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Stockton family hopes every loved one lost in battle is remembered this Memorial Day

Stockton family remembers service member lost 60 years ago
Stockton family remembers service member lost 60 years ago 02:48

STOCKTON — Memorial Day means a lot to families who lost loved ones in battles for our freedom.

In Stockton, one family who lost a brother 60 years ago, used the holiday to honor his sacrifice.

It's a message from the past. Flipping through old newspapers and messages, Dianne Valverde still has the telegram from 1963.

It's the last time she and her family heard of her brother Rafael Cruz's whereabouts. He enlisted in the Air Force to fight in Vietnam.

"I said, 'Oh, momma. This means he went down and they don't know,' " she said, pointing at the telegram her family received. "That was the first message and she was like stoic."

Cruz's plane was shot down in Cambodia and no one was found. For 33 years, the family had no answer about where their loved one was.

Cruz, a Stockton native, served for 17 years.

"'Why do you want to go? You don't have to. You have a family.' He said, 'Sis, if there's going to be a war, I'd rather it be there,' and that was the last time I saw him," Valverde said.

It wasn't until someone in Cambodia found human remains and turned them in. They turned out to be Cruz's skeleton and part of his crew on the same plane they were shot down in.

"They had been laying there so long that sediment was coming on the bones. and for my brother. they had to do DNA," Valverde said.

Cruz was finally able to come back home and was laid to rest in Arlington, Texas alongside his crew.

Valverde was there for his return.

"Until the day I die, you don't forget that he made the sacrifice for his country and his children," she said.

Cruz left behind a wife and five children.

Valverde said she still grieves over her brother 60 years later. She wants future generations to remember him and everyone else who gave their lives.

"We don't realize what Memorial Day is symbolizing," she added. "Someone gave their life out there so we could be here enjoying our day."

Valverde had four brothers in total as service members and now, she has two granddaughters who are keeping this tradition of serving alive.

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