In honor of Memorial Day, Austin residents gathered last weekend at the 29th Ward Veterans Peace Garden to celebrate the life of Sgt. Robert Thomas.
A Purple Heart recipient, member of the Austin Veterans Community Organization (AVCO) and deacon of Unity Fellowship Church, Thomas was a fixture of the Austin community until hie death this past year.
Organized by AVCO and the South Austin Neighbor Association, close to 30 people showed up on a rainy Friday afternoon to remember Thomas and the lives of other veterans who have died.
AVCO president Jerry Warren, Rev. Theodore H. MacFarland Jr., Sgt. Jermaine Harris and Ald. Chris Taliaferro were among the attendees at the garden, located at 5413 W. Madison St.
Warren, a Vietnam veteran and Purple Heart recipient, recalled his friendship with Thomas. They met for breakfast Monday through Friday for the past decade. Warren smiled as he recounted how much Thomas loved eating out.
MacFarland knew Thomas best as a deacon. When MacFarland was a teenager, Thomas was his Sunday school teacher. MacFarland joked that whenever they would have a theological disagreement, he’d blame Thomas since he was the one who taught him.
Sgt. Harris, a former Marine, spoke in place of Deputy Chief Ernest Cato who was unable to attend the memorial due to an emergency.
Harris thanked the older generation of Black veterans, who he said made serving his country an easier experience for him.
Gesturing toward the crowd he said, “You see African American veterans who have been disrespected and treated wrongly but still fought and served to get us to this day. I was fortunate enough to serve without being segregated … I thank the veterans who came before me.”
Taliaferro, who spent a decade in the Marines, reflected on the pride that brings him. He said veterans are the reason Americans are able to live in a free country with inalienable rights – and those rights have to be protected.
The alderman said everyone should be advocating for the rights of thousands of homeless veterans who need healthcare and other basic services.
“We have to fight for those injustices going on while they fight for the freedoms we deserve,” he said.