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Vietnam Veteran KIA Memorial to be Unveiled May 27

(This article was written by Abigail Muñiz-Garcia and appeared in the May issue of Explore Harlingen Magazine.)

Photo courtesy of VVA Chapter 856

Gloria Cardenas has witnessed her husband’s unwavering commitment to commemorate fallen heroes. “One of the things… he’s very patriotic, my husband is,” Cardenas said. 


Cardenas’ husband, Samuel Cardenas, who is originally from Brownsville, Texas, currently serves as president of Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) Lower Rio Grande Valley (LRGV) Chapter 856. A Vietnam War veteran who served two tours and was awarded not one but two Purple Hearts, Samuel Cardenas remembers coming to the realization that Harlingen did not have a monument for heroes that were killed in action. 


“We are not doing this for us,” he said. “I don’t know anyone on that list… we did it to honor 23 people (from all branches of the military) that made the ultimate sacrifice.”

He started by first researching if anyone else in Harlingen was working on a monument for soldiers that were killed in action. When he realized that plans for one had fallen through a few years ago, he proceeded to talk to the people that could help make it happen. 

After meeting with the Harlingen city manager’s office and the Harlingen Parks and Recreation department in October 2023 and getting approval from Mayor Norma Sepulveda and the city commission, Cardenas and Chapter 856 proceeded with their fundraising efforts. 

Photo courtesy of VVA Chapter 856

It hasn’t been easy, but thanks to generous contributions from local businesses such as McCoy’s and Gillman Chevrolet (both of Harlingen) and others, plus raffle ticket sales, the $12,000, five-foot granite monument is fully paid for as of March 2024. The monument to honor the fallen heroes of Harlingen that were killed in action during the Vietnam War will be constructed by the Harlingen Monument Company.


Prayer and faith have been a common theme going through the process. “One of the things we did was pray and pray. Anytime we had a meeting, we prayed,” he said. “The Lord has been good to us.”


“He’s very passionate about it and I am very passionate about it as well,” Gloria Cardenas said. She relates that while selling raffle tickets at a local store’s parking lot, they met a relative of George Gutierrez, one of the 23 individuals whose name will forever be inscribed on that monument. 

Photo courtesy of VVA Chapter 856

“We would like to honor the families if we can find them,” she said. “Maybe they can share a story. We are praying and believing that we find more.”


“Harlingen’s 23 Vietnam KIA” monument will be unveiled on May 27, 2024 (Memorial Day) at Harlingen’s Pendleton Park, 1427 Morgan Blvd. Event time will be announced on the VVA LRGV Chapter 856 Facebook page. If you have any information about or are a relative of the 23 fallen heroes, please contact Samuel Cardenas at (956) 371-2335.


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