“He was the kindest, gentlest man, one of them, that I've ever met,” said Judith Markelz, 60, director of the Warrior and Family Support Center at Fort Sam.

A Las Cruces, N.M., native who joined the Marines after high school and earned his bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of Houston, Raymond Rivas was someone Comal County Precinct 1 Constable Ben Scroggin could count on.

“His performance not only as a soldier but as a deputy sheriff was absolutely exceptional,” said Scroggin, 72, of New Braunfels. “Many times, when I was on a traffic stop or something and I'd report it to the sheriff's office, I would turn around and there he was.”

Rivas' many friends, in turn, were there for him on a warm summer day. A line of soldiers, including Sgt. Maj. Dan Thompson of the Army Special Operations Command, stood next to the shelter as a horse-drawn caisson rolled toward them, led by a bagpiper playing a mournful tune.

The pallbearers, all soldiers in Army dress uniforms, placed Rivas' flag-draped casket on a bier in front of his family. An honor guard of Comal County deputies that had stood at attention in the sun then fired three volleys as two of the soldiers, wearing white gloves, held the flag over the casket. The bagpiper sounded taps.

A soldier folded the flag, carefully working to ensure it was tightly creased, as the other GI stood still. The flag's red and white stripes slowly disappeared into a field of blue with white stars. The NCO in charge of the detail inserted three shell casings into the American flag.

“Duty,” a soldier said.

“Honor.” “Country.”

When Rivas came back badly hurt from Iraq, he picked up the conversation with Cheek about going to the well once too often.

“And Ray said, ‘Yeah, I fell in,'” Cheek told the mourners. “They dropped a mortar in my back pocket.”

No comments: