On Sept. 16, 2016 at the Sitter and Barfoot Veterans
Care Center in Richmond, 96-year-old Borinqueneer and
retired Sgt. 1st Class Pablo Rivera was lauded for his
service as a member of the 65th during WWII and the Korean
War. Virginia Congressman Dave Brat traveled from the
nation's capital to present the CGM to Rivera in the company
of roughly 60 people to include family members.
September 16, 2016 - Virginia Congressman Dave Brat shakes hands
with retired Sgt. 1st Class Pablo Rivera as his wife, Paula, looks
on during the legistator's presentation of the Congressional Gold
Medal at the Sitter and Barfoot Veterans Care Center in Richmond. (Courtesy
photo by U.S. Army Garrison Fort Lee)
was awed,” said 66-year-old Claudine Pond, who was in
attendance with her mother, 84-year-old Paula S. Rivera, and
a host of family and friends.
It was, however,
somewhat of a bittersweet occasion for the Rivera family, at
least in retrospect. The family patriarch, who retired in
1973 after 26 years in the Army, was excited but his
response was not fully discernible.
He has dementia,
Pond said, and was diagnosed more than 10 years ago. Mrs.
Rivera lamented about the delayed recognition, and the
illness that robbed him of the appreciation.
very good, but in my heart, it hurt because he didn't know
much of what was going on. It was kind of late for him to
receive that medal,” she said. “I wish he could've received
it when he could remember or go to Puerto Rico himself and
receive it there.”
A CGM medal ceremony also was held
in Rivera's hometown of San Lorenzo, P.R., in August, said
Pond, who traveled there to receive the medal on behalf of
Dementia – which degrades cognitive
function – has caused Rivera to lose his short-term memory.
In fact, Rivera reacted with the same “awe” when shown the
medal on several occasions following the ceremony, said
“Every time we talk to him or we put it in his
hand, it's like the first time he's seen it,” she said. “The
joy and the surprise in his eyes – it's like he is reliving
the first time it was presented to him.”
Additionally, Rivera's reaction to the medal is typically
accompanied with a statement expressing his honor to serve
and love for the United States, said Pond.
there is much truth to Rivera's sense of duty and
patriotism. The infantryman (and later quartermaster) saw
combat in World War II and Korea, earning three Bronze Stars
and other awards.
“My husband dedicated his life to
the Army,” said Mrs. Rivera. “He loved the Army, but he went
through a lot.”
Mrs. Rivera met her husband in 1956
when he was assigned to a base in Magino, France, where she
worked at an exchange. She knew from the outset he was
troubled by the horrors he had witnessed during the wars.
“During World War II, I was a 7-year-old little girl,”
said the native of Verdun, France. “I saw everything. I saw
Soldiers buried on the side of the road; buried with horses.
They left one foot of the horse out then put the hat of the
Soldier on the top (as a makeshift grave maker). It was
horrible. I saw all of that.
“My husband saw it
worse, because he was a Soldier.”
When the couple
married, the Soldier's troubles were amplified. His nights
were sometimes marked with screams and he often isolated
himself, said Mrs. Rivera.
“He sometimes was a loner,
and I knew something was wrong, but I learned to deal with
it,” she said. “The older he got, the worse it got so the
doctor had to talk to me. They used to ask me, do you know
what your husband went through? I said I saw part of it, but
my husband does not like to talk about those things. And he
didn't like watching the war movies on the TV ... never,
never. The doctors said my husband went through atrocities,
and that's what gave him post-traumatic stress disorder
combined with dementia.”
When Rivera recognized he
was losing his memory, he acted to ensure his record of
service would not be forgotten. He recorded his assignments
and service dates on pieces of notepaper. It also listed his
medals and awards and the fact that he landed on the beaches
of France during D-Day. His spoken recollections from the
war served as a complement to the documents, said his wife.
“His lieutenant was killed and his sergeant was killed
right next to him” during a battle, said Mrs. Rivera in
reference to WWII. “That affected him a lot.”
said her father was extremely fortunate to survive the war.
“He told me there were bullets and shrapnel going every
which way and he said, ‘I did not get one,'” recalled Pond.
“It's like what they say when there's a bullet with your
name on it. Standing there and watching people fall around
you (and coming out unscathed) is amazing.”
Rivera did not meet the fate of many others in his unit, he
did bear the scars of battle as many U.S. servicemen have.
Pond said the man she knows as her father was borne in part
by the tragedy of war.
“I believe that all he went
through made him a humble person,” she said. “He was not one
bit arrogant at all. He was kind. All of this was his
appreciation for life and the character of people.”
If her father had retained all of his faculties, Pond said
he would probably say he was “honored to serve this country,
and it was a great sacrifice for a great country.”
some levels, it's an indication the Soldier and patriot in
Rivera remains strong despite his illness.
By Terrance Bell, U.S. Army Garrison Fort Lee
Comment on this article