Sylvia Garza of San Marcos, holds the award recently presented to her at a 75th Anniversary Luncheon sponsored by the American GI Forum, in honor of her decades of service to the American GI Forum, including serving as Texas State Chairwoman. The AGIF is a congressionally chartered Hispanic veterans and civil rights organization founded in 1948 in Texas. Its motto is “Education is Our Freedom and Freedom should be Everybody’s Business,” and it operates chapters throughout the U.S., with a focus on veterans’ issues, education, and civil rights. A mural honoring some of San Marcos’ veterans and heroes decorates the side of the AGIF building located in the area off South Mitchell Street in San Marcos.

Daily Record photo by Barbara Audet

In her quaint home on south Mitchell Street, one woman lives a life that continues to excerpt a dynamic force for good in all matters that seek to benefit veterans in this community and the state.

In her home, resplendent with water fountains and a healthy magnolia tree she and her husband, Freddie, planted years ago, Sylvia Garza, in her 80s, is not a bragging woman, and yet, she could be. Her husband is known to many in the community as the proprietor of Freddie’s Auto Repair. Both were born and raised in this community and share a love for the people and the life they have built here.

Recently, she was honored by her organization, the American GI Forum, during its 75th Anniversary Luncheon, held in Corpus Christi, with its Years of Service Award The award was presented to her in recognition of her recent contributions as state chairwoman, but also for her lifelong commitment to the organization and its work with veterans and students.

She said the AGIF was established in March 1948, in Cor pus Christi, by Dr. Hector P. Garcia, a man who sought to address issues affecting the large population of Mexican American veterans, many of whom had returned from serving in World War II and found segregation in their home state, Texas. Often denied medical services and even burials with military honors, the first veteran championed by the new AGIF was Felix Longoria, a Mexican-American U.S. Army private who was killed in the Philippines in World War II.

Three years after the war ended, his family had his remains brought home to Texas, and they were denied funeral services by a white-owned funeral home, Garza explained. Garcia requested the intercession of then-U.S. Sen. Lyndon B. Johnson, who arranged for Longoria to be buried with full military honors at the nation’s most cherished military cemetery, Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. This action brought Garza’s organization into prominence across the country, and chapters would be started as a result. Longoria’s services at Arlington brought the AGIF to national attention, and chapters were opened throughout the country. Soon, a women’s and youth auxiliary were formed, and Garza said she saw this as a place where she could make a difference. Though she did not serve in the military, as a mother and now grandmother, she said her commitment to advancing civil rights was strong. ‘I’m very patriotic,” Garza said.