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CBP Valor Memorial and Wreath-Laying Ceremony

Release Date: 
May 16, 2017

Remarks as Delivered

May 16, 2015

Acting Commissioner Kevin K. McAleenan

Good morning and welcome. Thank you for joining us for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection 2017 Valor Memorial and Wreath Laying Ceremony. Each year, we gather to honor our fallen agents and officers. It is also a time when we stand with our colleagues in uniform to mark National Police Week, honoring all law enforcement personnel who have given their lives in defense of this great nation.

This year, we have more family members attending than in any previous year, reflecting the profound significance of this observance to CBP, its employees, its families, and friends of the fallen.

We are honored to have with us today the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, General John Kelly and the Deputy Secretary, the Honorable Elaine Duke. I would like to thank both of them for joining us this year.

I am also pleased to welcome former leaders, Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff, as well as former Acting Commissioners Jayson Ahern and David Aguilar – along with Brandon Judd, president of the National Border Patrol Council.

I also want to recognize the Honorable Eric Garcetti, Mayor of the City of Los Angeles, and Jim McDonnell, Sheriff of Los Angeles County. And I also want to thank our foreign partners for joining us here today. Many of you have come from halfway around the world to stand with us. Your participation underscores that the grief we share for these tragic losses transcend our national borders and boundaries. Thank you for being here today.

Mr. Secretary, from your very first moments taking the helm of Homeland Security – through your actions and your words, your presence and your time – you have demonstrated and conveyed tremendous support to our frontline – to our agents, officers, specialists and support personnel – who work tirelessly, often in dangerous and difficult conditions, to protect our border and homeland each day. Your manifest commitment to the mission and people of our agency has been deeply appreciated. We are grateful for your participation in our memorial here today, and we look forward to your remarks:

Ladies and gentlemen, Secretary John Kelly.

[Secretary Kelly delivers his remarks]

Thank you, Secretary Kelly.

Our most solemn duty in law enforcement is when we must remember our fallen, and honor their service and their family’s sacrifice. Today, we add four names to CBP’s Valor Memorial. I have the honor of telling you a little bit about each of them.

Patrol Agent Javier Vega, Jr. was killed on August 3, 2014 in Santa Monica, Texas. Agent Vega – also known as “Harvey” to his friends – was enjoying a fishing trip with his family. He was fatally shot as he attempted to prevent a robbery in progress. His father was also seriously wounded in the attack, and he is here with us today.

A proud veteran of the United States Marine Corps, Agent Vega entered on duty with the U.S. Border Patrol in February 2008 and was assigned to the Kingsville Station as a canine handler – a job that he loved. During the last years of his life, Harvey became an avid runner and cyclist – and he was even planning on competing in a triathlon.

We thank his wife, Andrea, and his three sons – Javier III – known as “Trey,” Jiovanni, and Jarod – as well as his parents, Javier Sr. and Marie.

Border Patrol Agent José D. Barraza – known as Joey – died on April 18, 2016 in a two-vehicle accident in El Paso, Texas. His faithful canine partner, Vino, survived and is working with a new partner today.

Agent Barraza entered on duty in August 2008 and was assigned to the Sierra Blanca Station of the Border Patrol’s Big Bend Sector. Joey was a passionate fan of the Green Bay Packers and he enjoyed playing softball.

Joining us today from Agent Barraza’s family are:

  • His wife Donna;
  • his two sons José Jr. (“Joey”) and Joshua (“Joshy”);
  • his mother, Tammy Avent;
  • his two sisters, Catalina and Stephanie; and
  • his brother Anthony.

We also welcome:

  • Agent Barraza’s aunt, Susanne;
  • his sister-in-law, Desiree;
  • his nieces, Melody and Danielle; and
  • their friend, Belem.

Border Patrol Agent Manuel A. Alvarez died in a motorcycle accident on August 11, 2016 while on patrol near Casa Grande, Arizona.

Agent Alvarez – “Manny” – entered on duty in July 2003, and was assigned to the Casa Grande Station as a member of the motorcycle unit. He was an accomplished runner and participated in numerous races and other athletic competitions, including the “Tough Mudder” and “Rugged Maniac” events. And Manny cultivated a talent for drawing. No matter the endeavor, he always gave his all.

Joining us here today are many of Manny’s loved ones:

  • his wife, Jeanine;
  • his daughters, Analysia and Yaslyne;
  • his sons, Julian and Gabriel;
  • his parents, Manuel and Luz;
  • his two sisters, Brenda and Nora; and
  • his one-year-old niece, Annabel.

Border Patrol Agent David Gomez suffered a heart attack on November 15, 2016 while on bicycle patrol duty in rugged terrain near El Paso, Texas. He died the following day at a local hospital.

Agent Gomez entered on duty in February 1996 and was assigned to the El Paso Station as a member of the bicycle patrol unit. A great cyclist, David loved the outdoors and enjoyed camping and hiking. I had the opportunity to meet his fellow agents on the bike patrol and his hometown friends and quickly learned that David was an inspiration to all who knew him.

We are honored to have his family with us today:

  • Agent Gomez’s wife, Celina;
  • his son, Jacob;
  • his two daughters, Natalia and Daniela;
  • Daniela’s boyfriend Alex;
  • Agent Gomez’s brothers:
  • Guillermo Jr. (“William”) and
  • Daniel;
  • his mother-in-law, Guadalupe; and
  • his sister-in-law, Cecilia and nephew Adrian.

I have just described four remarkable men who died in the line of duty wearing their beloved green uniforms of the United States Border Patrol.

Their loss is incredibly painful to all of us – and absolutely devastating to their families. Family was everything to these brave and dedicated agents. Their absence is felt most acutely by their loved ones, and will be for countless years to come. For their colleagues, it is the absence of their smiles … their laughter and their jokes …their advice and opinions … and their steady and reliable presence.

We are deeply honored to have many members of their families here today. And we are also grateful to our returning families – more than have ever attended before. Even in your own grief, you are providing strength and solace to the families of Agents Vega, Barraza, Gomez, and Alvarez … shielding and caring for them as only those who understand their pain can.

Today, I also want to recognize the family of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry, who was murdered in December 2010 near Rio Rico, Arizona, after encountering five bandits.

We are honored to have members of Agent Terry’s family with us here today:

  • Brian’s mother, Josephine;
  • his sister, Michelle; and
  • his nieces, Melissa, Rachael, Elizabeth, and Lauren.

Last month, a team of Mexican Marines captured the fourth of the five bandits who murdered Agent Terry. The capture of this suspect was truly an inter-agency and international effort – involving CBP’s U.S. Border Patrol and our Air and Marine Operations, the U.S. Marshals Service, and the Mexican government.

I recently returned from Mexico where I had a chance sit down and thank our team who led this capture. The lead intelligence analyst told me that he woke up every morning thinking about Agent Terry’s family, and that he came to work each day committed to finding and capturing the suspects. There is one remaining suspect, and I have no doubt he will be brought to justice.

CBP will never forget … and our nation will never forget.

Finally, I want to recognize another family – one whose sacrifice marks not just one, but two generations.

On March 6, 1923, during the height of Prohibition, Customs Inspector James A. Wallen was stationed at Del Rio on the Texas-Mexico border. He was shot and killed after confronting a rum-runner who was trying to smuggle illegal liquor.

Nearly 61 years later, Inspector Wallen’s grandson, Customs Inspector Richard “Mack” Latham, following his grandfather’s example was also killed in the line of duty. On January 27, 1984, four men who had robbed a jewelry store in Mexico crossed the Del Rio International Bridge in a van. The thieves kidnapped him at gunpoint when discovered the stolen jewelry, and he was found shot to death the next day, near the same spot where his grandfather had died.

Several members of this remarkable family, are with us here today. Two sisters – Inspector Wallen’s grandchildren and first cousins to Inspector Latham – are here today: Sandra Wallen Burk and Gene Ellen Wallen Nixon, as well as his great granddaughter, Debbie Horton.

Customs Inspector James Wallen and Customs Inspector Richard Mack Latham. Two brave men. One family. Forever part of our family.

And, their family continues their legacy of service to country. Border Patrol Agent Wacy Taylor, another descendant of James Wallen could not be here today because he is protecting our borders in Scobey, Montana.

This family’s example of selfless resolve and steadfast dedication to our nation – devotion that spans decades and generations – inspires all of us to continue onward in our sworn mission of service to country.

Ladies and gentlemen, today we add Agents Vega, Barraza, Alvarez, and Gomez to the Valor Memorial. And we come together today to salute all those CBP employees who have lost their lives in the line of duty. They embodied “honor first.” So let us forever honor them – and their families – with our service.

The men and women who swear an oath to protect our homeland have a passion for what they do – it’s who they are. They go towards danger, as Agent Vega did that August day in 2014 … trying to right a wrong … protecting others.

They put their uniforms on every day and kiss their families goodbye, not sure of what the next shift will bring. They know the dangers. And they go on…they move forward … for all of us, for our nation.

Let us remember and respect, and be renewed in our spirit, and our strength by their example. Thank you.

Last published: 
May 16, 2017