by PAT MURDOCK
Richard Cruz is the “main man” behind the Hays County Veterans Memorial.
Born in San Marcos, Richard Cruz graduated from San Marcos High School in 1965. Although his father wanted him to go to college, he had his mind set on becoming a career Army man. He was about to volunteer, but, before he could, his draft notice came in the mail in June 1966 and he was off to Fort Polk, La. for basic training.
When he was sent on the short trip to North Fort Polk for advanced infantry training, he knew he would soon be bound for Vietnam. North Fort Polk, called “Tiger Land,” was known as the fast track to the war.
He arrived in Vietnam in November of 1966. A rifleman in the infantry, he was wounded in battle in August of 1967. A squad leader, his crew was setting up an ambush for the Viet Cong. Instead of ambushing, they were ambushed and two grenades came into his area. Richard had shrapnel embedded in his back, his leg and his eye. Although he tried to leave the ambush area, he lost consciousness, and, when he came to, he was on a helicopter being airlifted from the battle field.
After spending two month recuperating in Japan, he was shipped to Fort Sam Houston where he had surgery on his injured eye. He required skin grafts so he could close his eye. Richard attributes his almost fanatical love for eagles to his eye injury and the nick name he was given at the hospital in Japan –“Eagle Eye.”
No longer having the ambition for a military career which he felt would be spent as a drill sergeant, he was discharged from the U.S. Army in 1968. Shortly there after, he began to pursue the training that would lead him to a 39-year career at Texas State University. He wanted to learn data processing, but there was yet to be a program at the local university. After visiting with Veterans Administration counselors, he was sent to Durham Business College in Austin where he pursued a 30-month program in data processing. He training and learning at Durham was enough to land a job at the Internal Revenue Service in Austin. He was the first group of employees at IRS to have computer monitors in their work station.
Although he was three-months shy of completing his coursework at Durham, he was hired at Texas State because the university’s new IBM 360 Model 20 computer had been what he had been using at Durham.. Tom Jannett, the first director of data processing at the university, worked with him to keep a work schedule while completing his work and graduating from Durham.
Although it would take a while, he eventually received his bachelor’s degree in computer science at Texas State in 1989. He retired from the university in 2008.
Although he had lived a brief time in San Antonio and a little bit longer in Austin, Richard and his wife Stella chose to return home to San Marcos to raise their family. It didn’t take long before he was emerged in community service.
He helped charter the local LULAC Council in 1974, served on city boards and commissions, served on the board of St. John’s Credit Union for 20 years and on the San Marcos Housing Authority for about 15 years. He was an election judge and volunteered for San Marcos CISD committees. He currently serves as a member of the City of San Marcos’ new Veterans Affairs Advisory Committee.
His community service was largely responsible for his selection as a Distinguished Alumnus of San Marcos High School in 2005.
His work to get a Hays County Veterans Memorial built began in 1997. He had the idea and had looked at such memorials in other cities. He was inspired by one he saw in the South Texas town of Cotulla.
Then San Marcos Mayor Kathy Morris told him to quit thinking and talking about creating a memorial, but to just go on and do it.
He approached the local VFW and American Legion but did not get much response. He worked to develop a list of those from Hays County who were killed in wars. The killed in action – called “KIAs” – were verified with the Veterans Administration. He discovered errors that existed on some local lists.
He gathered together a group to work on the project. At first, there were about 20 people involved but the active participants quickly dissolved to three or four before the real work began after they learned that they would have to be actively being involved in fundraising to make it happen. Among those who stuck with him were Toby Tobias and Ponte Moreno.
Richard applied for 501 (3) (c) nonprofit status for the Hays County Veterans Memorial organization.
Real progress began in 1999 when Emmett McCoy stepped forward with a gift. Other contributors follow to help fund the Veterans Memorial. The city of San Marcos made the site available and the small group led by Richard raised the necessary funds to get things going. The memorial was dedicated in 2003.
In addition to the listing of men and women killed in action, the memorial contains marble bricks that individuals have purchased in honor of their special service men and women.
Although current plans call for the City of San Marcos to assume responsibility for selling and installing the bricks, Richard Cruz will undoubtedly be keeping his eyes open for future improvements and expansion.Email | Print