CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — Every December 18th, the Coastal Bend State Veterans Cemetery is one of more than 2,500 sites in the U.S. and abroad for Wreaths Across America.
Each year, volunteers and families place wreaths on each of the more than 3,600 graves at the cemetery. One of those veterans is Marine Jose Aguilar.
Aguilar passed away in September of 2013. Every year since, his widow Carmen has laid a wreath on his grave as part of Wreaths Across America. This year, she was joined by their son Arthur for the first time.
“This one was really special,” said Arthur Aguilar.
Arthur and Carmen regularly visit Jose’s grave, but before thjs year he was never able to attend Wreaths Across America. He was amazed by what he saw.
“A lot of people showed up and it made me feel good that many people would go, pass by and see the veterans that are buried there,” Arthur said.
“It feels good, and it makes me feel that I'm near him,” Carmen Aguilar said of the annual event.
Carmen has participated every year since Jose’s passing and served as a volunteer for many years.
Before the couple met, Jose Aguilar was a Marine, sent to fight in Korea. Carmen says he rarely shared old war stories.
“He didn't want to talk about it, so I didn't press him or anything,” Carmen said. “I just picked up a little bit from him, what he'd tell, what he went through.”
Carmen knows that Jose was wounded in a mortar attack. After that, the details aren’t exactly clear.
“He got captured and somehow he ended up in a Chinese camp,” Arthur said. “Nobody really knows the whole story.”
That's because Jose was never reported as being captured by either side. He spent 72 days in captivity but isn't officially recognized as a Prisoner of War, something which Jose tried to change later in life.
“It did weigh on him, it's like he got cheating out of something,” Arthur said. “:As he got older he started trying to do more things about it, writing presidents and senators.”
Despite those efforts, Jose passed away without ever gaining the recognition as a POW he deserved.
“They would just say they couldn't do anything about it because they didn't have any proof that he was a POW,” Carmen said.
Carmen met Jose after he was reassigned to Naval Air Station Corpus Christi. While she didn't know him before the war, Carmen knows that Korea changed Jose. Despite his post-war struggles with PTSD and depression, she's grateful for his service.
Without it, they would have never met.
“If it weren't for the Korean War we wouldn't be married,” Carmen said.
Even after Jose’s passing, the Aguilars remain hopeful that Jose will one day be recognized as a former POW.