SOUTH PADRE ISLAND, Texas (Border Report) — Claudia Gomez was 21 years old when her brother, U.S. Border Patrol Agent Eloy Hernandez, died in 2002 during a rollover crash while on duty in South Texas.
On Monday, she came to a vessel-naming ceremony to honor her brother and 19 other Border Patrol agents from the Rio Grande Valley Sector who have died while on duty.
Eleven water vessels used by Border Patrol lined the South Padre Island Convention Center, each bearing a plaque with a fallen Border Patrol agent.
Twenty water vessels from the RGV Sector now bear the names of border agents who have died in this sector since 1925.
Only 11 of the 20 boats were at the convention center on Monday. The rest of the vessels were out patrolling the Rio Grande, RGV Sector Chief Patrol Agent Joel Martinez told Border Report.
Martinez said this is the only Border Patrol sector in the United States that has a water vessel named for every fallen agent.
This also is the sector with the largest riverine fleet. And U.S. Customs and Border Protection data shows the RGV Sector has consistently had some of the highest numbers of migrants crossing from Mexico into the United States of any sector.
Martinez said this ceremony allows other agents, family, friends and the public to remember agents who gave their lives.
“The main objective is to remember our fallen,” Martinez said. “To let the families know that their ultimate sacrifice was not for nothing and we love our families very much and we want to make sure they understand that their sacrifice was not in vain.”
Martinez said every agent carries an “Angel Card,” with the photo of a fallen Border Patrol agent.
He pulled out a photo of Susan Rodriguez, with whom he worked at the Harlingen Station before she was shot and killed on July 7, 1998.
During Monday’s ceremony, a bell was rung 20 times as the names of each agent was read.
Family members gathered at tables, passing out tissues and smiling at the vessels bearing the names of their fallen loved ones.
Gomez’s mother, Guadalupe Hernandez, and other family members came from Weslaco, Texas, and left with a placard with Hernandez’s name on it.
She said her son died in an accident, and that her family said they were grateful for the ceremony that keeps his memory alive.
“It’s nice to have him remembered,” Gomez said. “It’s a remembrance. We get together and keep his memory alive. It allows to have other people remember him as well.”
Dorothy and Tom Attaway drove over 300 miles from the small town of D’Hanis, Texas, outside San Antonio, for Monday’s ceremony.
Their son, Travis Attaway, died in 2004 on the Rio Grande.
They brought with them their two teenage granddaughters, Peyton Beard, 13, and Brighton Beard, 17, who never got to know their uncle.
“It is amazing. It is so awesome because the Border Patrol always honors the fallen agents,” Dorothy told Border Report. “They always notify us of these memorials and we try to make as many as we can.”
“Border Patrol is a part of our lives and always will be,” Tom said.