He wasn’t born in this country but he was willing to die for it. On Wednesday friends and family mourned a 98-year-old World War II veteran Santiago Ontiveros. Ontiveros was one of El Paso’s remaining World War II veterans. His children say he was very honored to serve this country.
“Dad was a very good man.. very honest very fourth right and um we never messed around with us. . he always said what he meant and that’s how we took it,” says his son Santiago Ontiveros Jr.
He also served in the Korean War.
“My dad didn’t speak to us too much about his time overseas only that it was a very difficult time for him. He saw a lot of war. It changed who he was I’m sure,” his daughter Elizabeth Checkalski says.
Ontiveros was a father of nine and was married to his wife for nearly 65 years. Along with serving in the Philippines for many years and receiving a purple heart, he also received a personalized letter from former President Harry Truman.
“We taught us that we need to cherish the unity of what it means to be American,” says Checkalski.
Alongside family, Ontiveros was accompanied by the patriot guard riders who say their only prerequisite is respect.
“It’s an honor for us. Mr. Ontiveros paved the way… world war two,” says henry Far West Texas Ride Captain Henry Haberkamp. NM assistant state captain Jim Ernst shared a similar sentiment. “When I see what affect it has on families and how much the families appreciate it, that makes it all worthwhile,” he says.
The riders escorted Ontiveros from the funeral home to Fort Bliss National Cemetery. Ontiveros’ son says they feel honored to be able to lay him to rest like this.
“Seeing all the stuff that we’re gonna be able to do for him, I just wish he was here,” Santiago Ontiveros Jr. says.
The patriot guard riders is a non-profit organization, and they say you don’t have to be a veteran to be accompanied by the riders. They also ride for police, fire fighters and emergency personnel.